A Timeless Quality

imageRod Serling was one of the first storytellers that I truly admired. I didn’t just watch the Twilight zone, I read the stories. I checked his books out of the library over and over and I read the stories over and over. That was fifty some years ago, and to this day, he is the only author whose written works I have chased down after seeing them brought to life on the little screen.

Earlier this month, I finished watching the Twilight Zone DVD set that I was given for Father’s Day. The DVD’s are great. The episodes are complete, as in complete, the whole thing, the way they were produced back in the ‘60s. They even left in a few cigarette commercials. We had those in the ‘60’s, the Nineteen Sixties, those sixties. I was a little kid when the Twilight Zone originally aired, but I still managed to watch a bunch of episodes. Some were scary but I watched them anyway. Some are still scary.

But I watched them anyway, yeah; I’m talking about you Talky Tina and you Willie.

How on Earth did Rod Serling create 156 episodes in five seasons? How on Earth have those episodes survived? We still watch these shows. The Twilight Zone has always been in syndication somewhere on the dial. I know, I know, there hasn’t been a “dial” involved for decades, but… It’s always been easy to get a fix of the Zone. An episode here, an episode there and, when necessary, I have been known to go to extreme lengths.

We are members of The Paley Center, a.k.a. theimage Museum of Television and Radio. You can visit this museum in New York or in Los Angeles and among other activities; you can watch original recordings of thousands of TV episodes, including many Twilight Zones. I took my daughter there to watch “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” in the mid-90s.

In the late ‘90s, I took my best friend to the Paley Center to watch a special showing of “The Time Element” – a 1958 Desilu Playhouse production credited as being an early pilot for the Twilight Zone series. You can watch the full production here.

These days, watching the Zone is easy. In fact, in a few days, I’m going to watch a ton of episodes again during the SyFy Annual New Year’s Twilight Zone Marathon.

Why on Earth would I watch trimmed-for-commercials versions of episodes that I have on DVD? Why would I watch episode after episode of a 50+ year old TV show that I just finished watching?

Because, they are that good and because we aren’t talking about anything that is “on Earth” – we are talking about the 5th dimension.

I could try to explain why the show is so good, but others have already done that. My favorite “other” is the Shadow and Substance blog. Paul, aided by Wendy has described many of the episodes and given us peaks behind the scenes and behind the stories. I love reading Paul’s in-depth analysis of the great, not-so-great and even the Dirty Dozen, as Paul labeled the worst. Considering that even Paul had to pick the Top-25 out of 156 rather than the Top-10 is an indication of how good this show was is.

OK, the show was good, but why watch it over and over? Why do we keep coming back to the Twilight Zone? As multi-episode star Burgess Meredith might say:

“…I’ll tell you the reason you came…I tell you the reason even though you won’t admit it to yourself.” (Imagining now) “You came for the stories, the writing, the camera work, the lighting. You came and you keep coming back because the quality of the storytelling is superb in every way.”

And Mr. Meredith would be right.

He might also add, “…the thing of it is” that the stories have a timeless quality. The lessons, some subtle and some blunt as rocks, are still necessary and that’s unfortunate because some of those lessons have to do with hatred, violence and the worst that humanity has to offer. Serling encouraged us to abandon certain ways of thinking, he warned us of the dangers of running too fast, wanting too much and ignoring the things that truly matter. He reminded us of things we didn’t dare forget.

But we did forget.

We forgot about the myriad ways people can marginalize other people. We forgot that material possessions matter less than caring about others. We forgot that there are things we can’t define, describe or understand fully but yet they happen. We forgot that we answer to a higher power.

I think the best example of these most important messages is found in “The Obsolete Man” staring Burgess Meredith. You can watch it early next year, 12:30 AM on New Year’s Day. If you do, look for me and several friends who will be chatting it up on Twitter. You can also watch it on YouTube (unless the link is removed).

I’ll be back after the marathon. I hope you have a happy and healthy new year.

30 thoughts on “A Timeless Quality

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  1. Bravo, Dan — re the “messages.” Well done.
    When i was a little girl i sat cross-legged on the foot of the bed, staring up at a 12 inch black and white portable TV that sat on the chest of drawers. I was transfixed by the Twilight Zone, and it was the first influence on my writing. Happy New Year hugs to you and your family. :D

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That show (for me) was a cross between scary and creepy. Something was always ‘just not right’ which made it so awesome. Great post, Dan. Rod Sterling was way ahead of his time. Enjoy the marathon.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love reading your passion for this before-its-time classic. Rod Serling was perfectly cast as the brooding, ominous-sounding narrator. I couldn’t watch the show. Maybe real life held too much trauma because I found the Twilight Zone far too disturbing and apocalyptic for my sensitive emotions. I wouldn’t even watch it today! But I am happy you will get your fix ringing in the New Year 😋


  4. Great post, Dan, and thanks for the mention/link! There truly is no other show that even begins to compare to The Twilight Zone. Serling was an incredible writer who to this day takes us on some of the coolest adventures imaginable. I’m so glad that Syfy keeps the NYE marathon going, not just because I like the show so much, but also because in today’s TV world of 10-13 episode seasons, it’s important to remind these lazy, mediocre writers what a TRUE writer can/should accomplish. I know, there are some decent shows with good writers today, but they’re no where near on par with Rod Serling and our beloved Twilight Zone.

    See you on Wednesday for the marathon, bright and early, I’m sure!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Wendy. I would agree. I think Teagan was right in her earlier comment, he showed us what is possible in writing. I have to work until noon on Wednesday but I’ll be settling into the marathon as soon as I get home. “Obsolete Man” and “The Hunt” are two of the episodes that I watched multiple times when cycling through the DVDs.


  5. Great post, Dan! And yes, I’d be saying that even without multiple links to my blog — I swear!

    Serling’s writing is indeed timeless in its appeal. People make the mistake of thinking an offbeat story with a twist is enough, but it’s not. Serling’s writing had such heart and soul that it lifted us out of the ordinary and created a classic that is just as enjoyable 50 years later as it was when it first aired. Hats off for this thoughtful tribute!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Paul. I can’t talk about the Twilight Zone without mentioning your blog. You do a great job. Wendy does a great job too on the Zone and other shows. You guys dig deep for the nuggets within each episode. Serling wanted to be remembered, and he has certainly achieved that more than anyone else.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I enjoyed watching the Twilight zone. And yes, we have forgotten wholesome values. Unfortunately, we have been brainwashed by the things we watch on TV nowadays. Even cartoons are violent and bloody, not to mention the video games people play. Society has become desensitized, and that’s scarey . . . . more scarey than the Twilight zone ever thought to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Today, they go for the quick scare, aided by overuse of graphics and they go for gross and shock value instead of suspense and artistry. They didn’t have an abundance of special effects available back in the ’60s, so they had to rely on quality writing, well planned camera work and great acting. I think we’re missing most of those today. It’s sad. Thanks for the comment Sandi, and have a Happy New Year.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The antepenultimate paragraph is very powerful. I’ve been asking why I forget things I should remember, and remember those that I should forget.
    I have read so much about Twilight Zone. But I missed them.
    Happy New Year, Dan!
    (And I finally used that word “antepenultimate”. I always wanted to use it. Third from last. Didn’t know I would be using on the last day of 2014. Feels good, though. Thanks for the opportunity.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such a good paragraph for you Peter since you often write about “things we can’t define, describe or understand fully” and yet you bring them to life / make them happen in your stories. Glad to be of assistance.

      Liked by 1 person

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