Blog Archives

The Imaginative World of Charles Beaumont: Vote for His Best Twilight Zone Story

The most famous writer of The Twilight Zone? Rod Serling, obviously. Besides creating, producing, and hosting the series, he penned no fewer than 92 scripts for it. But after him?

Charles Beaumont

Most fans, I think, would pick Richard Matheson. And who could blame them? The legendary author’s contributions to the Zone include some truly iconic episodes, such as “Little Girl Lost,” “The Invaders,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

Few fans would name Charles Beaumont. And that’s a shame. Not only was he the most prolific Zone writer after Serling — logging 22 scripts to Matheson’s 14 — but his fertile imagination created some of the most mind-bending tales in the fifth dimension.

So I thought it might be fun to give fans a chance to select their favorite Beaumont episode, the same way I did with Matheson back in 2013. In fact, I was thinking about doing a new Matheson poll post when it occurred to me to finally do one for Beaumont. I’ll circle back to Matheson soon enough, but let’s give Beaumont some much-deserved attention.

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The Secret Behind Nehemiah Persoff’s Vivid Portrayal of a Twilight Zone Villain

So few of the original Twilight Zone stars are still with us. Just a handful, really, if you don’t count ones who were children when they appeared on the show. So when one of them dies, it can feel like we’ve lost a close friend or family member.

Such was the case when the news broke that Nehemiah Persoff had passed away at 102. A gifted and prolific performer, he played a memorable villain early in the Zone‘s first season.

An amnesiac who spends most of “Judgment Night” trying to figure out who he is and why he has a premonition of doom, U-boat Capt. Carl Lanser may not be as hateful as SS Capt. Gunther Lutze in Season 3’s “Deaths-Head Revisited,” but his eternal “reward” is no less harsh. It turns out (spoiler alert!) that he is constantly reliving the night he ordered the destruction of a WW2-era ship loaded with civilians — this time as a passenger on the ill-fated vessel himself.

I have yet to do a deep dive on “Judgment Night.” That will come, but my goal today is more modest: to share a tribute to Persoff published in The Washington Post. Most of the Post‘s content is behind a pay wall, but it’s my understanding that this article is free to all. Even if you can’t read it all, though, I just want to spotlight a couple of points in it, which I’ll quote here.

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The Right Length for a Twilight Zone: Half an Hour or an Hour? How Serling’s Answer Changed

Opinions about Twilight Zone‘s fourth season, when Rod Serling’s landmark anthology series expanded to an hour, vary widely. Some fans really enjoy it. Others? Not so much.

“I Dream of Genie”

But even the biggest cheerleaders for Season 4 will admit that Serling and his fellow scribes were much more in the Zone, shall we say, when their stories clocked in at 25 minutes, not 50.

“Ours is the perfect half-hour show,” Serling said at one of several points when talk of an hour-long version came up. “If we went to an hour, we’d have to fleshen our stories, soap-opera style. Viewers could watch 15 minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse.”

There’s a little Zone-like foreshadowing. Serling’s foray into the fifth dimension soon became an hour-long jaunt, and his warning about “fleshening” would prove prophetic. You’ve heard of doing more with less; this was a case of doing less with more.

“The Incredible World of Horace Ford”

That’s not to say Season 4 didn’t have some good episodes. We got, for example, “He’s Alive” (with Dennis Hopper as a neo-Nazi being coached by Adolf Hitler’s ghost), “The New Exhibit” (Martin Balsam as the curator of some homicidal wax figures), “Printer’s Devil” (Burgess Meredith as a diabolically talented journalist), and “On Thursday We Leave for Home” (James Whitmore as the power-hungry leader of a barren space colony).

I could name others, and perhaps you could too. As Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, wrote: “The series had not disgraced itself.”

Far from it, in fact. Still, it was wise to go back to the half-hour slot for Season 5. As Buck Houghton, TZ’s producer through its first three seasons, later pointed out, the extra length made it very tough to do the kind of surprise endings that Serling and the other Zone writers specialized in throughout most of the show’s run.

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Syfy’s 2021-2022 New Year’s Twilight Zone Marathon Schedule

Ah, the Twilight Zone marathon. It’s become such a fixture of each New Year’s Eve. Can you think of a better way to ring out the old and ring in the new than with Rod Serling?

Sure, there are drawbacks to watching the Zone this way. The ads and the edits sometimes seem as if they’ve been engineered by Talky Tina. It’s best to watch the show on disc, frankly. But there’s something comforting about the tradition of the NYE marathon. Plus, it’s great to all be watching at the same time and interacting over social media.

So let’s get to the big question: What will they be showing this year? I know some fans like to be surprised, but most fans appreciate a heads up. So, courtesy of the friendly folks at Syfy (who were nice enough to share the lineup with me ahead of time), here’s the schedule for the 2021-2022 marathon: 104 episodes out of TZ’s 156. Times shown are EST, btw:

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Which Videotaped Episode of the Twilight Zone is Best? Now You Can Cast Your Vote

One of the many hallmarks of The Twilight Zone is how good it looks. Rod Serling promised viewers “television’s elites,” and we got that — both in front of and behind the camera. Each episode was a visual feast, filled with clear, shadow-laden shots that outshines much of what we see on TV even today.

“Walking Distance”

Which is why the six videotaped episodes that popped up in Season 2 stick out like a Kanamit’s sore thumb. Even if you enjoy the stories (and I do, for the most part), it’s a clear step down from the vivid film images we get in the other 150 episodes.

But I’m not here today to dwell on that. (For more on why they were filmed that way, try this short post.) I’m here to ask a basic question: No matter where you stand on the videotaped episodes, which one do you consider the best?

Even if you cringe at the overall look of them, I’m betting most fans still can pick a favorite. So if you’re not among that tiny group who swears they can’t even watch them, how about casting a vote?

Here are the candidates:

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“The Fugitive”: A Sweet Tale That Makes Some Twilight Zone Fans Uneasy. Should It?

When you’ve been fanning publicly over The Twilight Zone as long as I have, you start expecting certain reactions.

For example, when I tweet about “To Serve Man,” I know some people will make cookbook jokes. When I post a quote from “Time Enough at Last,” I’ll hear, “It’s not fair!” If the topic is “It’s a Good Life,” then “You’re a bad man!” is coming. And that’s fine! It’s part of the fun.

But not all predictable reactions are so benign. One that I don’t enjoy at all occurs when I tweet about “The Fugitive,” a story by Charles Beaumont that centers on the friendship between an old man named Ben and a young girl named Jenny.

This being the fifth dimension, Ben isn’t just an ordinary old man. In fact, we learn near the end (spoiler alert; click here to see where you can watch it first) that he’s neither old nor a man. Not an earth man, anyway. Ben is actually a rather young king from another planet.

So why was he here, disguised as actor J. Pat O’Malley? Because he got fed up with his royal responsibilities and ran away. The two men who have been hunting him down during the first half of the episode mean him no harm; they’re a duo from his planet, here to bring their popular monarch back home, where he can continue his benevolent rule.

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A Harsh “Encounter”: What a Long-Hidden Twilight Zone Can Teach Us About Hate

“It was a very harsh show. I’m sure it was considered too hot to handle.”

The speaker: Robert Butler, director of Twilight Zone’s “The Encounter.”

Few fans would disagree. The episode’s unflinching depiction of “raw conflict,” as Butler also described it, has been making audiences squirm since it first aired on May 1, 1964.

The racial antagonisms we see on-screen kept it off the air for the next couple days of decades. It was one of four Zone episodes that weren’t included in the original syndication package, and the only one excluded because it was controversial.

That’s a shame. Not because it’s a great episode — it’s not, despite earnest performances from Neville Brand and George Takei. No, it’s a shame because this episode, for all its faults, strikes me as one that’s eerily relevant today. In fact, I think we can learn something from it.

If you’ve never seen it, or it’s been a while, feel free to watch it before perusing my spoiler-filled musings. To briefly recap: This is the one about a World War II vet and a Japanese-American who find themselves locked in an attic, arguing about a mysterious samurai sword and lobbing some racially-charged barbs.

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Spotlight on Season 4: “No Time Like the Past”

What if you could change the past — not just in your personal life, but on a global scale by stopping something horrible?

That’s the central conceit of Twilight Zone‘s “No Time Like the Past,” and it’s an intriguing one. I’ll give it a full review at a later date, but for now, I want to focus on one scene in particular. Even if you’re not a fan of this episode (and not many fans give it high marks), I think we can appreciate what Rod Serling was saying — or more accurately, condemning — about halfway through the story.

For those who haven’t seen it (check here if you want to see how to watch it first), or haven’t seen it in a while, the story concerns a man named Paul Driscoll (Dana Andrews). He has a time-travel machine, and to his credit, he wants to help mankind, not just himself. So he travels back to three key moments earlier in the 20th century: the day Hiroshima, Japan, was bombed; a day when Adolf Hitler made a pre-World War II public appearance in Berlin, Germany; and the day the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed, one of the events that led the U.S. to enter World War I.

Driscoll’s intention is to stop these events. He’s convinced that the modern world, which he detests, could be changed for the better if he succeeds. Yet each time he fails. Convinced the past can’t be changed, he decides instead to go to a quiet little town called Homeville, Indiana, in 1881, to live out the rest of his life.

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Only the “Best” Coffin for the Star of TZ’s “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”

You don’t have to be the most eagle-eyed Twilight Zone fan to notice that the coffin in “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank” has holes in the side.

If you assumed they were there for star James Best’s peace of mind, you’d be correct. And who could blame him? Even if you knew that your “resurrection” was imminent, it would be hard not to feel anxious with that lid closed.

And you know what? It turns out it wasn’t closed — at least not all the way. As Best relates in Martin Grams Jr.’s The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic:

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Twilight Zone’s Season 1 Opening Credits: A Perfect Passport to Serling’s World

Ask Twilight Zone fans to describe the opening to each episode, and you can be sure that many will mention the swirling vortex that spins into the vacuum of space, followed by the shattering title letters.

Or they may bring up the shattering window, the opening eye, the clock, the diver, the “E=mc2” equation. And quite a few, you can bet, will imitate the iconic “do do do do” music.

But as much as I love those elements, I can’t help thinking they got it right the first time — specifically, the opening theme for Season 1:

Bernard Herrmann’s haunting, dream-like music has a lot to do with it. It truly sounds as if we’re being ushered into that “middle ground between light and shadow.”

Rod Serling’s narration, meanwhile, is ideal — both in what he says and how he says it. His description of that land “between science and superstition” can’t help but intrigue a potential viewer, and the unhurried pace of his words sets the mood perfectly. We feel drawn in. Almost seduced, in a way.

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