On October the 2nd 1959, American television broadcast The Twilight Zone for the very first time. It was a tale called “Where is Everybody?” which told the story of an astronaut waking up in a deserted town and slowly losing his mind. The twist at the end is that the town was a complete hallucination and he’s actually being kept in sensory deprivation for 484 hours to see if he can stand the isolation of a trip to the Moon. All the ingredients that make The Twilight Zone great are present in that first episode. The twist, a spooky depiction of the everyday, in this case a small town, and crucially, a camouflaged political comment on the human cost of a military driven space program. The template for the show was set, and so began a five year run of translating the American public’s fantasies and fears into weekly entertainment.
Since then The Twilight Zone has crossed over into comics, radio shows, films, theatre, theme park rides and pinball tables. It’s had two TV revivals, one in 1985 and one in 2002, and I’d put money on it coming back a third time. So, today’s mp3 is to mark the show’s fiftieth birthday, which was also the age of its creator, Rod Serling, when he died during a heart bypass operation in 1975.
Rod Serling has been a personal hero of mine since I discovered The Twilight Zone back in the early 80′s. The show cropped up late at night on Channel Four here in the UK. Out of sequence, and in varying time slots, I caught it whenever I could. I immediately loved the weird, twist in the tale, perfection of those half hour stories. One season experimented with hour long stories, but the best were short, scary shocks that could be set anywhere and deal with just about anything. From behind its veil of science fiction and fantasy, despite what Serling defensively says in the interview that starts this week’s mp3, The Twilight Zone covered topics from McCarthyism to femininism, and dealt with many subjects that otherwise would have run foul of the TV censors. It ran for 156 episodes, of which Serling wrote 92. The slack was taken up by writers like Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. Not a bad bunch of writers to fall back on, but Serling’s commitment to quality and sheer output still amazes me. The show also provided work for emerging acting talent and gave breaks to Lee Marvin, William Shatner, Telly Savalas, Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, and Elizabeth Montgomery. Again, not a bad group of actors to have at your disposal. Many did more than one story.
Though it won three Emmy’s and critical acclaim for Serling, The Twilight Zone never had huge ratings. It was cancelled twice only to be recommissioned after fights with the network and after five years Serling was worn out. He decided to let the third cancellation be final. Ten years later he was gone. He sadly just missed out on the revival his show had in the 80′s as a new generation of fans became Hollywood players and his stories headed onto the big screen and a new TV show.
I once read that he grew to dislike only being known for The Twilight Zone, felt that it overshadowed his other work, and maybe even damaged his reputation as a serious writer. If true, it’s a sad perspective on his greatest achievement. He did seem to have a clearer outlook shortly before his death though, when Serling is quoted as saying:
“I just want them to remember me a hundred years from now. I don’t care if they’re not able to quote a single line that I’ve written. But just that they can say, ‘Oh, he was a writer.’ That’s a sufficiently honoured position for me.”
He’s halfway to getting his wish.
I’ve put together one of Serling’s spoken intros with the brilliant opening music. Not, as is often credited, the work of Bernard Hermann. He composed the first season, but the famous “nee nee nee nee” Twilight Zone intro was composed by an uncredited French composer, Marius Constant, and used from the second season onwards. Marius was unaware of this for a long time as the producers had spliced together two pieces of music he had submitted to the CBS libary for an unnamed show, described to him as, “Strange, incredible, bizarre, fantastic.” There is also a small piece of an interview in there and The Ventures groooovy 60′s cover version. It ends with a bit of dialogue from the fan and personal favourite “Time Enough At Last”
Thanks for listening and look out for my week of Halloween posts starting on the 24th of October. I’ve got some ghoulish mp3′s, videos and a few surprises lined up.
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