Not many TV shows get off to a solid start. Even ones that go on to become classics need time to get the formula just right.
That wasn’t the case with The Twilight Zone. “Where is Everybody?” proved to be an ideal introduction to that land of shadow and substance. But that doesn’t mean it had a trouble-free production.
Just ask Earl Holliman. In a 1987 interview that’s excerpted in “The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia”, he recalled:
It was a joy to do, except the first day. It was very cold on the universal back lot, and it’s hard to do scenes all by yourself — you’ve got nobody to play off.
We were working very hard, starting early in the morning, and now it was dark. We were just about to quit when I heard the camera operator say “Uh-oh.” It seems that he had forgotten to do something, and we didn’t have one single useful foot of exposed film. That whole day was for naught.
I went home feeling terrible. It turned out I had a 102° fever. When you watch the pilot, you’ll see that I sound very hoarse in those first few scenes. That’s not character work, that was me being hoarse.
“Social distancing” is a new skill for most of us. Even many introverts are finding the new norms to be a bit much.
But in the fifth dimension, it’s a different story. Keeping your neighbors at arm’s length isn’t all that unusual.
Just ask astronaut Mike Ferris. He spent most of the Twilight Zone pilot, “Where is Everybody?”, wandering around an empty town. The closest thing he found to another human being was a store mannequin.
Or how about the prisoner in “The Lonely”? Poor Corry was not only in solitary confinement, he wasn’t even on Earth. Weeks would go by before anyone showed up to bring him supplies.
Then there was Henry Bemis in “Time Enough at Last”. Nothing like a little nuclear blast to ensure you get some major “me time”. Read the rest of this entry
Well, let’s enjoy a slice of virtual birthday cake today! Everyone’s favorite passport to the fifth dimension is turning 60.
Yes, on October 2, 1959, at 10:00 p.m., CBS aired “Where is Everybody?” It wasn’t an immediate hit, no, but it soon developed a devoted fan base. And once TZ hit syndication a few years later, the answer to that episode’s title was “in front of their television sets, of course”.
It’s hard to believe six decades have elapsed since it premiered. Sure, fashions have changed, cars don’t have fins on them anymore, and special effects have grown by leaps and bounds. But when it comes to the stories themselves, The Twilight Zone feels as fresh today as it did then.
Maybe even more so. Its themes — the pull of nostalgia, the fear of the unknown, the evils of racism, the allure of conformity, among others — seem timeless.
If anything, it’s more relevant now than it was then. It’s easy to imagine that Rod Serling and his fellow TZ scribes DID have the time-travel devices they sometimes wove into their stories. Read the rest of this entry
Have you watched Black Mirror? Heard it described as a modern-day Twilight Zone?
For reasons I explained in a previous blog post, I can’t quite agree. Yes, they’re both trippy anthology series that take a hard look at the human condition. But there are some basic differences that — for me, at least — make the comparison ring hollow.
But I’ve said my piece. I’m bringing up Black Mirror today for a different reason. I’m writing this not so much for my fellow Serling fans as I am for anyone who’s watched Black Mirror, but not The Twilight Zone (or perhaps watched it a long time ago) and who’s wondering if some black-and-white series from the 1960s is worth checking out.
So my purpose here is simple: to recommend a few episodes that I think you, as a fan of Black Mirror, will enjoy — or at least find interesting. So without further ado … Read the rest of this entry
“Where am I? What is this, some kind of a joke or something? I don’t know you. I don’t know any of you!” — TZ’s “A World of Difference”
Such confusion can be fun when we’re enjoying a story from the fifth dimension. After all, reality can be boring … except, of course, when it comes to behind-the-scenes info about The Twilight Zone itself. Not all surprises took place in front of the camera.
The Twilight Zone without Rod Serling’s voice? Unimaginable. Yet it almost happened.
It was only at the last minute that Serling stepped in and recorded the narration that would introduce millions of viewers to that elusive fifth dimension. Up until then, it was going to be Westbrook Van Voorhis, a very well-known announcer at the time. Oh, and there was an extra dimension:
A sixth dimension? Producer William Self explains:
I said, “Rod, what is the fifth one?” He said, “I don’t know. Aren’t there five?” I said, “I can only think of four.” So we rewrote and rerecorded it and said, “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man…”
I have news for you, ladies and gentlemen. I have discovered that … people are alike all over.
Fortunately, I’m not saying that from behind the bars of an interplanetary zoo. No, the resemblance I’m referring to is much more benign than a penchant for treating other races as if they were a species to be gawked at.
I’m talking about a love for the works of Rod Serling, and more specifically, his landmark TV series, The Twilight Zone. It’s been exactly three years since I began hosting the Night Gallery Twitter page, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 1,096 days, it’s that you can find Serling fans everywhere.
Men and women, adults and children, from every race, creed and color you can imagine. People from every spot on the political and religious spectrums. Individuals who would never talk to each other in “real life” follow this page, united in a love for the work of one of the 20th century’s most beloved writers. Read the rest of this entry
The Twilight Zone launched its second season on Sept. 30, 1960, with an episode that — thematically, at least — echoed the Season 1 opener: “Where Is Everybody?”
In “King Nine Will Not Return,” we meet Capt. James Embry, a World War II pilot who awakens to find himself in a desert. Beside him lies the wrecked fuselage of the King Nine, a bomber that shows no sign of its crew anywhere.
Embry seems to recall that he crashed while on a mission with his men, only … where are they? (If you haven’t seen the episode, check it out via DVD/Blu-ray, Netflix streaming, Hulu (embedded below), iTunes or Amazon Video before I divulge the ending here.)
“King Nine” is largely a one-man show, and Bob Cummings carries it admirably. As Embry, we see him go from surprise, to bewilderment, to giddiness, to anger — and back again. It’s easy to believe that we are, in fact, watching a man slowly losing his mind as he struggles to understand what’s happening.
A radio crackles to life, then falls dead. His men appear and disappear. At one point, he sees jet aircraft flying overhead. He realizes that, although jets didn’t exist during World War II, he knows what they are. How can that be? Read the rest of this entry
Where did Rod Serling get the idea for the Twilight Zone pilot, “Where Is Everybody?”
Like many good stories, it came from more than one source. In this case, Serling had been reading about real-life isolation experiments being conducted on astronaut trainees in the then-fledgling U.S. space program. Add to that two personal experiences:
I got the idea walking through an empty village set at the back lot of a movie studio. There was all the evidence of a community … but no people. I felt at the time a kind of encroaching loneliness and desolation and a feeling of how nightmarish it would be for a man to wind up in a city without inhabitants.
The second experience occurred when he found himself in an airport phone booth. “I heard the loudspeaker,” he later recalled. “I started to push on the door, and I couldn’t get out, and I got panicky. I started to yell at people, ‘Could you do this?’ Suddenly some guy comes along and kicks it with his foot. I wanted to die.”
Twilight Zone fans will recognize this incident as the inspiration for the scene in which Earl Holliman, playing astronaut Mike Ferris, can’t get out of the phone booth in the empty town square. (Of course, he had no one around to ask for help.)
Leave it to Serling to blend these elements into a memorable opening for The Twilight Zone.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Aliens. Monsters. Talking dolls. Time travel. Space flight. Alternate universes. Nuclear annihilation.
Over its five-year run, the Twilight Zone took viewers to a wide array of times and places, entertaining them with some wildly imaginative and entertaining tales. But it all started with a man walking around an empty town and wondering … well, to quote the title, “Where Is Everybody?”
It served as an ideal introduction to Rod Serling’s fifth dimension. Greater episodes lay ahead, but this story of a military test pilot who finally cracks after spending two and a half weeks alone in an isolation booth put viewers on notice — without getting too trippy — that this was no ordinary series.
A likable protagonist with a problem? Check. A situation that is familiar yet strange? Check. A clever twist at the end? Check. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to that “middle ground between light and shadow.” Fun, isn’t it?
In one respect, the episode turned out to be atypical — the story it depicts could happen. The odd circumstances all occur in the mind of a hallucinating astronaut, who, as it turns out, is doing something perfectly normal, especially for 1959: preparing himself for the rigors of space travel. Viewers could relate, and yet Serling subverted their expectations just enough to create an entertaining yarn.