Monday, April 11, 2016
THE DIMENSION OF IMAGINATION
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.
Presented for your consideration: A prestigious writer rebelling against censorship opens the door to one of the best things to ever happen with television.
In a 1959 interview with Mike Wallace, three-time Emmy Award-winning writer Rod Serling discusses problems with censorship and commercialism threatening creativity. In the battle of the writer for creative freedom, Serling realized that while networks and sponsors would censor topical stories with strong social commentary, the way to slip around the gatekeepers and work with off-limits subject matter was to couch controversial topics in science fiction and fantasy.
In the five-year run of Serling’s brainchild, “The Twilight Zone” showcased thought-provoking tales exploring the human condition. (His first Emmy was for “Patterns,” a drama about corporate competitiveness.) Of the 156 episodes of the show, Serling penned 92 of them himself. Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and Charles Beaumont wrote the bulk of the rest, with Beaumont coming in second after Serling.
Charles Beaumont is a Twilight Zone story unto himself. Totally self-taught, totally influential, developed Alzheimer’s in his mid-thirties and died in his early forties.
According to Marc Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, who knew both Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury, Serling had asked to meet Bradbury while creating the show. Bradbury had Serling come over to his house, and there gave him a couple of books by his proteges, one by Matheson and the other by Beaumont, telling him to read these guys. Serling subsequently hired them. For a variety of reasons, the show used only one Bradbury story—“I Sing the Body Electric” in the third season. In a short YouTube video, Zicree goes into greater detail on Bradbury’s relationship with the show.
Top-notch writing was only one of many strengths. Getting Bernard Herrmann to compose the theme was a major coup. Herrmann is film’s greatest composer, so it’s not surprising that he came up with TV’s most recognizable theme song. Even people who have never seen an episode can recognize the four simple notes in the theme, and understand those sounds mean something weird is going on.
Tales with twists and often grim endings characterize the show. In “Long Distance Call,” an ailing old woman gives her grandson a toy phone, and after she dies he uses it to talk with her. In “Time Enough at Last,” a man who loves to read finds he is the only survivor of a nuclear blast.
New stories with different characters kept it fresh every week. The only thing predictable was unpredictability.
At the center of the Twilight Zone universe operates a morality which rewards the just and punishes the unjust. When Telly Savalas is a bad dad in “Living Doll,” we like that Talky Tina says things she’s not supposed to. Even when nobody pulls the string.
Which gets to the heart of why the show was ever made. High-quality, polished short films. Too interesting to be forgotten, too smart for the censors to touch.
Freely available online.
Stewart Kirby writes for