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
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
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
The Twilight Zone, as every fan knows, is home to many wild settings that exist only in our imaginations. But one of the most magical is very real: the carousel in Rod Serling’s hometown of Binghamton, NY.
No, the much-beloved episode “Walking Distance” wasn’t actually filmed there, but this is the very carousel that Rod rode as a child. His nostalgia for that simple ride led him to feature a carousel rather prominently in the conclusion to that bittersweet story.
The carousel (which you can read more about at this link) still works. It even got a facelift in 2011 that included some TZ-inspired artwork by Cortland T. Hull in the panels above the horses. Here they are, snapped by yours truly on a visit to Binghamton. Can you recognize all the episodes? (Click any pic to enlarge it.) Read the rest of this entry
“The zenith of this film is when he meets his mother and father,” Serling once said of “Walking Distance,” a true Twilight Zone classic. “That’s when everything explodes.”
Indeed it does. But for me, the nucleus of this bittersweet tale is the all-too-brief discussion Martin Sloan has with his “pop” shortly before his journey back in time concludes. So as a Father’s Day tribute, I’d like to bring you that touching scene:
MR. SLOAN: Yes, I know. I know who you are. I know you’ve come from a long way from here. A long way and a long time. But I don’t understand how or why. Do you?
MR. SLOAN: But you do know other things, don’t you, Martin? Things that will happen.
MARTIN: Yes, I do. Read the rest of this entry
The Twilight Zone is famous for its twist endings. But for me, the real cherry on top of our inter-dimensional sundaes is Rod Serling’s closing narrations.
Surprisingly, some critics deride them as unnecessary. How dense are we, right? Can’t we figure out the lesson without having it spelled out by an omniscient referee? Perhaps, but that’s not the point.
The conclusions aren’t there because we’re slow. They serve an important purpose. Sometimes they tie up loose ends, sometimes they lay on a little irony, and sometimes they make a wry comment on the proceedings.
In short, they’re there to make the stories more enjoyable. Hearing Serling introduce and wrap up each episode, with his trademark voice and poetic language, is the perfect framing device. I’m convinced the show wouldn’t be as beloved without them. Read the rest of this entry
It’s one of the most vital aspects of any movie or TV show, and one of the easiest to overlook: the score.
Music can make or break a film. Alfred Hitchcock, for example, had planned for the shower scene in “Psycho” to be silent (save for the sounds of running water and Marion’s screams) … until Bernard Herrmann played his iconic shrieking violins for the Master of Suspense, who agreed that it greatly enhanced its effectiveness.
Herrmann’s talents also made their way to the small screen. The legendary composer wrote scores for seven episodes of The Twilight Zone (and his musical cues were recycled in many others), including one that leads many top 10 lists: Serling’s bittersweet masterpiece “Walking Distance.” Read the rest of this entry
When the news broke recently that Rod Serling’s final unproduced screenplay, “Stops Along The Way,” would soon be filmed, I was elated. Big surprise, right?
It’s not just the fact that I’m such a Serling fan. It’s because the project is in the hands of writer/director J.J. Abrams. I’m a long-time fan of his work.
Not everybody was so pleased, though. Some of the replies I got on Twitter, and the comments I read on articles about the project, showed a lot of skepticism. For some reason, they don’t trust him with this important undertaking.
But I think Abrams deserves the benefit of the doubt. For one thing, he’s proven himself more than capable of producing compelling TV shows and movies. Even those who don’t care for “Lost” can’t deny that he has an impressive track record. Read the rest of this entry
It’s a theme that surfaces repeatedly in Rod Serling’s writing. We see it in his teleplays in the 1950s and in episodes of The Twilight Zone (‘60s) and Night Gallery (‘70s). It helped him create some of his best work.
I’m referring to nostalgia. “I have a desperate desire for serene summer nights, merry-go-rounds and nickel ice-cream cones,” Serling told TV Guide in 1972.
This yearning led to the development of two of his most popular Twilight Zone episodes: “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby.” Both came in Season 1. Both feature a harried businessman trying to cope with great stress and a sense of helplessness. Both showcase a longing to escape into the past.
If you’re like most Zone fans, you rate both episodes highly. Pressed to pick a favorite, many opt for “Walking Distance.” But not Serling. Although he seemed pleased with it when it aired, his fondness for it waned as the years went by. “A Stop at Willoughby,” however, he later called his favorite from Season 1. Read the rest of this entry
Becoming the best in your field typically takes a big ego. Which isn’t surprising — if you don’t believe deeply in your own ability, you may not even get to the top, let alone stay there.
Unless you’re a genuine ego-maniac, though, self-doubt is always at your elbow. Exhibit A: Rod Serling.
Good luck finding anyone harder on his work than he was. Listen to his commentary on the Twilight Zone’s “Walking Distance” sometime. He almost completely trashes one of the most beloved episodes of the entire series. And that was typical; he rarely offered a word of praise to anything he’d written. In other commentaries (excerpts from lectures he gave at Hollywood’s Sherwood Oaks Experimental College), he repeatedly emphasizes what he considers flaws.
Yes, he may have been doing this in part to encourage the students to really take a piece of film apart. But other examples of this self-critical attitude crop up throughout his life.
Even the compliments were severely hedged. Looking back over Season 4, for example (when Twilight Zone had gone to an hour-long format), Serling said only one of the episodes was “really effective”: his own “On Thursday We Leave For Home.” He then added: “Yes, I wrote it myself, but I overwrote it. I think the story was good despite what I did to it.” Read the rest of this entry