I have to admit, being a fan of the Syfy Channel’s biannual Twilight Zone marathon has been a bit nerve-wracking lately.
Every New Year’s and Fourth of July, there they were, serving up a generous helping of our favorite show. The only question was what episodes they’d show and when it would start. When, not if.
Some line-ups were better than others (the every-episode-in-order one that ushered in 2016 was particularly well-received). And yes, in 2011 they celebrated the Fourth of July with a slate of “Greatest American Hero” episodes. But for the next few years, they didn’t miss.
Until last Fourth of July rolled around, and Syfy delivered a roster of “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies. Um, fireworks and Freddy Krueger? At least the “Greatest American Hero” made thematic sense!
True, a station named “Decades” stepped into the breach with an all-day Zone-a-thon. Much appreciated, to be sure, but — for now, at least — they don’t have the reach of Syfy. Most fans couldn’t tune in.
So when Syfy announced earlier this month that they were indeed hosting a New Year’s marathon, it was welcome news to a lot of Zone fanatics. Um, Zone-y-acs? Read the rest of this entry
Looking for a book about Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone? Until a few years ago, your options were pretty limited.
Many fans have a dog-eared copy of Marc Zicree’s “The Twilight Zone Companion,” but not simply because it’s a good book: For a long time, it was the only game in town.
But now? Take your pick.
You can read books by experts such as Amy Boyle Johnson (“Unknown Serling: An Episodic History, Vol. 1”), Martin Grams (“Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic”), Steven Rubin (“The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia”) and Mark Dawidziak (“Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone”).
There’s also Anne Serling’s “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling”, a heartfelt portrait of everyone’s favorite ambassador to the fifth dimension. There are books about the philosophy of TZ, the music of TZ … the list goes on.
So why would you pick up a new, 584-page book by Nicholas Parisi called “Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination”? Read the rest of this entry
Ah, Halloween. Could there be a more ideal time to watch one of my favorite episodes from Twilight Zone’s fourth season: “The New Exhibit”?
If you aren’t familiar with it, I have three words for you: murderous wax figures. Yes, this is definitely one you should watch in the dark.
Or rewatch. After all, this is the fifth dimension, where one viewing is never enough. And I think I have a way to make the experience a bit creepier. (You’re welcome.)
One thing I wondered about when I first watched “The New Exhibit” is the backstory behind the five wax figures. Were these all real-life murderers, or were they made up for Charles Beaumont’s script?
I say “all” because one of them is the very famous Jack the Ripper. His reign of terror in the Whitechapel area of London in the late 1880s is so legendary that hardly anyone hasn’t at least heard of him. I certainly knew HE was real.
But what about the other four? Maybe there are some crime buffs out there who watched this episode and immediately recognized Albert W. Hicks, Burke & Hare, and Henri Landru. But not me.
And not, I think, most other viewers. So although ill-fated museum curator Martin Senescu gives us a brief introduction to each of these notorious criminals at the episode’s start, I thought I’d provide a little more info about this infamous rogues’ gallery. (Warning: Some grisly details ahead.) Read the rest of this entry
Headlines are supposed to catch your eye, and this one certainly did: “He’s one of the only humans at work — and he loves it”.
I’m sure any fellow Twilight Zone fan can imagine what episode I immediately thought of. Images of Robby the Robot behind a desk in the closing shot of “The Brain Center at Whipple’s” suddenly filled my mind.
The article in question focused on Zou Rui, an engineer at a factory in Shanghai, China, and one of the humans mentioned in the headline. He works for JD.com, an e-commerce company that is “one of the most automated in the world,” the writer tells us.
“Analysts say it’s a peek at the future of manual work in China and beyond — a place where a chosen few tend to the machines, while most workers have been rendered obsolete.” Um, “obsolete”? Now I’m really getting a TZ vibe. And not in a good way. Read the rest of this entry
“It’s an adaptation of what has been called one of the most terrifying modern fantasies ever written.” — Rod Serling on “It’s a Good Life”
One key to being a good editor is knowing what to change — and what to leave alone. Change for the sake of change is a rookie mistake.
Rod Serling knew that well. When he bought the rights to a story for use on The Twilight Zone, he did exactly what was necessary to make it work for television. No more, no less.
Sometimes — as with “And When the Sky Was Opened” and “The Four of Us Are Dying” — that meant making some pretty drastic changes. Other times — with, say, “To Serve Man” — he presented the written story a bit more faithfully.
In the case of Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life”, it was more than a bit. Bixby had already provided a very visual story, so Serling transferred much of what we find on the page to the screen.
But he did make a few interesting changes. Read the rest of this entry
Rod Serling’s scripts were nearly always so smooth, even poetic, that it’s easy to assume they just came out of his head that way. But no. Like any good writer, he edited himself — sometimes quite extensively.
I don’t mean he simply cut lines. He would also reword certain passages, often more than once. That way, he wound up with a polished product he could be proud of — one that, we can see with the benefit of hindsight, has a timeless appeal.
Consider his closing introduction to one of the most iconic episodes, “To Serve Man”. The final product goes like this:
The recollections of one Michael Chambers with appropriate flashbacks and soliloquy. Or more simply stated, the evolution of man, the cycle of going from dust to dessert, the metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone’s soup. It’s tonight’s bill of fare … on the Twilight Zone.
“Because there was no regular, recurring cast, he was, in essence, the star of the show.” — Billy Mumy on Rod Serling
Billy has a point. Anthologies differ from other TV series in one important way: Every episode offers us an entirely new story, with a new cast. The only continuity is the quality of the series itself.
The Twilight Zone had that in spades, obviously. But it had something else: Rod Serling, on screen. Hinting at what we’d see in the episode ahead, then returning at the end (at least vocally) to offer some wry comment about what we had witnessed.
I don’t know about you, but his presence is one of my favorite things about the series. “I think it was a major factor in the success of the show,” William Self, the producer of “Where is Everybody?” once said of Serling’s narrations. Read the rest of this entry
The Twilight Zone has a pretty straightforward moral code. The evil are punished. The proud are humbled. The good are rewarded. The forgotten are remembered.
True, there are some exceptions. “Time Enough at Last,” for example, appears to be a prime instance of Fate punishing an innocent. The earthlings in “To Serve Man” did nothing to merit becoming “an ingredient in someone’s soup.” But by and large, you deserve the ending you get.
And then there’s “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”.
It’s the earliest example in TZ of someone yearning for the past. It aired just before “Walking Distance”, which explored this theme so beautifully that it inevitably overshone its predecessor.
But Shrine‘s problem isn’t merely standing in the shadow of “Walking Distance”. I think this episode fails to really resonate with fans because the main character, Barbara Jean Trenton (played by the amazing Ida Lupino, who would later direct TZ’s “The Masks”), is a hard figure to sympathize with.
The usual criticism of Twilight Zone‘s 4th season is familiar to most fans: Stretching the series from a half-hour to an hour meant bloat. Something was lost. Suddenly more added up to less.
Sure, the series still brought us the elements of fantasy that had served it so well throughout the first three seasons: time travel, space travel, horror, and loads of irony. But the extra length mean the writers inevitably drifted more toward drama. Instead of snap, there was sag.
But hey, we’re still talking about the amazing Twilight Zone. And we continued getting stories from Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson. So we may have been denied the classic Zone formula, but we weren’t exactly getting junk.
Freed from the need to sprint to the finish line, the writers had room to explore their themes a bit more deeply. This meant padding at times, but on other occasions, it gave the material a chance to breathe and draw us more deeply into the world of the story. Read the rest of this entry
The Twilight Zone, as every fan knows, is home to many wild settings that exist only in our imaginations. But one of the most magical is very real: the carousel in Rod Serling’s hometown of Binghamton, NY.
No, the much-beloved episode “Walking Distance” wasn’t actually filmed there, but this is the very carousel that Rod rode as a child. His nostalgia for that simple ride led him to feature a carousel rather prominently in the conclusion to that bittersweet story.
The carousel (which you can read more about at this link) still works. It even got a facelift in 2011 that included some TZ-inspired artwork by Cortland T. Hull in the panels above the horses. Here they are, snapped by yours truly on a visit to Binghamton. Can you recognize all the episodes? (Click any pic to enlarge it.) Read the rest of this entry