Rod 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. the 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
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.