The Twilight Zone & Me
Posted January 2, 2011on:
Now that I’ve set the mood – eerie of course – it is time to discuss the annual two-day Twilight Zone marathon on the SciFi Channel.
This New Year’s event is my chance to see many episodes that I missed when I was a little girl afraid of everything. The Twilight Zone was a big hit in 1959 and I tried watching it.
But I didn’t last much longer than that creepy intro that I suggested you click to start this post. I couldn’t take it when Rod Serling took us to a different dimension. The rare times I made it, I had nightmares, which meant my parents banished me once again from the room. Just knowing it was on still created that wonderful anxiety in me, mixed with jealousy that my tough older brother watched it.
Each show, “submitted for your approval,” relied on suspense, tension and twisting everyday lives into something bizarre. Serling, the cigarette-smoking writer and narrator, worked to be topical, a reason that the two first episodes I saw today were about aliens.
After the Russians sent an artificial satellite into space in 1957 – Sputnik – the U.S. was terrified. It created a huge space program. Space was on everybody’s mind – thus the subject of the frequent episodes.
Episode 1: Although his partner died in route to Mars, Astronaut Samuel Conrad (Roddie McDowell) is pleased to find that people were alike all over. The nice Martians provided him with a home that is just like what he would have back on Earth. He even commented that the scotch he drank was the best he ever had.
It was all great fun until the curtain opened in his apartment and he discovered bars on the window and crowds of Martians watching him. He picked up a sign that read, “Earth creature in his native habitat.”
Rod Sterling then explains that this species of animals has a “very tiny underdeveloped brain and comes from a planet called Earth.”
Episode 2: Bob and Mindy Frazier took a detour from drinking at a party to waking up in a strange bedroom. They had no idea how they got there and soon discovered all the furnishings were nothing more than stage props. There was no sign of life, except the distant laughter of an unseen child.
“Does it strike you that it is just as spooky out here?” Bob asks when they excited the house.
Indeed it does. In the end, a little girl towers over the city, giggling. “Be careful with your pets, dear,” her mother says as the girl opens up her hand to show the Fraziers in her fist. “Daddy brought them all the way from Earth.”
Before the Twilight Zone, Serling failed in one effort to be topical. He tried to show the danger of extreme prejudice with a play about an old Jewish man, killed by a young man in a drunken rage. The community in that story rallied around the good boy gone bad.
A reporter noted it sounded like the case of Emmitt Till case, a young African American man who was lynched in the south in 1955. His murderers were found not guilty in a sham trial, something that was common at the time.
When a reporter noted it sounded like the Till case, thousands of protests came from White Citizens Councils. The sponsors balked, which led to a watering down of the story.
Any reference to the South had to be taken out and the old man could not be lynched, either. In the end the story revolved around an old man with unclear ethnicity murdered in New England.
“It struck me at the time that the entire trial and its aftermath was simply ‘They’re bastards, but they’re our bastards,’” Serling wrote in 1957. “So I wrote a play in which my antagonist was not just a killer but a regional idea. It was the story of a little town banding together to protect its own against outside condemnation. At no point in the conception of my story was there a black-white issue.”
You can read more at: http://rodserling.com/beyond_the_zone/noon_on_doomsday.htm
Rod Serling was a writer before his time. He would have fit in very well with the “ripped from the headlines” stories of today’s television with one exception: no longer could that constant cigarette be in his hand on the air.
He might find an existence with smoking banned on television and in many public buildings across the country like being in another dimension … you guessed it … The Twilight Zone.