Thursday, January 01, 2009

Twilight Zone Marathon

Most are probably unaware that for the last day and a half or so and continuing until tomorrow, the Science Fiction Channel is running a marathon of back to back episodes of Rod Serling's 1959 classic TV series The Twilight Zone, commemorating the fifty years since it first appeared. Now there is watching a show, simply seeing whatever is shown on the screen, and there is watching a program fully equipped with context. Sadly, heart disease killed Serling at the relatively young age of 50. His pen is behind the classic 1956 television event Requiem for a Heavyweight starring a young Jack Palance, but even less known is that Serling co-wrote the script for the original 1968 Planet of the Apes.

(Image from "Eye of the Beholder," one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes) A full appreciation of the series includes the awareness of the extraordinary number of aspiring actors and actresses who honed their skills with short performances on the set of this production. Ron Howard played several roles before he reached the age of six, and William Shatner's pre-Star Trek performance battling obsession with a devil headed fortune telling machine is a series classic ("Nick of Time"), as is the later episode where Shatner plays the terrified airline passenger who sees a demon outside his window ("Terror at 20,000 feet"). Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Charles Bronson, Elizabeth Montgomery, Burgess Meredith, Peter Falk, Carol Burnett, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper, and many others appeared as young, unestablished wannabees on the show.

The show also had some established icons appear for late-in-life performances, including Buster Keaton, Agnes Morehead, and Mickey Rooney. The entire 156 episode series which includes the never aired 1958 pilot episode, "The Time Element," can be purchased for $160. The knowledgeable viewer can immediately identify which of the five seasons a particular episode was produced by the Rod Serling prelude that begins the show.

First Season: There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Second Season: You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Twilight Zone.

Third Season: Same as the second except it eliminates "That's the signpost up ahead."

Fourth Season: You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

The infrastructure for the show started to disintegrate during the fifth season, its last. Serling put his spooky pen on ice for a few years but brought it back out five years later for a another classic TV series, The Night Gallery. Remember the shadow of the dead grandma on the wall? That's something that can keep a kid up at night.


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