Blog Archives

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “What You Need”

It’s another rain-soaked night in town, and the usual clientele is hanging out at the Del Rio bar. The unlucky and the lovelorn are in their spots, chain-smoking and drowning their sorrows, when in walks an old man carrying a peddler’s tray.

Ernest Truex as Pedott in TZ’s “What You Need”. He later starred in “Kick the Can”

But he’s not here to sell you just anything. This stranger claims to know what you need, not what you think you want. And whatever it happens to be, he’s offering it free of charge.

Pedott wasn’t the only one with this ability. His creator, Rod Serling, could look at a short story and know exactly what he had to do to turn it into a compelling TV story. And in the case of Lewis Padgett’s “What You Need”, he understood what was needed to make it work for The Twilight Zone.

If you’ve read the entry for this episode in Marc Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion, you may recall that the original story “concerned a scientist who invented a machine that read people’s probable futures and who then gave them what they needed to be guided in a certain direction.”

Read Morgan as Lefty

True enough, but — as I’ve discovered in looking more closely at several other episodes that Serling adapted from the work of other writers — it’s interesting to look at what he kept and what he discarded. He retained a bit more than just the basic idea, as we’ll see. Overall, though, his changes were fairly substantial. Read the rest of this entry

Finding Food in the Fifth Dimension: A TZ Diner Tour

If someone suggested taking a trip to the Twilight Zone, even the most diehard fan would hesitate. You mean that distorted landscape inhabited by pig-faced people, hungry aliens, and homicidal dolls? Um, hard pass on that idea.

Hold on, though. What if your trip was limited to one of the fifth dimension’s eating establishments? That’s right, I’m talking about that culinary mainstay of mid-20th century cuisine: the good ol’ American diner.

After all, The Twilight Zone began with one. The first shot of the pilot episode, “Where is Everybody?”, shows Mike Ferris walking along a dirt road. His first stop? An unnamed café.

Just check out that interior design. It screams classic, unassuming diner. I can smell the coffee and bacon already.

Naturally, there are fresh pies. A diner without pies is like a Twilight Zone episode without a twist ending.

But although it all looks inviting, the jukebox is loaded with peppy tunes, and Mike has $2.85 to spend (at a time when coffee cost 10 cents a cup), the service and the company at the “Cafe” leaves something to be desired. So let’s diner-crawl to a place all TZ fans know and love: the Busy Bee from “Nick of Time”. Read the rest of this entry

Twilight Zone Streaming: Going with the Flow or Headed for the Rocks?

If you’re a fan of vintage TV shows and you subscribe to a streaming service, life is a bit like being in a “Friday the 13th” movie: You know just about everyone is going to get it — the only question is when.

“The New Exhibit”

Still, it hurts when your favorites leave. In the last week alone, I’ve seen The Outer Limits (the original and the ‘90s reboot) depart Hulu, while The Andy Griffith Show has disappeared from Netflix.

Both are included in Amazon Prime, fortunately, so I have a fallback. But even Prime has disappointed me lately. It was carrying the first season of Night Gallery (all three seasons of which used to be on Hulu until early 2019), but now even that’s gone.

A couple of other favorites, meanwhile, have gone from being free for Prime members to being something you have to pay extra for.

There are still some great old shows streaming on all three services, particularly on Hulu and Prime. And of course The Twilight Zone is on all three.

“A Thing About Machines”

The question is, how long will it remain? I don’t know the answer to that, so I’m writing today to say that if you enjoy TZ on any streaming service, don’t take it for granted. Read the rest of this entry

Time to Shelve This Criticism of Henry Bemis in “Time Enough at Last”

Today’s post concerns a Twilight Zone episode that is absolutely legendary: “Time Enough at Last”. That’s right, the one about Henry Bemis and his all-too-fragile eyeglasses.

But I’m not writing simply to get some cheap clicks, although I’ll gladly accept them. No, I’m writing to set the record straight about poor Henry.

You may be thinking: “Set what record straight?” If so, you’re probably like most fans, who realize that our mild-mannered protagonist merits our sympathy.

Well, this may surprise you, but some fans don’t feel that way. They think Henry deserves that awful ending.

No exaggeration. Amid the chorus of pity I usually hear when I post something about this episode, a dissenting voice or two arises: someone who doesn’t feel sorry for Henry at all.

Why? Because of his anti-social behavior, they say. Henry didn’t care about humanity, so when he got his heart’s delight, karma bit him in the hindquarters. Serves you right, bookworm! Read the rest of this entry

A Petition to Rename Binghamton’s Recreation Park for Rod Serling

It’s one of the most iconic images in the whole run of The Twilight Zone: the carousel in “Walking Distance“, Rod Serling’s bittersweet valentine to his upbringing in 1930s’ Binghamton, New York.

Even more remarkable, as many fans know, is the fact that you can visit the actual one that inspired him to write that classic episode. It’s located in Binghamton’s Recreation Park, one of six merry-go-rounds donated by businessman George F. Johnson.

Recently, I’m sorry to say, the park was damaged by fire, the result of arson that occurred in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder. The playground was completely destroyed — but the carousel, thank heavens, was undamaged.

Now we have a chance to do something positive. Nick Parisi, president of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation and author of “Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination“, has started a petition to rename Recreation Park in honor of Serling. Read the rest of this entry

Underrated Twilight Zone Episodes: “The Chaser”

Defending your favorite Twilight Zone episodes? Easy. Criticizing ones you don’t like? Piece of cake. Explaining why you sort of like one that’s unpopular? That’s a bit more challenging.

I’ll bet you have at least one episode you like almost in spite of itself. Sure, you’re aware that it’s not a list-topper, but something about it appeals to you anyway.

Several episodes fall into that category for me. Case in point: “The Chaser”. That’s right, the one about the love potion.

The only Season 1 episode not written by a member of that great TZ triumvirate — Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson — it focuses on the fate of a man named Roger. He’s madly in love with a beautiful young lady named Leila. Unfortunately for Roger, she barely gives him the time of day. She’s also tired of his unsolicited phone calls and flower deliveries.

But since this occurs in the fifth dimension, Roger opts for a supernatural solution. He visits an eccentric professor named Daemon (an obvious play on “demon”) who dabbles in, as he puts it, “ointments, salves, powders, sovereign remedies, nectars, lotus blossoms, toxins, tonics, anti-toxins, decoctions, concoctions, and potions.”

Despite the professor’s repeated warnings, Roger (played by George Grizzard) gets the love potion. And once under its spell, Leila does a complete 180-degree turn. She’s totally besotted with Roger now, much to his delight. Read the rest of this entry

Filming TZ’s “Where is Everybody?” Went Smoothly — Minus One Costly Mistake

Not many TV shows get off to a solid start. Even ones that go on to become classics need time to get the formula just right.

That wasn’t the case with The Twilight Zone. “Where is Everybody?” proved to be an ideal introduction to that land of shadow and substance. But that doesn’t mean it had a trouble-free production.

Just ask Earl Holliman. In a 1987 interview that’s excerpted in “The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia”, he recalled:

It was a joy to do, except the first day. It was very cold on the universal back lot, and it’s hard to do scenes all by yourself — you’ve got nobody to play off.

We were working very hard, starting early in the morning, and now it was dark. We were just about to quit when I heard the camera operator say “Uh-oh.” It seems that he had forgotten to do something, and we didn’t have one single useful foot of exposed film. That whole day was for naught.

I went home feeling terrible. It turned out I had a 102° fever. When you watch the pilot, you’ll see that I sound very hoarse in those first few scenes. That’s not character work, that was me being hoarse.

Read the rest of this entry

Netflix Cuts a Key Scene from “The Brain Center at Whipple’s”

As I’ve mentioned before, Twilight Zone fans, we’re lucky: We have many options when it comes to watching our favorite show.

I usually recommend that people stream TZ, or watch it on disc, rather than catch it in reruns on Syfy or MeTV. The main reason: the rerun episodes are cut, often quite significantly. For pity’s sake, Syfy has been known to edit out the transformation scene at the end of “The Howling Man”!

But I know of at least one episode on Netflix with a cut. And it’s a glaring one.

It comes about halfway through “The Brain Center at Whipple’s“, the man-versus-machine story that comes late in Season 5. You may recall that Mr. Whipple (played with pitch-perfect obnoxiousness by Richard Deacon) has been modernizing his factory in an alarming way: installing computers that replace workers. Not surprisingly, his employees are unhappy about the way his fanatical adherence to efficiency is leaving them jobless.

In the scene in question, one worker — the foreman, Mr. Dickerson — is drunkenly telling Mr. Whipple off on the factory floor: Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “Still Valley”

I’ve run into some surprises in my series of “Re-Zoning” posts, which compare the scripts Rod Serling adapted for The Twilight Zone from other writer’s stories to the original works themselves. But I wasn’t ready for what I found when I read “The Valley Was Still” by Manly Wade Wellman.

Serling’s version, given the more concise title “Still Valley”, came early in Season 3. It also aired only seven weeks after another Civil War-themed episode, “The Passersby”. And in Season 2, let’s not forget, “Back There” covered the Lincoln assassination. Why Serling’s sudden interest, fans sometimes ask, in the so-called War Between the States? Because the country was in the midst of observing its centennial then.

Besides, the conflict, which pitted brother against brother, provided a perfect backdrop to some of Serling’s most common themes: How do we fight for something, and why? How far are you willing to go to achieve victory?

Anyone who’s watched “Still Valley” knows by the end how far Joseph Paradine, an advance scout for the Confederate army, is willing to go. He wants to win, but not at any cost. (And if you haven’t watched this one, you may want to fix that before rejoining us. Spoilers ahead, naturally.)

Fans usually recall this episode as one of TZ’s famous “statue” episodes — ones that featured numerous cast members standing perfectly still, as if they were statues. We see this: Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Lost Intros to “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby”

The best part of any Twilight Zone episode? Easy: Rod Serling’s introductions. They made even the so-so episodes better, and added an extra shine to the classics.

So I thought I would share with you a couple of intros that were, for all intents and purposes, lost: ones that Serling wrote and filmed to share “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby” with British TV viewers.

They were part of a package that Serling and the rest of the TZ production crew assembled in early 1963 to get the series on the air in Britain. “A total of 14 [hour-long] episodes were planned, with the half-hours combined to form a similar theme for each week’s presentation,” writes Martin Grams in “The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic“. They included:

  • “Third From The Sun”/”People Are Alike All Over”
  • “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air”/”And When the Sky Was Opened”
  • “Time Enough at Last”/”Eye of the Beholder”
  • “100 Yards Over the Rim”/”The Trouble with Templeton”
  • “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”/”The Invaders”
  • “The Odyssey of Flight 33″/”The Arrival”

Sounds like a great way to promote the series. Alas: “Despite all [the] preparation that went into the proposed series, the BBC telecasts never aired,” Grams notes. Why, I don’t know. Read the rest of this entry