History, Legacy & Showmanship
Thursday, 24 October 2019 14:22

Witness If You Will... A Retrospective: Remembering “The Twilight Zone” on its 60th Anniversary

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The Twilight Zone was an enormously creative television series anchored by one of the true giants of the medium, Mr. Rod Serling, a master storyteller who was given unprecedented control over his work. In terms of quality, no show touches it in consistent quality.” — Steven Jay Rubin, author of The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 60th anniversary of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling’s classic anthology series which originally ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964.

The Twilight Zone premiered sixty years ago this month and for the occasion The Bits features a Q&A with a quartet of Rod Serling authorities and classic television historians who reflect on the timeless series (and its offspring) six decades after its debut. [Read on here...]

The participants are (in alphabetical order)…

Nicholas Parisi is the author of Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination (University Press of Mississippi, 2018) and serves on the Board of Directors of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation (www.rodserling.com).

Nicholas Parisi

Herbie J Pilato is the host of Then Again with Herbie J Pilato, the new hit classic TV talk show now streaming on Amazon Prime. Herbie J is the author of several classic TV tie-in books including Mary: The Mary Tyler Moore Story (Jacobs Brown Press, 2019), Dashing, Daring and Debonair: TV’s Top Male Icons from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2016), Glamour, Gidgets and the Girl Next Door: Television’s Iconic Women from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2014), Twitch Upon a Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2012) and The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man & the Bionic Woman Reconstructed (Bear Manor Media, 2007). Pilato presides over his own production company, Television, Ink, which produces family-oriented TV shows and was a consulting producer on the DVD season sets of Bewitched, CHiPs, Kung Fu and The Six Million Dollar Man. For more details, or to order personally-signed copies of any of Herbie J’s books, visit www.HerbieJPilato.com, or email HJPilato @yahoo.com.

Herbie J Pilato

Steven Jay Rubin is the author of The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia (Chicago Review, 2017). His other books include The James Bond Films: A Behind-the-Scenes History (Random House, 1981), The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia (McGraw-Hill, 2002), Combat Films: American Realism, 1945-2010 (McFarland, 2011) and (with David Lee Miller and illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley) The Cat Who Lived with Anne Frank (Philomel, 2019). Rubin has also written for Cinefantastique, Cinema Retro and Los Angeles Times.

Steven Jay Rubin

Marc Scott Zicree is the author of The Twilight Zone Companion (Bantam, 1982; Silman-James, 2018 revised and expanded edition) and audio commentary contributor and producer of The Twilight Zone Complete Series Blu-ray set. Zicree is the co-author of the Magic Time book series and has written numerous episodes of television series, including Babylon 5, The Real Ghostbusters, Sliders, The Smurfs, Star Trek; Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is currently shooting Space Command with Bill Mumy and Doug Jones and which can be seen on his Mr. Sci-Fi YouTube channel.

Marc Scott Zicree

The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): How do you think The Twilight Zone should be remembered on its 60th anniversary?

Nicholas Parisi: Sixty years after it debuted, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone is and should be remembered as one of the most influential series in television history. Every “showrunner” who came afterward, and certainly every science fiction or fantasy series that came afterward, owes a huge debt to Rod Serling for the doors he broke down with the series, and for the way he ensured that science fiction and fantasy could be produced at a very high level of quality on television. Prior to The Twilight Zone, science fiction and fantasy were viewed solely as an arena for children. Rod Serling proved that science fiction and fantasy could be legitimate areas for adult drama.

Herbie J Pilato: The Twilight Zone should be remembered on its 60th anniversary the way it should be remembered every day in the history of television, the entertainment industry, and the world: as a remarkable example of genius storytelling that just so happens to fall into the particular genre or realm (no Zone pun intended) of sci-fi/fantasy.

Steven Jay Rubin: The Twilight Zone should be remembered as one of the most well-written, produced, directed, photographed and performed series of all time. If you watch the 156 episodes in order, you realize that its quality is nearly without rival in the history of the small screen.

Marc Scott Zicree: As one of the greatest — if not the greatest — TV shows ever made.

The Twilight Zone

Coate: Can you remember when you first saw the show?

Parisi: I first saw The Twilight Zone on WPIX in New York, when I was nine or ten years old, in 1979 or 1980. Though I can’t remember the first episode that I watched, I know that I was mesmerized by the show — and by Rod Serling — immediately.

Pilato: I was too young to watch The Twilight Zone during its initial run on CBS. But not so for Night Gallery, which was Rod Serling’s other genius TV creation, if with a more supernaturally-eerie bent. I remember having a conversation with an older cousin of mine, explaining how much I enjoyed Night Gallery. And my cousin responded with, “Yes. But Rod Serling also did The Twilight Zone, which was really good.” That piqued my interest, and I later read a magazine article about the Zone, as it’s been come to be known in certain circles, and couldn’t wait to someday actually see it. And that day finally arrived when a local TV station in my hometown of Rochester, New York, began airing reruns.

Rubin: As an eight year old, I was not prone to watch dramatic television. I was into cartoons, westerns, game shows and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. I remember vividly wandering into the living room one night when my parents were watching The Silence episode in which an irritated private club member bets a motor-mouth $500,000 that he can’t be silent for a year. I think for an eight year old, the idea of not being able to speak for twelve months was about as horrific as it could get, so I quickly left the room and never returned to the show until it popped up in reruns years later.

Zicree: I was seven or eight years old, and I was up past my bedtime in the garage with my stepfather. He was a bit of a handyman and would repair things, so he had one TV on with just the sound, another with just the picture, on a high shelf, tuned to different channels. On the one with the picture, I saw a flying saucer land on an alien planet and three astronauts exit it to find a crashed copy of their ship, with their dead bodies inside it. It was only years later that I learned that it was an hour-length Twilight Zone episode entitled Death Ship, written by Richard Matheson and starring Jack Klugman and Ross Martin.

Coate: In what way is The Twilight Zone significant?

Parisi: The Twilight Zone represents the most significant body of work from Rod Serling, who I and many others consider television’s greatest writer. He wrote 92 of the series’ 156 episodes, and while several of these were not very good, it’s astounding how many of those 92 are excellent. On top of that, the series gave us consistently great work from Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and a few gems from George Clayton Johnson. It was a writers show and the quality of its writing is unparalleled.

Pilato: Besides the fact that Rod Serling was a prolific genius in the literary field, he also had an uncanny (and again no Zone pun intended) eye and instinct for the composition of success. And by that I mean, certainly he was a terrific writer, but he was also wise enough to select intelligent writers to work on the series. Also, too, he was smart enough to adapt previously published short stories, magazine articles, or novels, and apply that material to episodes of The Twilight Zone, or to hire other writers to adapt that material for segments of the show. That’s a real important element of writing for television, film, or even the stage. It’s important to have solid source material from which to draw when penning a script for either of those mediums. It’s why so many episodes of The Twilight Zone worked so well, and it’s why so many episodes of other TV shows and films from any era or genre do not work so well.

Rubin: The Twilight Zone was significant because it combined strong entertainment values with many of Rod Serling’s morality tales. At a time when television was veering away from the live-television era when dramatic television was at its height, towards a more mindless, for the most part light-hearted story-telling format (think The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan’s Island), The Twilight Zone stood out. In many ways, it was the last of the great anthology shows, a show that entertained you enormously while it made you think. Not surprising that college students were some of its biggest fans.

Zicree: It set a new standard for the quality a television series could reach, in terms of writing, directing, acting and producing. Plus, it told stories that changed how millions of people viewed their own lives — and the nature of reality.

The Twilight Zone

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