Readers here already know I’m a huge fan of the original Twilight Zone and its creator, Rod Serling. He’s cited as one of three writing influences for my creative work (Stephen King and Robert McCammon are the other two) and for good reason.
The guy was flat out an amazing writer. Sure, he dealt in television script writing, but a lot of what Serling did in that short run time was, truly, as timeless as infinity. Can’t compliment his work enough. It’s freaking legendary.
I’m currently in process of reviewing all 156 episodes of the classic Twilight Zone for this blog. It will, intentionally, take many years to complete this project. Probably more years than I have left on earth, because each episode, each review, is a time portal itself. It takes me back to a place I can only dream any new Twilight Zone could provide and have to dive into that frame of mind for each review. For example, see: TV SERIES Review: The Twilight Zone (1959) S1E1 – Where is Everybody?⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½ (#1 of 156) which was intentionally published on Valentine’s Day 2020 at a very specific time.
(easter egg alert!)
With the various reboots and sequels, they could go where Serling went, but often they don’t. They are imitations, but not his work. It’s more than his work, it’s his spirit and dedication, as well as the many others around him that put that show lovingly together.
Bless Jordan Peele’s heart for coming as close to what Serling did as anybody else in recent memory. He’s donning the familiar black suit, he released episodes in black and white and the themes and style of the new Twilight Zone episodes are trying to be there. I think the length of the episodes remain one vital, missing ingredient.
Cut the episodes down to 25 minutes max. We don’t need padding, we don’t need too much told to us, just show us the spark and let our imaginations fill in the gaps. Today storytelling is longer and I think that’s often to its detriment. Longer isn’t necessarily better (listen up, Martin Scorsese). Yes, it can be, but the Twilight Zone stories worked best in 25 minutes or less. Even the original fourth season they tried to expand to an hour length and Rod Serling himself admitted that the format didn’t fit the show and the stories they were trying to tell.
Jordan Peele isn’t likely to listen to me, but maybe someday we’ll get a Twilight Zone like the classic series. One that starts out in black and white, is a true homage in every little detail. Use the stock music, sound effects, shadowy lighting which only works in black and white, not in color, BTW. Make a black and white TV show first and secondly a color 4K HD or whatever whiz bang super sharp, clear technology exists.
Peele is a better narrator than Forest Whitaker. I’m not sure if Whitaker was involved as much creatively as Peele, but think more episodes were better under the Whitaker version. Alas, CBS All Access doesn’t offer the Whitaker hosted Twilight Zone, nor does it offer the first sequel in the 80s for comparison. Get with the program, CBS, and put all The Twilight Zone series on your service!
Back to present day and Twitter. I don’t use Twitter that much or involve in many conversations there, but I do read and enjoy following some people there.
One of my favorite people I enjoy following on Twitter is Anne Serling, because she somewhat frequently posts pictures of her father along with quotes by him that are shockingly relevant today. It’s a Twilight Zone moment that many of the same social and political issues, as well as business pressure and conflicts that Rod faced in the 50s and 60s, still exist today in some shape or form.
According to Anne, Serling was once asked what he would want on his gravestone. Serling replied, “He left friends.” Anne said that when she was finally able to visit his grave after coping with his death, someone had left a message on a piece of tape attached to a flag that read, “He left friends.”
Before getting to the headline, it’s fairly well known that Rod Serling wrote the original Planet of The Apes (1968) screenplay. It was reworked by Michael Wilson, and he was given a co-writing credit.
I was delighted to discover a graphic novel called Planet of The Apes: Visionaries on Google Play Books. There is a free sample available to check out here. The graphic novel by Dana Gould seeks to tell Rod Serling’s original screenplay of the adaptation of the novel by Pierre Boulle. I’m reading it now.
Enter James Cameron.
Around the time Cameron was working on Titanic, he was courted by 20th Century Fox to pen a script for the reboot of Planet of The Apes and Arnold Schwarzenegger would have starred in it.
(Yes, Arnold would have been in an Apes movie, too!)
The leak suggests that the film would have opened much like the original, with vintage footage depicting Taylor’s spacecraft crashing on Earth two thousand years in the future. However, the film would then diverge, taking place thirty years later and featuring a new group of astronauts from the 90s landing in the ape-dominated future.
One of the more exciting parts of Cameron’s script was that it would show Taylor alive and well after the events of the original 1968 film. I realize he was alive at the start of the second film. And Cameron’s plan was to have Charlton Heston’s replay his iconic role (about 30 years later, so the age would have worked) and he would have a meaty role in Cameron’s reboot.
That could have been a lot better than what we ultimately received in Tim Burton’s Planet of The Apes reboot. Then again, maybe it would have leaned toward the disaster reboot/sequel that was Terminator: Dark Fate. Cameron’s record behind the director’s chair is better than when he produces or writes screenplays only.
We’ll never know. Heston is gone, Arnold is too old and Cameron has long since moved on.
The most recent reboot of Apes movies were good, so maybe they’ll hold off awhile before somebody gets in that saddle again (wishful thinking, I know).
Would you have wanted to see James Cameron’s Planet of the Apes reboot?
It is interesting to revisit the movies that could have been. I know, there have been many, many films that shoulda, coulda, woulda been, but in the case of reboots, this is one that I actually would have been interested in. Moreso, if Cameron had stepped up and directed it as well.
What do you think of this proposed film? Yay or nay?
Rod Serling married his wife Carol in 1948. Assuming there is any truth to Alec Baldwin’s story about his aunt having one date with Rod Serling, we might assume this happened at some point 70-80 years ago, somewhere in the 1940s.
When Baldwin allegedly ran into Rod Serling somewhere in Los Angeles, that must have been either late 60s or early 70s.
Serling died in the 70s, and Baldwin didn’t start acting until the 80s. So when Baldwin ran into Serling, Serling almost certainly didn’t know him. Despite that, Baldwin said that he introduced himself and referenced his aunt and how she used to date Serling.
In response, Serling just said to Baldwin, “Would you excuse me?”, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Not sure if it would be classified as rude to say “Would you excuse me?” if someone randomly came up to you and said, “My aunt once dated you” after being married 30+ years.
This is a really random event for Alec Baldwin to dredge up when talking to Jerry Seinfeld all these years later. I chuckled when reading anyway, because brief encounters do happen to almost everybody. More meaningful for fans than the celebrities, of course, because the number of people Serling likely met toward the end of his life was massive.
O’Toole From Moscow is the title from a familiar author.
I don’t normally cover radio dramas here, but if it involves Rod Serling, it’s on the radar. The 1955 radio script was produced several years before The Twilight Zone and there are no known recordings of it that exist, so it’s being recreated to air on March 25, 2020.
It’s a screwball romp, with a side of whimsy: At the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, a Soviet Embassy worker fritters away time rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, then skips town with a comrade who suddenly becomes the greatest slugger ever for the Cincinnati Reds.
Season 1 Episode 1 – “Where is Everybody?” Written by Rod Serling Starring: Earl Holliman (living, age 91 as of 2/14/2020) Original airdate: October 2, 1959
Directed by Robert Stevens
Stevens would direct 2 of the 156 Twilight Zone episodes. He died in 1989.
A man walks along a path into a strange town.
The place is here. The time is now, and the journey into the shadows that we are about to watch, could be our journey.
Opening Narration by Rod Serling for “Where is Everybody?”
It opens with a man (Holliman) checking out a diner. Coffee is brewing, pies are cooking.
He calls out for people and looks around and while it looks like there should at least be workers in the kitchen, nobody is around.
Next he goes outside and sees a woman in a car. He calls out to her, starts talking about wondering where all the people in town went?
“Hey Miss! Miss! Over here!” As he closes in on the woman in the car, he explains that he can’t find anybody else in town and that he doesn’t remember who he is or how he arrived here.
When he opens the door he realizes that the woman is a mannequin. Then he enters the mannequin shop and still can’t find anybody. After another minute, he walks outside and hears a telephone ringing!
When he answers the phone, nobody is there. He hangs up and calls the operator and hears a voice, but it’s only a recording of the operator. Then he struggles to exit from the phone booth. Anxiety and stress are beginning to affect him. He’s starting to sweat.
After exiting the phone booth through a normal, albeit difficult, door he decides to check out the police station next. Surely there will be someone in there, yes?
No. He enters the jail area with running water and shaving kit prepared but, again, nobody is around to use it. The cell door creaks and threatens to close on him, locking him inside the cell. Escaping, his panic level is rising as he goes into the office area and finds a smoking cigar.
He runs out of the police station and cries, “Hey! Where is everybody?!”
Fade to black. This would be a commercial break if there was one. When we return to the action, the man is back in the diner eating a sundae. He’s a little calmer, but there is still an underlying tension and confusion in his voice.
He tells himself in a mirror that he wants to wake up. Wants to find somebody to talk to. There’s a book rack in the diner with a bunch of books titled, “The Last Man on Earth.”
He leaves the diner and plays Tic Tac Toe in the dirt outside. Nightfall is coming and the streetlights illuminate. He heads inside a movie theater.
Looking at movie posters, he suddenly realizes that he is in the Air Force. He runs around the lobby of the movie theater yelling that he’s in the Air Force.
He wonders if there was a bomb? But if there was, why isn’t anything destroyed? He then goes inside the theater and a movie starts playing on the projector.
Excited, he heads upstairs to the projector room.
But nobody is up there. Just the haunting projector running … tick, tick, tick, tick.
Running downstairs is the best camera shot in the episode.
He runs toward the viewer and we don’t realize it’s a mirror until he crashes into it.
Now he’s in full panic mode and losing his mind. When he emerges outside and runs down the dark street we see a camera at an angle with a bicycle in the distance. We see him running toward it and …
Then he trips over it. When he looks up and sees a giant cyclops eye, his stress has turned to terror. He can’t process that it’s simply an Optometrist office.
He runs over to the empty street, sweating profusely, frantically pushing the button to walk across the street safely.
He cries out for help. Anybody, somewhere, anywhere, “Help!”
At this point the flashing lights, “WAIT! WAIT! WAIT!”
And now viewers can’t wait to find out where the people are?
… SPOILERS ahead, you’ve been warned that the twist ending is revealed after this (hurry, go and just watch the episode before having the fun ruined …
Spoiler section – THE TWIST ENDING
The part that always fascinated me with Twilight Zone episodes was the twist ending. Some I figured out, most were surprises including this first episode.
The man we’ve been watching isn’t really in a town that has no people. He is in the Air Force and his name is Ferris.
He’s been part of an experiment inside an isolation booth.
They are trying to measure how loneliness impacts the astronauts traveling in the long trip in space.
We cut inside to Ferris in the box, pushing the panic button.
Ferris has snapped. The officials order him taken out of the box.
We learn in the final moments as they pull him out that he’s been in the isolation chamber for 2 1/2 weeks.
The barrier of loneliness: The palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man. Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting… in The Twilight Zone.
Rod Serling’s Closing Narration for “Where Is Everybody?”
This is an excellent episode to start the series. Serling chose a central theme which seems amazingly fitting: loneliness. As if he wanted to explain that these little, self-compacted stories in the anthology series each episode would do more than basic sci-fi/fantasy entertainment: they would have a message that transcends the black and white TV images.
By the time I review all 156 episodes, I’ll rank them and I’d guess on this Valentine’s Day in 2020 that this episode is probably in the top 25 (just a guess at this point, need to rewatch and review them all again). It has an unusual, unsettling storyline and a great twist ending. Earl Holliman’s acting isn’t overdone, there is a progressive crescendo as we build to the end.
The episode is understandably a little dated now in its presentation of a small town, particularly the phone booth. In 2020 everybody has cell phones and the use of phone booths has been obsoleted. If younger, first time viewers can suspend their belief at this historically accurate oddity, this episode still packs punch.
There are various fire extinguishers which look like diving tanks instead of the modern day version. Of course the cars look every bit like something from Back To The Future when Marty McFly goes back in time to 1955. Cars just looked cooler in the 50s than they do today, so no problems there. The advertisements for products and pricing is pure 50s as well. 40 cents for a banana split? Wouldn’t that be nice?
The camerawork, the angles, the extreme close-ups, the use of black and white with shadows are all excellent. Cinematography for this episode is by Joseph LaShelle who died in 1989 at the age of 89. LaShelle was a master craftsman of black and white film — and it shows.
Editing was by Roland Gross who also died in 1989 at the age of 80. He was an Academy Award nominee for the Best Film Editing category for the movie, None But The Lonely Heart.
The legendary Twilight Zone score is by Bernard Herrmann who died in 1975. Herrmann worked with Alfred Hitchcock and on many other TV shows and classic films like The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). A legend gone too soon who died of a heart attack at 64. Too young for such a great talent.
If one could define a nearly perfect Twilight Zone or really any other sort of pilot, this would be an example. I’m going to take a very tiny half star away for one minor thing that somewhat plagued some TZ episodes worse than others: flowery dialogue. Serling liked to have characters who spoke things that probably sounded great on paper, but didn’t always translate well to screen. This will likely be a recurring complaint of mine during the series.
Here some of the character Ferris’ dialogue speaking to himself was a little too convenient. Like he was being pure exposition and not really speaking aloud like someone in his position would. For example, how does he realize he’s in the Air Force just being inside the movie theater? Is it seeing the movie posters of airplanes? It isn’t entirely clear how this “aha!” moment is struck and a minor flaw in the episode. I know he looks at the flight suit he’s wearing and it is an Air Force outfit, so that could explain it better.
I realize it’s a dream state essentially, but some of the dialogue didn’t ring as true. Ferris didn’t need to speak as much as he did. His facial expressions were fantastic and showed the horror. I don’t think he’d be trying to have quite as many conversations with himself.
Overall episode rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Easter Eggs & Meta Toast
This section is for behind the scenes and meta information on publishing this review. Over the course of posting all these reviews, I may update with links to related posts. This post was published on Valentine’s Day 2020 at precisely 1:43pm PST.
Curious who will be the torchbearer for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone after Rod’s wife Carol died in Janunary 2020? No, respectfully, not Jordan Peele. He’s doing that from a professional standpoint, sure, as is CBS All Access. Thank you very much for doing that.
Yes, I’m talking somebody in the family that already carries the great Serling name. My money is on one (or both) of their daughters, Anne and Jodi, but perhaps one or more of the grandchildren could at least symbolically fill the shoes left by Rod and Carol.
Raised in Columbus, Ohio, Carol met her future husband in 1946 when they were students at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and he had just returned from duty in World War II. They married two years later, and she received a degree in psychology and education in 1950.
Survivors include daughters Anne and Jodi, grandchildren Samuel, Ryan and Erica and great-grandchildren Alyssa and Aiden.
Speaking of Jordan Peele’s version of TZ, it’s worth mentioning director of Gretel and Hansel Osgood Perkins is penning a “way out version” of an episode in season two of the CBS All Access Twilight Zone. Perkins is an artful cinematography guy, so it will be exciting to see what he does with shapes, shadows and the vast expanse of canvas that Twilight Zone provides.
On February 14, I’m planning a Twilight Zone love letter to share here. The first planned of at least 156 going many years into the future, if I live long enough, of course. Submitted for your approval, this blog will enter … The Twilight Zone.
… on the big screen for the first in theaters last night and loved seeing it. Was like watching TV on a giant screen. The theater was probably 60% full, so not everybody came out that could have, but was a decent showing.
Looking around this morning, I came across some more articles about the event.
While I could have done without the political stuff (President Trump is just too easy a target for anybody, especially Rod Serling), I enjoyed Jodi Serling’s insight. Serling was a master of telling the stories he wanted to tell, but framing them in a way that could get though the hypersensitive network censors of the time:
Overflowing with big ideas and uniquely attuned to the fault lines running through America, Rod Serling’s pioneering series provided the vital counterpoint to the placid programming that mostly worked to distract viewers from the realities of life. “He started to write The Twilight Zone to address the problems in society,” Serling’s daughter, Jodi Serling, confirms to Yahoo Entertainment. “He felt it was criminal that [television] writers were not permitted to address the social evils that existed.”