The Return of the Twilight Zone

Revivals of classic television shows have been, for lack of a better description, hit or miss. For every successful resurrection of a classic TV staple (Hawaii Five-O), there have been some seriously smelly stinkers (did you ever see the remake of Fantasy Island? No? Count your blessings…).

There’s one successful classic TV series from the 1960’s that has not only had a successful resurrection in the 1980’s, there’s now plans for its FOURTH return to the small screen. That’s right, FOURTH return.

And I bring you… The Twilight Zone.

The Twilight Zone was playwright-producer Rod Serling’s greatest gift to television. It was an anthology series with short stories and symbolism and allegory and twist endings that M. Night Shyamalan WISHES he could use. I could just mention some of the plotlines and they’ll come flooding back to your memory. Burgess Meredith in “Time Enough at Last,” about a bookworm who survives a nuclear war, only to find that his glasses are broken and he cannot read his beloved books. Agnes Moorhead in “The Invaders,” about a woman who battles an attack from two aliens on her small, isolated cabin.

This was classic television, as Serling employed some of the best sci-fi and television writers to create fantastic worlds and memorable characters. The Twilight Zone ran for five seasons, and still gets a tremendous amount of respect from sci-fi fans today.

Now let’s go forward to 1985. That was the year of the resurrection of the anthology series. NBC aired two of them – “Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” – while CBS dusted off the Twilight Zone concept (Serling sold the rights to the name and series to CBS before he passed away).

Yep, that’s the new Twilight Zone theme, as performed by the Grateful Dead.

This new iteration of the Twilight Zone lasted for two seasons; it was presented as an hour-long series with two to three self-contained stories per episode. Some of the stories were re-interpretations of 1960’s episodes, including one – “A Simple Game of Pool” – in which the main character loses his match with a billiard-playing spirit (in the 1960’s edition, the main character wins the game).

The 1980’s edition was cancelled midway through its second season. A third iteration of the show, retaining the 1980’s theme music, was produced for syndication, and several of the 1980’s episodes were re-edited to fit a half-hour syndication package.

Fast forward to 2002. The UPN network decides it’s time to bring back the Twilight Zone as an hour-long series with two stories per episode. They hire actor Forest Whitaker as the show’s narrator, and off they go.

This iteration does feature some rewrites from the 1960’s series, as well as a sequel episode of “It’s A Good Life,” where actor Billy Mumy reprises his role as a person with powerful telekinetic powers and the people who fear him because they can’t control him.

Now why am I going down memory lane for this show?

It was recently announced that television producer Brian Grazer is dusting off the Twilight Zone concept and producing a pilot for the show’s return to television, possibly as either a midseason replacement or as a full-fledged show for the 2013-14 season.

Wowie.  Big happy dance.

Listen, I understand that it won’t really be a “Twilight Zone” without Rod Serling doing the narration for each episode.  But, for me, that wasn’t what the Twilight Zone was all about.  It was about good storytelling, half-hour and hour-long episodes that explored humanity through the world of science fiction, fantasy and horror.   Twilight Zone was the quintessential show for this storytelling format – the fantasy anthology series that was copied by shows like The Outer Limits, Tales From the Crypt, Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and others.

So I will be parked in front of the TV set when this new Twilight Zone iteration makes its broadcast debut.  And I’ll probably say things like, “Oh, this wasn’t as good as the previous versions, this is lacking, this – hokey smokes, that was a monster waycool episode!  Wow, I gotta put this show on my schedule of shows to watch each week!”