The Syfy channel is airing it’s annual ‘Twilight Zone’ New Year’s Eve Marathon starting tomorrow on Dec 31, 2014. Why does a show that ended its original run in 1964 still hold such a wide appeal? It lies in its patented mix of cautionary tales told through sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.
It’s also a testament to its groundbreaking nature and the talent of the writers, cast and crew who helped make it the enduring classic that its become.
Here are 11 interesting behind the scene factoids that some fans of the series might not be aware of:
11. Serling’s “Sixth dimension” gaffe
In the voiceover for the pilot episode “Where is Everbody”, Serling starts off with “There is a sixth dimension, beyond that which is known to man.”
Producer William Self took exception to this, recalling in Marc Scott Zicree’s book “The Twilight Zone Companion”: “Rod, what is the fifth one?” He said, “I don’t know. Aren’t there five?” I said, “I can only think of four.” So we rewrote and rerecorded it and said, “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man…”
10. ‘The Twilight Zone’ used props from ‘Forbidden Planet’
‘The Twilight Zone’s lofty concepts and fantastical realms often stretched its meager budget to the breaking point. Luckily the show had access to props from the classic sci-fi film ‘Forbidden Planet’ to help on their most space-driven episodes.
The movie’s flying saucer was used in a handful of episodes including ‘To Serve Man’ and ‘Death Ship’, wardrobes were repurposed for ‘The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street’, and Robbie The Robot was retrofitted for the episodes ‘Uncle Simon’ and ‘The Brain Center at Whipples.’
9. The producer used an award winning foreign film for one of its final epsiodes.
Series producer William Froug found the show going over-budget in it’s fifth and final season. To help save costs, he bought the rights to ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’, a French film based off of Ambrose Bierce’s short story.
The film won awards at the Cannes Films Festival as well an Oscar, but don’t go looking for it on Syfy; it was never sold into syndication, and only included in the series DVD and Blu-ray special editions. It’s also available on YouTube.
8. “Cavender Is Coming” was created as a possible spinoff. It’s also the only episode to feature a laugh track.
While Serling’s writing talents were vast, comedy mostly eluded him. He attempted a chuckle-fest with ‘Cavender is Coming’, with the hopes that it could create a spinoff with its tale of a bumbling guardian angel. Even the comedic talents of Carol Burnett couldn’t salvage it, so as a last ditch effort the episode was slathered with a laugh track.
It was to no avail, and the episode is viewed as one of the weakest ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes, although it’s now presented laugh-track free on DVD and Blu-ray.
7. The show changed opening musical themes to save money and to sound more upbeat
The “nee nee nee nee” musical cue of the show’s theme song has become so iconic, that the lovely original score by Bernard Herrmann (‘Psycho’, ‘Vertigo’) is often forgotten. That more moody piece of music was considered “too down” by network execs, so it was jettisoned for the more recognizable jazz guitar piece by French avant-garde composer Maurius Constant.
It was also a shrewd cut-throat way to save money, as CBS could avoid paying music union fees for pieces recorded outside of the U.S.
It’s also worth noting that the series utilized many of the best film composers of the day for scoring individual episodes, including Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Roseman and Fred Steiner.
6. Series writer Charles Beaumont’s bizarre and tragic death.
Rod Serling began feeling overwhelmed with the writing duties of the series, and began hiring other scribes to help lighten his workload, including the great sci-fi novelist Richard Matheson and the more horror driven Charles Beaumont.
Beaumont’s larger than life persona and wild imagination were tragically cut short, when he was struck down by a bizarre mystery illness that made him look well beyond his years and became physically and mentally unsound.
No official diagnosis was ever reached, although theories run from advanced Alzheimer’s, Bromo-seltzer poisoning, as well as after-effects of having Spinal Meningitis as a child. While the writer died at the young age of 38, his son noted in ‘The Twilight Zone Companion’ that: “he looked ninety-five and was, in fact, ninety-five by every calendar except the one on your watch.”
Beaumont’s writing partner William Nolan noted the sad ‘Twilight Zone’-esque irony between the writer and his classic episode ‘Long Live Walter Jameson’: “Like his character ‘Walter Jameson,’ Chuck just dusted away.”
5. The ‘Twilight Zone’/’Star Trek’ connection
Two of the most revolutionary science fiction television series held close ties; ‘The Twilight Zone’ featured some of the first prominent roles by ‘Star Trek’ stars William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei (although his episode ‘The Encounter’ was pulled from syndication due to accusations of racism).
And Serling held a close friendship with ‘Trek’ creator Gene Roddenberry. In fact, Roddenbury gave the eulogy at Serling’s memorial service.
4. “The Big Tall Wish” was the first television episode to feature an all black principle cast
‘The Big Tall Wish’ is a tale of a boy’s magic wish to help a down-on-his-luck boxer reclaim his former glory. While the story isn’t revolutionary in its narrative, it has the distinction of being the first television episode to feature a predominantly black cast. This was made even more distinctive in that the story never acknowledged their race as part of the narrative. Something unheard of at the time.
This was a deliberate move by Serling, who said: “Television, like its big sister, the motion picture, has been guilty of the sin of omission… Hungry for talent, desperate for the so-called ‘new face,’ constantly searching for a transfusion of new blood, it has overlooked a source of wondrous talent that resides under its nose. This is the Negro actor.”
3. Orson Welles was the original choice to be the show’s narrarator
Between CBS and the sponsors, Welles was the top choice for the narrator of ‘Twilight Zone’, although Serling wasn’t enthused. In the end, the contrarian actor/filmmaker’s asking price was too high, and Serling volunteered himself for the job, thus saving the network cash, and indulging his inner showman.
2. Rod Serling’s creative output was a force of nature
When we noted earlier that Serling had to turn to outside writers to help with his workload, this wasn’t out of laziness. Between being the head writer, showrunner and narrator, the man was always on the brink of burnout. Keep this in mind: he wrote 94 of the 156 episodes. In the end, in an attempt to save time, he would simply dictate plots into a recorder for his secretary to punch up.
Many friends and colleagues noted his overworked and stressed nature and have conjectured that his untimely demise of a heart attack at age 50 may have been due to his workaholic nature (and chain-smoking habit).
1. Rod Serling turned to sci-fi and fantasy as a last resort to battle censorship
Serling was known as “The angry young man of television”, due to his tackling of social issues in teleplays like “Patterns” which dealt with corporate warfare, or “Requiem for a Heavyweight” about a boxer on the decline.
But the writer became enraged at being needled by corporate censors, which had gutted works like the racial commentary of ‘A Town Has Turned To Dust’, or something as irritating as taking the Chrysler building out of another storyline as the show was sponsored by Ford Motors. The writer had had enough, and vented in an 1959 interview with Mike Wallace: “I don’t want to have to compromise all the time, which in essence is what a television writer does if he wants to put on controversial themes.”
Wallace chided him on creating a show based on sci-fi and fantasy, but Serling had created his Trojan Horse. ‘The Twilight Zone’ would see him examine all of his social concerns, from fascism, prejudice, the Red Scare, warfare and religious zealotry, but disguised in tales of aliens and future dystopias. The viewers got plenty of societal observations disguised as simple escapism, creating a future generation of filmmakers and writers who knew that social commentary and science fiction, fantasy and horror didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.
So that wraps our list of 11 interesting ‘Twilight Zone’ factoids. You can click here to see Syfy’s ‘Twilight Zone’ New Year’s Marathon schedule.