Blog Archives

Serling Edit: Cutting a Scene of Larceny in Twilight Zone’s “Where is Everybody?”

October means Halloween to a lot of people — myself included — but it also makes me think of The Twilight Zone. I know, I know. I hardly need any encouragement, do I? And yet October is special because it’s the month that TZ premiered in 1959.

It was on October 2 of that year — at 10:00pm EST, if you want to be precise — that anyone turning to CBS saw the first episode, “Where is Everybody?” The story of an Air Force pilot who hallucinates himself into an empty town during isolation training was Stop #1 for those curious enough to explore Rod Serling’s “middle ground between light and shadow”.

So I thought I would share something fun today. It’s something Serling included in an early draft of the episode, but which was apparently never filmed: a scene in which pilot Mike Ferris steals from the town bank.

That’s right. Our fine, upstanding astronaut-to-be — a common thief!

According to the draft in volume one of “As Timeless as Infinity: The Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling”, this scene occurs after the one in the movie theater. So, at least in the final episode, it’s close to the moment when Ferris is pulled from the isolation booth.

Not in this early version of the script, though.

Read the rest of this entry

Serling and Shatner’s Jokes Behind the Scenes of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”

I’ve written before about what a great sense of humor Rod Serling had. But one thing I didn’t mention was how much he enjoyed practical jokes. Don’t let his serious expression fool you!

Here’s one of my favorite stories, courtesy of Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion. It occurred shortly after the first broadcast of one of the most iconic episodes of the whole series, Richard Matheson’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. According to Serling:

Matheson and I were going to fly to San Francisco. It was like three or four weeks after the show was on the air, and I had spent three weeks in constant daily communication with Western Airlines preparing a given seat for him, having the stewardess close the [curtains] when he sat down, and I was going to say, ‘Dick, open it up.’ I had this huge, blown-up poster stuck on the [outside of the window] so that when he opened it, there would be this gremlin staring at him.

So what happened was, we get on the plane, there was the seat, he sits down, the curtains are closed, I lean over and I say, ‘Dick —’ at which point they start the engines and it blows the thing away. It was an old prop airplane… He never saw it. And I had spent hours in the planning of it. I would lie in bed thinking how we could do this.

Can you even imagine what Matheson’s reaction would have been? What a great gag. It’s too bad it backfired, though I’m sure he and Rod had a lot of laughs long after that day, just recalling the attempt. Read the rest of this entry

“This Way To Escape”: The Exit Avenues of The Twilight Zone

I know the fifth dimension can be a confusing place. But sometimes I hear from fans who don’t even seem to know what the heck happened in a particular episode of The Twilight Zone.

I bring this up because every now and then I hear an alternative theory about Season 1’s “A World of Difference” by Richard Matheson. In it, we meet a man (played by Howard Duff) who’s acting in a movie — only he doesn’t see it that way.

In the opening scene, he’s astonished to discover a film crew next to his business office. (It’s very cleverly filmed, as I discuss in this post.) He insists that he’s not this Gerald Raigan they keep telling him he is. No, he insists, he’s a man named Arthur Curtis — and he has no idea who any of them are!

That earns him some strange looks. Curtis is the part he’s playing in the movie, so everyone around him thinks he’s gone crazy. The bulk of the episode shows him frantically trying to prove that his wife and his agent are wrong — that he really is Arthur, not Gerald (or Jerry, as he’s usually referred to in the episode).

Once we see how unhappy Jerry’s personal life is, though (his ex-wife, Nora — played by Sean Penn’s mother, Eileen Ryan — angrily vows to “bleed” him dry or have him jailed), it all makes sense. He really is Gerald, but his mind has snapped. He’s assumed the identity of Arthur, who has a nice job, a supportive secretary, and a loving wife. Read the rest of this entry

The First Twilight Zone Episode I Ever Saw Hooked Me For Life. Here’s Why.

Can you name the first Twilight Zone episode you ever saw?

I’m a fan of many classic shows. I grew up watching reruns of I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, Leave It to Beaver, Perry Mason, Mission: Impossible … the list goes on. I still watch many of them today, in fact, either on disc or on a streaming service. But I couldn’t name the first episode I saw of any of those shows.

And yet I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn that I do recall my first Twilight Zone. Oh, yes. It was “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”.

It made quite an impression on my kid mind, as you can tell. (I was about eight, I think.) Here was a series that didn’t look or sound like anything else on television. TZ is utterly unique.

Even if you don’t recall your first TZ, you know what I mean, I’m sure. Just ask Fox Mulder. In Season 11’s “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” the X-Files agent is flummoxed when someone claims that the episode Mulder recalls as his first TZ doesn’t exist. He searches feverishly through his books and VCR tapes for confirmation. Scully, as usual, doesn’t understand what the big deal is. Read the rest of this entry

Serling Fest 2020: Coming to a Device Near You

Last year’s “Serling Fest” was a lot of fun. It was tough saying good-bye at the end, but hey, we knew we’d all be gathering in 2020, right?!

Ahem. Not quite. Like a trip to the Kanamit home planet, things haven’t turned out quite the way we were expecting.

We’ll be getting a Serling Fest, all right. But it won’t be the in-person, three-day extravaganza we’ve gotten in years past. It’ll be a one-day affair, and because of a certain Virus Who Shall Remain Nameless, it’s all online.

So there won’t be any reports from the front lines by Yours Truly, and no appearances either. But good news: Thanks to Nick Parisi, president of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation, I don’t think anyone who wants to attend from the comfort of home will feel cheated at all. In fact, he’s put together a fantastic line-up. Check it out:

I’ve gotten a chance to see nearly all of these experts in person, and I can tell you from experience that they have some great insights and stories to share. This is going to be a lot of fun! Read the rest of this entry

Alfred Hitchcock Presents vs. The Twilight Zone

If you’d asked me when I was a teenager to name my favorite TV series, I’d have said The Twilight Zone. If you’d asked me to name my favorite director, I’d have said the man behind Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

I’ve seen the work of many more directors since then, and quite a few more TV series. If I were to list all of my favorites now, it would take a while. But you know what? My top answers are still the same today.

It’s hard to beat Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock. If anything, the intervening years have deepened my appreciation for their work. So it’s hardly surprising that they were behind the two most successful anthologies in the history of television.

That’s really saying something, by the way. The networks have never been crazy about putting anthologies on the air. They prefer to hook viewers with a strong situation and memorable characters — ones the audience can be sure will be there week after week. With an anthology, that’s impossible. Every episode brings a totally new cast and setup.

That calls for a lot of trust on the part of the audience. That’s why an engaging host is key. CBS was willing to take a gamble on Alfred Hitchcock Presents because the portly director’s fame would draw in curious viewers who had eagerly flocked to such thrillers as “Notorious”, “Strangers on a Train”, and “Rear Window”. Read the rest of this entry

Underrated Twilight Zone Episodes: “The Whole Truth”

In The Twilight Zone’s “The Whole Truth,” a used-car salesman experiences his worst nightmare: he unwittingly buys a “haunted” car that forces its owner to be completely honest.

Uh-oh. Given the demands of his chosen profession — making people believe that every jalopy is a jewel — it’s easy to understand his distress. As he mutters to his assistant at one point: “Did you ever hear anything more ghastly?”

After all, the only way to regain the ability to lie is to get rid of the car. Since it’s preventing him from uttering even one falsehood, that’s practically an impossible task.

Imagine if you were saddled with that car and were asked an uncomfortable question. If it were mine, for example, and someone said, “How do you feel about this episode?” Hey, I can’t lie. I might hem and haw a bit, sure, but then I’d say, well, I kind of like it.

Yep. Gotta be honest!

I know, I know — it’s near or AT the bottom of the list for many fans. I get it. But I have a bit of a soft spot for this one.

Mind you, I’m not saying it’s a great episode. Not at all. It’s nowhere near my top 25. It’s one of TZ’s “comedy” episodes, and we all know how our beloved Rod Serling, despite being incredibly funny in private, wasn’t particularly adept at writing jokes. Read the rest of this entry

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 required 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