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 

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Hard or Digital Media?

I have been collecting films and TV shows for a very long time. It was a regular scene to find me in my room with stacks of VHS tapes, labels, and a sharpie marker, documenting my latest recordings. I would print off episode guides for TV shows, and have the TV guide out so that I could see which classic films AMC and TCM were going to be broadcasting. I would hog the family TV in the living room, and have recordings going, sometimes for full days at a time. This became quite a hindrance to the rest of the family, because they weren’t able to watch TV. But luckily I had two parents who were supportive in my needing that next big piece in my collection. AMC would run horror movies every October (and still do). I would be recording “Friday the 13th” parts one through a million. I was able to salvage one of my Dad’s old computers and load a copy of Microsoft Word on there so that I could have a digital list of my collection, a big move forward from a college-ruled notebook.

I had to resort to a small TV in my Dad’s office to do some of my recordings. I remember “The Twilight Zone” New Years Eve Marathon, and being glued to the desk chair for hours and hours at a time. I would cross off the episodes on the guide I printed off (ya, my parents had to refill ink cartridges quite a few times). Before I knew it, my VHS collection had over 700 entries, ranging from old Disney movies to horror movies, and from “The Twilight Zone” to “Seinfeld”.

I remember the day that I moved from VHS to DVD. I have younger brothers who also have a love for collecting, and gave a lot of my stuff away. I still remember my first DVD. It was volume 1 of “Speed Racer”, the classic japanese cartoon that made its way to the US, and was in syndication for a long time. My collection evolved from VHS to DVD, and then to Blu Ray. Over the years I have exposed myself to as wide a range of film as possible. I have come to love the work of directors that I would have never been exposed to had I not performed all of the research I have. The American Film Institute, and their top 100 lists were a big resource for my film exploration. I also had a Film History class is High School, that was like a buffet of knowledge for me. I inhaled all of the content, and was often the only student in class, talking back and forth with the teacher, because there were facts that I knew, and I wanted to share what I knew with everybody. Film has always worked that way with me. I get very excited about classic film, and with new work as well. I love talking about it, as my wife, other family, and my coworkers all know.

Now onto the topic of this entry. As I have outlined above, I have collected hard media for a long time. My shelves have always been packed with movies and TV shows. Over the last few years there has been a big push for digital media. Now, hard media is still king, as the numbers show. Consumers still prefer this type of media over digital downloads. I have had what is now almost considered the old school mentality of having to have a movie on my shelf. It has always created more of a tactile experience. However, I have started to convert my collection, for the most part, to digital format. There are some sets that I own on Blu Ray that have come in very collectible sets, such as “Star Wars”, “Lord of the Rings”, the “Alien Anthology”, the “Jurassic Park” trilogy, and others. There are a handful of regular Blu Ray releases that I also have on the shelf, namely my top ten list, and other great titles of importance to me.

That being said, I have been building a digital library. Being a Macophile, I have set up a home media server, utilizing my iMac and my Apple TV (two of which I own, for the living room and bedroom TV’s). I have found this to be a lot of fun, as I can collect and collect and collect, and rather than taking up shelf space, it simply takes up gigabytes of my hard drive. I invested $100 in a 2TB drive for my iMac, and also have an external 2TB G Drive. This has worked out really well. I can even use my iPhone as my remote control for my Apple TV, and access movies and TV shows quickly over my Wifi network. I have found that I enjoy having some files in digital format, especially those that I want to have in my collection, but don’t necessarily need on my shelf in hard copy.

What I really love about my setup is that I can arrange my whole collection by genre, title, length, or whatever other criteria I can pinpoint. I also like the option to push the media to either my Apple TV or my iPhone. When I am traveling, which I do frequently, I can push a movie or two to my iPhone, and enjoy on the plane or wherever I am.

It is really easy to convert media that you own to a digital format. I utilize a couple programs to do this. Keep in mind that I am a Mac user, so this may differ for you PC users out there (get a Mac!). I use RipIt to rip the media, and then Handbrake is my preferred program for encoding the video. Click here to go to Apple’s site to view the Apple TV. They are only $99 and completely worth it if you are looking to stream media. Aside from streaming movies and TV shows you might rip into digital format like we have discussed, it also has accessibility for Netflix, YouTube, and many other services.

Here is a screenshot for RipIt:

It is as simple as clicking “Rip”. That will give you a ripped digital file, where you can save anywhere on your computer that you prefer. I usually default to the Desktop.

Here is a screenshot of HandBrake:

HandBrake is used to encode the video. I have always used the default settings, and have had really good results. I play most of my media on my 55″ LED.

Something else to note is that a lot of movies that are being released these days include a digital copy of the film, which is nice, because all of the work that would come from using RipIt and Handbrake is already done for you. There is usually an activation code, and you can have the file downloaded directly to iTunes.

So here’s my question. What format do you prefer? Hard or digital? It is an interesting topic. People tend to be very opinionated one way or another. But I have found what I feel like is a happy medium between the two.

Here is what my iTunes film library looks like. I can push all of this media to my Apple TV or iPhone. It would work for those who have an iPad as well. You’ll also notice on the left hand side there is a link for TV shows, which is of course where I have my TV shows that I have digitized. I can also send my iTunes music library to my Apple TV, so I can play my music through my LED TV, which has great speakers.

-David B. Harrington