The WordPress prompt today was A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma and it gives me the perfect opportunity to say a few words about my favorite TV show of all time. Yes, to those who know me well, I would put the Twilight Zone ever so slightly ahead of Star Trek Next Generation. I would do that for one reason – the stories. Please don’t accuse me of plagiarizing if this starts to sound like recent posts on one of my favorite blogs, Shadow & Substance right here on WordPress. I can’t think of anything to say that hasn’t been said over there, but I hope that they will appreciate me adding to the “substance” in support of their obvious choice in TV programming. Rod Serling rocked! The (then) new acting talent that he introduced to TV audiences rocked! The other writers on that show rocked, and they managed to pull it all off by telling great stories.
The picture to the right is a copy of a book that I checked out of our school library so many times in the early 1960’s that I felt I should own my own copy. I read that book often, and on several occasions I was reading the story behind an episode that I had missed. Remember, this was the early 60’s; no DVR, no VCR, no cable channels playing endless reruns. If you didn’t watch the Zone when it aired, you missed an episode. In my house, that meant that if I couldn’t convince my mom to let me watch a show she didn’t like, on the only TV set that we had, I missed an episode. I read and reread “The Shelter” long before I ever saw it on TV, but I knew that it would be one of my favorite episodes, especially since people around us were actually building bomb shelters!
Story telling is important for so many reasons. Most important among those reasons is that humans love to hear stories. Despite the fact that today’s TV lineup is replete with reality shows that bear very little resemblance to reality, news shows that offer an order of magnitude more opinion than news and televised versions of sports that are boring in real life (sorry, golfers) – we want to hear stories! But we want to hear good stories, stories with a well-developed plot, stories that make us think and stories that encourage us to imagine scenes that scare us without the need for graphic gore. We want to see those stories acted out by passionate actors who play the role of individuals engaged in a struggle – real or imagined – delivered by life or self-inflicted. We want to root for the underdog, we want to participate in the drama and we (well some of us) want to be scared.
Most of all, I (and I hope we) want to be reminded that there are issues in the world that should be dealt with. This is one of the reasons that I put Star Trek at a very close second to the Zone, both shows periodically served up a serious lesson behind the veneer of a great story. Like an aftertaste, “The Obsolete Man” made us think of injustice and the danger of a too-powerful state long after Burgess Meredith outfoxed the minions of the State. You could watch that episode today and picture the insignia of any one of our alphabet-soup of agencies above those pockets, and you would find yourself rooting for the man holding the Bible as he was about to be “blown to smithereens” by the State that lives in fear of its weakest citizens.
Although I was recently given a copy of the complete DVD collection, I will most likely tune into SyFy’s 4th of July Twilight Zone Marathon over this holiday. I will do that to keep the memory of Rod Serling alive, to let SyFy know that we – loyal fans of the Twilight Zone – are still out here. I will do it to send the message to the every other network that I want good stories to be told on television and that they have none to offer. Over 50 years after they originally aired, these half-hour episodes are still scaring us, still making us think and still making me wonder how these men could tell such great stories. Sadly, they make me realize how pitiful TV has become and how TV producers have collectively squandered an opportunity to make us wonder, to make us marvel and to make us think.
The theme of the WordPress Prompt was mystery, and I “offer for your consideration” a mysterious photo that I took, and that I chose to be the cover photo of this blog’s Facebook page – take a look and ask yourself “where do those stairs go?”