The Twilight Zone

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Introduction

I grew up watching television and movies as a means to feed my imagination. I saw stories unfold on the screen that would be a part of me forever. I remember the first time I watched “The Breakfast Club” or “To Kill a Mockingbird“, or “The Dick Van Dyke Show“. I remember when I became addicted to “Seinfeld“, staying up late so that I could watch it after “The Simpsons” (another favorite) on Fox. It was films and TV shows like these that shaped the type of media consumer I am today. However, there was one show that impacted me like no other. “The Twilight Zone” was introduced to me by a close friend growing up. My first exposure to the show was “Mr. Dingle, the Strong” starring the wonderful Burgess Meredith. From the first episode, I was hooked on these strange stories of fantasy, horror, and even of the human experience on which it shed a very revealing light. It was revealing in the sense that these stories revealed a lot of truth about human nature, and the consequences that may ensue from acting in a less than admirable way. Other episodes were way out there, and were just pure entertainment rather than a morality tale.

At my time of introduction to this fascinating show, I was heavy into collecting VHS movies. I would record movies and TV shows off of the family TV, sometimes locking it up from anyone being able to use it for hours at a time, because I was recording the “Friday the 13th” marathon or taping featured films on TCM’s Oscar watch. The Scyfy Channel would air “Twilight Zone” Marathons a couple times a year, namely on the Fourth of July and New Years. I remember the first New Years after I saw the show, I purchased a stack of VHS tapes. I was intent on taping the whole marathon, and over time, collecting the whole series of episodes. I was up around the clock. I had printed off an episode guide online, and would highlight each episode I taped. I had heavy eyes as I tried to stay awake and record at 2 and 3 in the morning. But it was worth it. I was totally hooked.

Origins

Rod Serling presented a teleplay to CBS entitled “The Time Element”, which they purchased. This was Serling’s first mark on Science Fiction. This episode that Serling hoped would be the start to a weekly anthology series, really set the tone for the series that would follow. However, CBS shelved the teleplay they purchased, and it looked as if “The Twilight Zone” might not happen.

Rod Serling

 

It took a few years, but CBS eventually ran the show, to a very pleased audience. This was the springboard for what Serling really wanted to see unfold, and that it did. Upon reception of “The Time Element”, CBS engaged in talks with Serling about producing a full-out series. “Where is Everybody?” premiered on October 2, 1959 and would be the first episode of a 5-Season show that would have an impact to last the ages.  

Impact on Television and Pop Culture

“The Twilight Zone” has had a tremendous impact on the television medium and pop culture in general. Television, even according to Serling was seen as a very limited medium. Time constraints and advertising was seen as a hindrance to the overall experience. Rod Serling and his creation of “The Twilight Zone” proved that television could be a force to be reckoned with.

The Outer Limits“, a somewhat lackadaisical competitor to “The Twilight Zone”, and most definitely not a worthy opponent, ran from 1963-65. Although there were a few good episodes, the show stood no chance to its much superior predecessor in the Science Fiction television genre.

Many shows, even including later reincarnations of “The Twilight Zone” would follow this masterpiece only to be shadowed by the original. “The Outer Limits“, “Tales from the Dark Side“, “The X-Files“, Serling’s “Night Gallery“, and even the children’s series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” aired by Nickelodeon in the early 90’s would all attempt to borrow some of the magic from Rod Serling’s original creation. Endless TV shows and films have also referenced the show.   

Twilight Zone: The Movie

1983 found Joe Dante, John Landis (Director of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller“), George Miller, and Steven Spielberg directing a movie version of “TheTwilight Zone“. The film starred Dan Aykroyd (“The Great Outdoors“, “Tommy Boy“) and John Lithgow (“Footloose“, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes“) to name only a couple. There are several segments throughout the film, meant to play like a compilation of the old television episodes. Critical acclaim was not received, and this film has really found a spot in the dark corners of the Sci-Fi genre, but nonetheless is worthy of a mention, especially for those die hard 80’s movies fans.

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The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Disney featured an attraction titled “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” in their Disney-MGM Studios portion of their Disney World theme park. A few years later in 1997, there would be a made-for-TV movie, by the same name, starring Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst which was really another fail for TZ movies. The same attraction found at Disney-MGM Studios would open in later years, most notably in Disney’s California Adventure in 2004. It is a definite highlight for any visit to a Disney theme park, and a great addition to the Rod Serling’s legacy. 

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Notable Twilight Zone Web Sites

There are a lot of fan-made TZ websites available. Among the saturation, there are a couple notable sites. First off, The Twilight Zone Museum is a fun one. Here, fans have access to episode information, TZ Convention information, Cast Bios, and an array of media (i.e. books, DVD’s, merchandise, etc.).

Another great TZ site, The Twilight Zone Archives offers much the same that The Twilight Zone Museum does, but features a more polished and interactive experience, although none of the two would be up for any web design awards. If you want Rod Serling information, access to TZ media, and even a petition for a Rod Serling stamp, this site is for you.

Twilight Zone in Publication

There are a lot of TZ books in publication. “The Twilight Zone Companion is easily the most recommended piece of published TZ history, and can be purchased at a very reasonable price. This paperback offers in-depth information on each and every TZ episode, including airing dates and cast information as well as a lengthy synopsis. Marc Scott Zicree really went to all lengths to give TZ fans what each of them should have. This book came packaged with the first run of “The Complete Series” of the show.

There are other publications such as original stories from the TZ and some novels and radio dramas (also contained in the DVD set) that can also be purchased.

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Availability

“The Twilight Zone” can be found in a wide range of media. Whether you are looking for VHS (obviously outdated, but maybe collectible), DVD, or Blu Ray, you can find a TZ to fit your needs. Also, the show is available for digital download on iTunes and Amazon.

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Favorite Episodes

There are many episodes I consider to be “favorite episodes”. It really is like picking a favorite child. That being said, here are a few episodes I find to be especially worthy of such mention (in no particular order).

The New Exhibit” 4/4/1963 – When a museum has to close down, the Curator takes home the wax dolls featured on the “Murderer’s Row” exhibit. What ensues is abnormal activity for wax dolls.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” 10/11/1963 – William Shatner is featured in this episode of a man recovering from a panic attack. His wife and he are flying home, and although he feels he has recovered, he swears to his wife and the flight staff that he sees a creature on the wing of the plane.

Walking Distance” 10/30/1959 – A man on a business trip on his way home to New York City finds himself walking down an old dirt road back to his hometown, while his car is repaired. What he finds is that he has taken a step back in time, and sees himself as a boy. He tries to confront him, but soon finds that he must let the past be the past and move on.

A Game of Pool” 10/13/1961 – Featuring Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters, we find a man who wants to be the best at a game that he loves. The only problem is, the man who is considered the best, is long dead. So, he is given a chance to beat him, when he comes back from the dead to take part in a sort of duel to see who is truly the best at the game of pool.

There are many other favorite episodes. I would strongly suggest if you have not seen the show, to take a sampling from every season, because there is something great to offer with each of the five seasons.

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Final Thoughts

It is easy for me to say that “The Twilight Zone” is my favorite television show of all-time simply because there is nothing that comes close to it in overall likability and range of stories. This show is absolutely brilliant in its writing and acting. This show features some of the greatest actors ever to live. I still find myself on regular occasion, watching episodes late into the night, simply because that is how I watched this show when I was introduced to it, and because the atmosphere of the night lends well to a lot of these stories.

 

Television and media in general will forever be in debt to Mr. Serling whose contribution to not only the medium of television, but the medium of writing and overall creativity, has been unmatched. I tip my hat to Mr. Serling, and look forward to many more visits to the Twilight Zone.

 

– David B. Harrington 

2 responses to “The Twilight Zone

  1. “Time Enough To Last” and “Printer’s Devil” are my favorites. Burgess Meredith was an incredible actor. Drama is the heart of the Twilight Zone episodes, not hokey special effects. You would think if they could get back to the basics that they could have a successful reboot…

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