Syfy Channel treated us to a refresher course in the Twilight Zone over the New Year's holiday. With little besides time on my hands these days and fresh TV programming virtually nonexistent during the holidays, I stumbled on Syfy's nearly 48-hour marathon of the early 60s anthology series quite by accident. Some accidents are gifts; this was one of them.
As a kid, I don't remember Twilight Zone as appointment TV in my house. Despite the fact there were probably only one or two other programs to choose from at whatever time slot the series played, I don't remember the family assembling in the living room and jockeying for the most advantageous vantage points from which to best see our 21-inch black-and-white Philco television -- a routine that was repeated for must-see shows such as Have Gun Will Travel, People's Choice, Ed Sullivan and The Danny Thomas Show. But I do recall watching several episodes, and have vivid memories of two or three of them.
Ah, the miracle of the DVR. Because I have DVR capability with my cable plan, I rarely watch anything in real time. I record and watch later, skipping over the commercials. I scrolled down through the 70 or 80 episodes scheduled and cherry-picked a few to record. Based on either my fond recollection of a particular episode, guest stars in a certain episode or just the description of the story, I chose about 15 episodes to record. I finished watching them last night.
Was Twilight Zone great television? Not really. At a time when much of TV drama consisted of mini-stage plays shot in front of a camera, it was pretty standard fare from a production-quality standpoint. Certainly Rod Serling's on-camera introductions are legendary and the sci-fi storylines were unique to the day. But most episodes consisted of actors delivering pages of dialog to one another as they stood or sat in place. Yawn.
Among my two favorite episodes, and ones that I remember from seeing the original broadcasts: William Shatner on an airplane sees a Bigfoot-like thing on the wing and tries to convince his wife and the crew that he's not nuts; and Burgess Meredith as a timid bank employee, who spends his lunch hour every day in the bank's vault reading, escapes a nuclear holocaust and is the last person in earth. The Bigfoot-on-a-plane-wing episode gave me nightmares for months.
What I do find remarkable about that original Twilight Zone series is the quality of the pool of guest actors. It was a virtual who's who of future movie and television stars. A few of the notables not already mentioned: Robert Redford, Leonard Nimoy, Charles Bronson, Jack Klugman, John Astin, Bill Bixby, Carol Burnett, Johnathan Winters, James Coburn, Burt Reynolds, Robert Cummings, Andy Devine (I can't write, read or say, Andy Devine, without smiling), Robert Duvall, Ron Howard, Cloris Leachman, and Cliff Robertson.
Twilight Zone may not have been great television, and anyone below the age of 40 would probably find it unwatchable; but for someone who grew up with it, watching a few old episodes was a great way to waste away a few hours over an uneventful holiday weekend.