Psychotronic film started as “B” feature films but over time it moved more and more to television and direct-to-DVD productions. One of the earliest psychotronic television shows was The Twilight Zone. That rubs a lot of people the wrong way because they think of psychotronic film as bad or at least lacking in production values. And The Twilight Zone was generally very well made with excellent actors.
The only exception to that is that some of the episodes were shot on video tape. And that stuff did not hold up over time. People often over-estimate the impact of I Love Lucy. And certainly, it was a popular show in its day. But much of the reason that it was still being syndicated when I was a kid was that it was shot on film and still looked good. Sadly, one of my very favorite episodes, “The Night of the Meek,” got the video treatment and I’m always a little sad whenever I watch it.
When you consider the dreck that was still the norm on 1950s television, it’s remarkable that Rod Serling managed to sell the concept. But you have to remember that Serling was an extremely well-respected television writer. And this was still during the period when people though Milton Berle was funny just for putting on a dress. But The Twilight Zone was really something new: both in subject matter and quality.
In 1958, Rod Serling wrote a script called, “The Time Element.” Its plot would sound very familiar to fans of The Twilight Zone. A man goes to a psychoanalyst because he is having dreams that it is 1941 and he is trying to warn everyone about the impending attack. No one will listen. Eventually, the patient falls asleep on the doctor’s couch and disappears. The doctor then finds out that the man was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. It starred William Bendix and Martin Balsam.
Serling wanted to use it as a pilot for The Twilight Zone. CBS wasn’t particularly interested, but when the show was aired as part of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, it was a huge hit. And so CBS decided to give Serling’s idea a try. They accepted “Where Is Everybody?” as the pilot and the rest is television history.
The biggest problem in the early days was finding writers. According to Serling, the writers who understood what they were going for weren’t very good writers. And the good writers didn’t have a clue what they were going for. Thus, the first 8 episodes were written by Rod Serling. In fact, he wrote 28 of the 36 episodes of the first season. But two other writers joined the team. First, there was Charles Beaumont, who you may remember from his work with Roger Corman.
The other writer was one that would go on to become associated with Corman: Richard Matheson. I’m not sure how it all happened. But in episode number eleven, “And When the Sky Was Opened,” Serling wrote his screenplay based upon Matheson’s short story “Disappearing Act.” Whether Serling was already thinking about Matheson as a screenwriter or that short story gave him the idea, I don’t know. Episode fourteen, “Third from the Sun,” was based upon Matheson’s second published short story — with the same name — published in 1950.
By episode number 18, Matheson got the chance to write his first screenplay, “The Last Flight.” It’s one of my favorites. It was followed that season by “A World of Difference” and probably my all-time favorite episode (What aspiring male playwright could resist?), “A World of His Own.”
Over time, I plan to write about every episode of The Twilight Zone. Part of it seems stupid. Wikipedia has done a good job chronicling the show. And there are a number of excellent websites that are only about The Twilight Zone. But it seems like something that ought to be done. For one thing, the writing on Wikipedia is just awful. As for the other sites, well, this site isn’t about the show. So I think I have something unique to add to the subject.
My plan is to finish doing all the episodes on Kolchak: The Night Stalker. For one thing, it was my introduction to psychotronic film. But it also has fewer episodes. Still, stop back from time to time, because I will slowly add to this page. I have a lot to say about the pilot, and it is probably different than you expect.
See You Soon!
Information about the movie itself:
- On Air: 1959 – 1964
- Length: 30 minute (1 hour for season 4)
- Episode Number:
- Certificate: NR
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Film: 35 mm Spherical Black and White
Obviously, so many more people are involved in the making of a film. But here are some of the most important:
- Creator: Rod Serling
- Directors: John Brahm, Douglas Heyes, Buzz Kulik, Lamont Johnson, Richard L Bare, and others
- Executive Producer: Rod Serling
- Screenwriters: Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and others
- Cinematographers: George T Clemens and others
- Editors: Bill Mosher and others
- Composer: Van Cleave, Jerry Goldsmith, and others
- Actors: hundreds