Pop quiz: How many of The Twilight Zone‘s 156 episodes did Rod Serling write?
Not many people know off the top of their heads, but I can hear some of the more diehard fans calling out, “92!” And how right you are.
So imagine my surprise when I saw someone post an item in a TZ fan group on Facebook claiming that Serling had written 99. He then added something about what an amazingly high number that was, or how much work that represented.
Hey, anyone can make a mistake. I’ve seen a lot of them over the years. So even though I wanted to set the record straight, I didn’t want to embarrass the person who did it.
That’s why, when this sort of thing happens, I try to take a light tone and not act like a jerk. A good way to do that is to mix the correction with some genuine agreement or praise, so in this case, I said something like: “Actually, it was 92. But yes, what a workhorse Serling was! It’s incredible that he was able to write so much, and such high quality.”
If that’s all there was to it, I wouldn’t even be writing this post. Most people are like, “Oh, my mistake! Thanks.” But not this guy. He was like, nope, you’re wrong. It’s 99.Read the rest of this entry
“I think that sometimes in television, scripts reach the level of literature. Often, I think, it’s junk, and stuff is just spewed out with no thought other than to get a script done. But I think sometimes it reaches the level of television literature — something that says something, something that’s lasting, something that’s worthwhile.”
The speaker: Earl Hamner Jr. The subject: Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone, for which Hamner contributed eight scripts, including such fan favorites as “The Hunt” and “Stopover in a Quiet Town”.
This quote — an excerpt from the short video below — sums up well why the Zone has endured long after many other vintage shows have faded into obscurity. Many scripts are just “spewed out”, either because of time constraints or a lack of talent. Not so on The Twilight Zone.
Hamner touches on several other interesting points in this interview, including the idea that Serling may have had a premonition of his death. It’s only about five minutes long — and if you’re a fan of Hamner’s signature series, The Waltons, get ready to hear a very familiar voice:Read the rest of this entry
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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