Blog Archives

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “The Old Man in the Cave”

Not every Twilight Zone episode was a Rod Serling original. Many of them were, but two dozen of his 92 Zone scripts were based on stories by other authors.

As I’ve shown throughout my “Re-Zoning” posts, which compare the original stories to their Twilight Zone counterparts, sometimes Serling kept a substantial portion of what the author wrote. Other times, he kept only the basic idea and made so many changes that it became almost a new tale.

“The Old Man in the Cave,” which first aired on November 8, 1963, falls more into the latter category.

It’s the one about a man named Goldsmith (played by the ever-reliable John Anderson, in his fourth and final Zone role) who’s trying to keep a small band of survivors alive in a post-apocalyptic world — in the “tenth illustrious year after the bomb,” as one of them says. Yep, the Cold War obviously got hot and the nuclear holocaust happened. It’s now 1974, Serling tells us.

(As always, spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen this one before or it’s been a while, consider fixing that first, then coming back. This blog is open 24/7.)

So how does Goldsmith do it? With the help of an unnamed, unseen “old man” who appears to be a sort of oracle. He gives weather forecasts and makes crop recommendations to help the survivors avoid radioactivity. If anyone finds canned goods, he can tell whether or not they’re safe to eat. (Pro-tip: If it wasn’t canned “pre-bomb”, you might as well throw it out, no matter how ravenous you feel.)

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The Latest Twilight Zone Reboot Gets Booted — What Went Wrong?

I’ve heard quite a range of reactions to the news that Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone won’t be back for a third season. Some Zoniacs are sorry it won’t be back. Many more are glad. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle.

This isn’t because I’m trying to be diplomatic. I’m genuinely ambivalent. There were elements I liked about the new version (one of which has nothing to do with the show itself). There were others I didn’t like. Most of them I touched on in previous posts about the series, and I summed them up after Season 1 in this one.

Curiously enough, the latest reboot wasn’t cancelled by the network, but by the creators themselves: Jordan Peele and his company, Monkeypaw Productions:

Why the kibosh on a third season? It’s hard to say, at least from the outside looking in. Maybe the pandemic made it difficult to get things rolling again. Perhaps they found themselves getting interested in other projects. Or it could be that we should take their statement at face value: They told their stories, it was fun, but now it’s time to move on.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if negative reaction to the series played a part in the decision. As you might imagine, I followed fan response pretty closely on social media, and every time the latest reboot came up, the opinions ran at least 80/20 against it. It may be that Peele and his collaborators were able to shrug this off, but hey, we’re human. I’d be surprised if that sort of negativity had no effect whatsoever.

So what went wrong? Let’s mention a couple of things that have come up previously, then get into some other factors we haven’t discussed before. Read the rest of this entry

From Visiting the Zone to Hobnobbing with a Beatle, Kenneth Haigh Got Around

Ever have one of those times when an actor from one of your favorite TV shows also appeared in one of your favorite movies, and it didn’t click for a long time?

I’m usually pretty good at spotting faces and coming up with a name right away: “Oh, that’s So-and-so. He starred in Such-and-such.” But while my memory — at least for show-biz faces — is above average, it’s not perfect.

Take “The Last Flight.” We all have some episodes of The Twilight Zone that aren’t particularly famous, but that really hit a sweet spot for us. That’s how I feel about this story, which concerns a World War I pilot who lands at a modern-day air base (well, modern in 1960, when the episode first aired) and discovers that he’s done some inadvertent time-traveling.

I’m also a huge fan of the Beatles. Seriously, I could run a blog about them, too. And one of the many films I can quote almost word-for-word is “A Hard Day’s Night.” It’s a lot of fun — very witty and comedic, and loaded with great tunes, of course.

So why did it take me so long to figure out that Kenneth Haigh, the actor who plays Lt. Decker in “The Last Flight,” also starred as Simon Marshall, the sardonic advertising executive who interviews George Harrison in “A Hard Day’s Night”?

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Banishing Mistakes to the Cornfield: The Never-Ending Quest For Accurate TZ Info

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.

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Why Has The Twilight Zone Lasted? The Writer of Some Classic Episodes Explains

“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:

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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.

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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

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

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