Monday, October 29, 2012

Season Two

"You're traveling through another dimension. . . "

When The Twilight Zone was picked up for its second season in the spring of 1960, it had become both a critical and commercial success. Though never a ratings champion, the series developed a dedicated viewership (many of whom, to the surprise of both series creator Rod Serling and producer Buck Houghton, were children and young adults) that pushed the ratings high enough to keep the series afloat in its 10:00 EST time slot on Friday nights. Rod Serling was becoming more visible as a television personality, especially as creator and host of The Twilight Zone, as he made the transition from an off-screen voice to an on-screen host for the second season. In April, 1960, Rod Serling returned to Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (1958 venue for "The Time Element") this time playing himself in the segment, "The Man in the Funny Suit," which detailed actor Ed Wynn's difficult transition from comedy to drama for Serling's Emmy Award-winning 1956 Playhouse 90 program "Requiem for a Heavyweight." 

The Twilight Zone was becoming not only an entertainment property but a commercial opportunity quicky seized upon by the CBS marketing department, which loaned out the name and images from the show to a number of media ventures.  The following year would see a book of short stories adapted by Rod Serling based on his teleplays from the series and published by Bantam Books, promotional Twilight Zone mini comic books that would grow into a long running full size comic book series from Dell/Gold Key. Eventually, the series gave life to buttons, records, trading cards, toys, and a now highly collectible 1964 board game from Ideal Games.  Among the awards given to the series for its impressive premiere season was the Hugo Award given out by the World Science Fiction Society and an Emmy Award for Rod Serling for Outstanding Writing Achievement in the field of Drama. 

                Upon entering Season Two producers Rod Serling and Buck Houghton decided that several changes needed to be made in order for the show to craft the voice it had been searching for.  For starters they felt the show needed a more aggressive opening theme in order to grab the audience’s attention.  They found what they were looking for in French composer Marius Constant.  His highly unusual twenty-eight second theme song seemed to fit the atmosphere of the show perfectly.  It would eventually become one of the most iconic pieces of music in the history of television.  And because Constant's song is shorter than Bernard Hermann's theme for Season One the animation needed to be cut down to size also.  Another noticeable aspect that changed was Serling’s appearance at the beginning of every episode.  In the previous season the host only appeared in the promos for the following week’s episodes (the one exception was the season finale “A World of His Own” in which he appeared as a gag at the end of the episode).  Dressed in a sharp suit with a cigarette wedged between his fingers, his calm demeanor and teeth-clenched opening monologues became one of the defining characteristics of the show.  Serling also decided to change his official title at the start of the second season.  Instead of “Executive Producer for Cayuga Productions” the closing credits would now read “The Twilight Zone created by Rod Serling.”

                The new season would see many new faces on both the production and creative sides of the program.  To help with the hectic production schedule Del Reisman was brought on as associate producer.  E. Darrell Hallenback and Lesley Parson, Jr. joined the crew as the regular assistant directors.  In the art department George W. Davis continued on from Season One with the help of newly hired Phil Barber.  Henry Grace remained the senior set director with the help of W. Web Arrowsmith.  Franklin Milton remained the senior sound engineer with Charles Sheid and Bill Edmonson working underneath him.  Ethel Winant was brought on as the new casting director.  Among the new directors in Season Two were Buzz Kulik, James Sheldon, Justus Addiss, Montgomery Pittman and Elliot Silverstein, all of whom would become regulars on the program.  Season Two also saw the first script by author George Clayton Johnson, “A Penny for Your Thoughts.”  Johnson had already seen two of his short stories adapted by Serling during Season One but this was his official introduction as a regular writer on the show.  He would see two more of his stories adapted and would script a total of four episodes himself, several of which are regarded by fans and critics as some of the best of the series.

                Though the series was hitting its creative stride, Season Two was not without its setbacks.  As a cost-cutting measure iniated by CBS executives, six episodes were shot on videotape.  The result was of such poor production quality that it was quickly decided videotape was not a feasible method of shooting the series.  Aside from this, the second season of The Twilight Zone marks arguably the most successful creative period during the shows’ five season run and offers a handful of gems that became some of the most recognizable images in television history.

Episodes shot on videotape:

“The Lateness of the Hour”
“The Whole Truth”
“Night of the Meek”
“Long Distance Call”

Rod Serling’s Intro to Season Two:

“You’re traveling through another dimension.  A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.  A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the sign post up ahead, your next stop: the Twilight Zone.”

*Note: For the first three episodes of the season a slightly shorter version of this intro is used.

--Brian Durant and Jordan Prejean

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"The Time Element" (Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, 1958)

Note: As we make the transition from Season 1 to Season 2, we thought now would be a good time to include a post on "The Time Element," a Rod Serling penned fantasy segment that predates The Twilight Zone. Though it isn't included on any home video packaging of The Twilight Zone, many fans, including us here in the Vortex, consider "The Time Element" to be the true pilot episode for the show. It originally aired on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse before the actual marketed pilot episode ("Where is Everybody?") of The Twilight Zone. Since we missed the opportunity to deliver this write up of Rod Serling's excellent fantasy show before Season 1, we present it now in an effort to examine how this show developed into The Twilight Zone series.

Update: It is now being included in some DVD/Blu Ray packages of the show.

"The Time Element"
from the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse
Original air date: November 10, 1958

Peter Jenson: William Bendix
Dr. Arnold Gillespie: Martin Balsam
Ensign Janoski: Darryl Hickman
Mrs. Janoski: Caroline Kearney
Bartender: Jesse White
Newspaper Editor: Bartlett Robinson
Newspaper Reporter: Don Keefer
Army Doctor: Alan Baxter
Drunk Man at Bar: Joe de Rita
Bartender at Andy's: Paul Bryar
Maid: Jesslyn Fax

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Alan Reisner
Producer: Bert Granet
Production Manager: James Paisley
Associate Producer: Jack Aldworth
Director of Photography: Nick Masuraca
Art Direction: Ralph Berger and Gabriel Scognamillo
Set Decoration: Sandy Grace
Assistant Director: John E. Burch
Casting: Kerwin Coughlin 
Editor: John Foley
Story Editor: Dorothy Hechtlinger
Sound: Jack A. Finlay and Can McCulloch
Costumes: Edward Stevenson and Della Fox
Makeup: Charles Gemora
Special Effects: Howard Anderson, Co.

(Host Desi Arnaz appears on a bare stage except for a large silhouette projected upon the wall behind him. It is the shadow of a ticking pendulum clock.) His opening narration:
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to another Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. Tonight we're going to see a story written by Rod Serling and starring William Bendix. Our story begins in a doctor's office. A patient is sitting there. He walked into this office nine minutes ago."

Uncredited voice-over narration:
"Once upon a time there was a psychiatrist named Arnold Gillespie and a patient whose name was Peter Jenson. Mr. Jenson walked into the office nine minutes ago. It is eleven o'clock, Saturday morning, October 4, 1958. It is perhaps chronologically trite to be so specific about an hour and a date but involved in this story is a time element."

            Peter Jenson, an everyday kind of man, if somewhat lonely and transient, has come to visit Dr. Arnold Gillespie in hopes that the psychiatrist can help Jenson alleviate the overburdening fear that his dreams of time travel may not be dreams at all. Jenson is extremely defensive about his situation being that he feels everyone else will perceive him as crazy whenever he tells his story. Gillespie, however, simply urges Jenson to talk.            Jenson tells an incredible story. He tells Gillespie of a series of experiences that appear to be recurring dreams but that Jenson knows to be much more than that. Every night Jenson dreams the same thing. Here the audience "wakes up" with Jenson within his "dream." Jenson wakes up with a stunning hangover in an unfamiliar hotel room. He takes a moment to look around and outside the window before calling the front desk. The front desk clerk tells Jenson that he is staying in the Hawaiian Imperial Hotel. Jenson gets up from his bed and finds a calendar which reads December 6. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door and a hotel maid enters Jenson's room. Jenson, confused and hung over, angrily interrogates the woman as to what he did last night and about what Jenson believes to be a joke at his expense. When the maid tells him that it's not October 4 as Jenson remembers it but rather December 6, Jenson refuses to believe her. He is even more incredulous to his situation when the maid discloses that they aren't in New York City as Jenson remember but are in Honolulu, Hawaii. After shooing the maid from the room, Jenson decides that it’s time for a bit of the hair of the dog and goes downstairs to find the hotel bar. At this point, the only thing Jenson has a choice but to believe is that he went on a two month bender and somehow wound up in Hawaii.
            Jenson's rough manner puts him at odds with the bartender but Jenson quickly makes friends with a young married couple next to him, Mr. and Mrs. Janoski. He buys the couple champagne. Jenson's mood quickly darkens again when two things happen. First, Jenson learns that young Mr. Janoski is a sailor on the U.S.S. Arizona, a naval warship sunk by Japanese bombers in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Jenson, of course, has memory of this fact while no one else at the bar does. Second, Jenson gets into an argument with the bartender about the date and the year. The bartender states that it is the year 1941 while Jenson, still fighting against the logic of his unlikely time travel, insists that it is 1958. It takes Jenson seeing a newspaper being read nearby to really hit the situation home for him and, after making an embarrassing scene, runs panicked from the hotel bar.
            Back in Dr. Gillespie's office, Jenson tells the doctor all about it. He ran outside the hotel and looked at all cars in the parking lot and how none of them were models newer than ‘41. Dr. Gillespie continues to play skeptic. At this point, Jenson makes it very clear what he is saying.  When he dreams, it is real and when he "wakes up" it is still real. He is not just dreaming that he is going back in time; he actually is going back in time.
            Back in Jenson's "dream," we see Jenson frantically placing numerous bets with various bookies on future sporting events that he now knows to be sure bets. Jenson is visited by the sailor Mr. Janoski. It seems Janoski and his young wife are concerned about Jenson after his freak-out at the bar when he saw the newspaper with the headline about the impending war, WWII that is. By this time Jenson has learned to control his reactions and to play it cool when it comes to revealing that he is actually from 1958. He watches Janoski leave his room and meet his young wife in the hallway and a change comes over him. He now realizes that he must attempt to save people like this young couple and decides to contact the local newspaper to reveal what he knows about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
            This proves to be a huge mistake. As Jenson spills everything he knows about the imminent attack, he is ridiculed by the newspaper editor that warns Jenson against what he, the editor, believes to be a dangerous joke. Jenson and the editor eventually come to blows. An army doctor is called in to examine Jenson. This goes equally disastrous. Jenson checks out physically okay but when the doctor questions Jenson on subjects like the president and vice president of the United States, Jenson stumbles as he struggles to remember where he is, when he is and to remember seventeen years prior to his concept of the present, 1958. Jenson runs out of the newspaper office and winds up back at the hotel bar.
              Here, Jenson again meets with the young married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Janoski. Having a little drink in him, Jenson begins to open up about what is going to happen the next day when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. He tries to warn the young naval officer not to board the Arizona the next day. He even tells the young couple about his travels backwards in time. He pleads with them but is only met with hostility and fear. As the couple tries to leave, Jenson completely breaks down and begins telling the young bride that her husband is going to die if he boards his ship the next day. Janoski punches Jenson and knocks him backwards into the jukebox. When Jenson begins scaring the rest of the people in the bar, the bartender knocks Jenson out cold. Jenson awakens in his bed to the sound of Japanese fighter planes flying overhead. He gets up and runs to the window and sees the planes.
            Back in Dr. Gillespie's office, the doctor gives Jenson a rundown of how time travel, and, specifically, how one person's actions in the past will always affect the future. Jenson, in an effort to prove to Dr. Gillespie that his is actually traveling back in time, tells him a story of how he attempted to prove to himself that he actually had been back in Hawaii right before Pearl Harbor. When back in 1958, Jenson called for Janoski in the small town the couple mentioned having come from. Jenson got Janoski's mother on the phone and she informed Jenson that Janoski and his wife both died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

            Voice-over narration: "Dr. Gillespie's patient lay on a couch, almost in a stupor. They'd been talking for hours. It was Saturday and Gillespie had planned to close early and go play golf. At that moment, he'd forgotten golf. He was concerned at this moment only with the fascinating and unbelievable story that this man in front of him had told him. And then, as he looked at him lying there on the couch, Dr. Gillespie knew Jenson was falling asleep. He could tell by the look on the face that he was far from resting though his eyes were closed and he was no longer aware of him."

            Dr. Gillespie, looking down at Jenson, sees the man struggling in his sleep. Then we see a montage projected upon Jenson's head showing all that had transpired in the episode and the progression of events from Jenson's point of view. Jenson screams once and Dr. Gillespie is unable to wake him.
            Jenson awakens on December 7, 1941, back in Hawaii to the sound of fighter planes flying over his hotel room. He rushes to the window, looks out, and keeps repeating "I told you," over and over. Then, in a particularly violent moment, the planes open fire upon the hotel. Bullets come crashing through the window to Jenson's room and kill him where he stands.
            Dr. Gillespie is left alone in his office, seemingly confused as to what has just happened. Jenson, of course, has vanished from the present because he died in the past. Gillespie looks around his office as though trying to remember something which he can't seem to get a grasp on. Gillespie decides to go to a bar. There, he ironically and morbidly makes a toast on his first drink to "happy dreams." Then he sees a picture of Jenson framed and hung on the wall. When he asks the bartender who the man in the picture is, the bartender tells him that it's Peter Jenson. Jenson used to tend bar at this establishment. Gillespie says he looks familiar but the name doesn't ring a bell. When Gillespie asks the bartender what happened to Jenson, the bartender tells him that he'd died, was killed in Pearl Harbor.

            Voice-over narration: "It is October 4, 1958, Saturday, 12:10 p.m. If anyone is remotely interested in the element of time."

            "The Time Element" is considered by many fans of The Twilight Zone (including us here in the Vortex) to be the true pilot for the series. Though "Where is Everybody?" is an excellent episode and a fan favorite, Serling himself admitted that the episode was produced and written in such a way as to garner endorsements from potential sponsors for the show. This is generally thought to be because Serling planned to use the fantasy elements of his episodes to soften the blow of the outward social and political commentary inherent in his teleplays. However, in both "The Time Element" and "Where is Everybody?" this socio-political commentary is nearly completely absent. It is important to note that though Serling's work is remembered for its hard lined commentary on society, he was simply a lover of fantasy fiction and could construct a fantasy script in a pure form, which is what he does with "The Time Element."
            Serling's purpose, other than simply writing an entertaining show, was to display to both sponsors and network executives that a serious fantasy anthology show could achieve the same combination of viewer response and positive critical reception that any other type of show achieved. Though fantasy shows had been featured on anthology shows from the earliest days of television, networks were very reluctant to devote an entire anthology formatted show to this type of subject matter and generally relegated fantasy shows to completely imaginary constructs such as those of Superman or Flash Gordon. These types of shows were, in a nutshell, to be enjoyed by children or to simply not be taken seriously. Serling hoped to change that with "The Time Element" and the combination of great script, cast, and production team got the job done well enough for CBS to take on Serling's new show, The Twilight Zone, just a few months later. "The Time Element" became a shining moment for Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, gathering the most overwhelmingly positive responses from viewers at home and bringing in a flood of letters to the network office. The episode has been shown numerous times in syndication, including as part of the Museum of Television and Radio Showcase.  It proved that not only was the public ready for fantasy and science fiction television in the anthology format, but that they hungered for it. In just a few short years television would see the greatest influx of this type of programming in its history as shows such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, One Step Beyond, and Thriller invaded the small screen.
            On a thematic level, "The Time Element" resembles the main recurring themes of The Twilight Zone much closer than does "Where is Everybody?" The episodes most closely resembles the Charles Beaumont penned first season episode "Perchance to Dream." Check out our write up of that episode here. Beaumont adapted his teleplay from his own story published in the October, 1958 issue of Playboy, just one month before "The Time Element" premiered on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. In both episodes, a man is having a recurring dream that puts him in a dangerous situation. Both men go to a psychiatrist to help and are ultimately doomed by the tragedy of their situation. The one main different in Beaumont's "Perchance to Dream" is that there is no element of time travel involved.
            "The Time Element" also closely resembles Serling's other time travel themed episodes that deal with someone going back into the past as most of these, such as "Walking Distance" from season one, "King Nine Will Not Return" and "Back There" from season two, and "No Time Like the Past" from season four, deal with the inability of a noble or well intentioned character to correct a mistake or prevent a tragedy, such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Like another Twilight Zone writer and author that spent a lot of time on this subject matter, Ray Bradbury, whose most famous story on the subject is "A Sound of Thunder" in which the killing of a butterfly by a man gone back in time for a prehistoric animal hunt severely alters the future, and from which we derive the common usage of the term "butterfly effect," Serling has Dr. Gillespie in the episode describe exactly what Bradbury indicates in his story by explaining the process of altering the future with either action or inaction in the past. For Serling, however, it is not so much that his characters go into the past and change the future but that they find themselves faced with inevitable tragedy and the absolute inability to do anything about it. In "The Time Element," Jenson is hit with resistance everywhere he goes. The more frantic he becomes, as the situation looms closer in time, the crazier he appears to the other characters and the more resistant they become. It is a terrifying and effectively suspenseful conundrum that Serling would return to again several times throughout the course of The Twilight Zone.
            Several members of the cast and production team for "The Time Element" would return to work with Serling on The Twilight Zone. On the production side, director Allen Reisner would return to direct the season one episode, "Mr. Denton on Doomsday." Producer Bert Granet would return to produce 18 episodes of season five for Serling and The Twilight Zone. From the cast comes excellent character actor Martin Balsam who went on to feature in two Twilight Zone episodes, "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" from season one and "The New Exhibit" from season four. Balsam would, of course, become best known as the private investigator Arbogast and Mother's second victim in Alfred Hitchcock's classic shocker Psycho. Don Keefer, playing the newspaper reporter in "The Time Element," would return to work with Serling on three Twilight Zone episodes, the most memorable of which was his turn as Dan Hollis who gets turned into a grotesque human jack-in-the-box by adolescent telepath Anthony (played to perfection by Bill Mumy) in the classic episode, "It's a Good Life." Keefer was also featured in "Passage on the Lady Anne" from season four and "From Agnes, With Love," from the fifth and final season of The Twilight Zone. Jesse White, in a tense and dramatic role for "The Time Element" as the gruff bartender that knocks out William Bendix's character near the end of the show, was more at home in light hearted or outright comedic roles and he was featured twice in such a capacity on The Twilight Zone in two episodes from season three: "Cavender is Coming" and "Once Upon a Time."
            Though he would not work with Serling on The Twilight Zone, another interesting member of the production team is makeup artist Charles Gemora. Born Carlos Cruz Gemora in the Philippines, Gemora first found work in days of silent cinema at Universal Studios where the young and talented artist sculpted work for the production department on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Where Gemora really found his niche, however, was as a "gorilla man." Gemora's slight frame and excellent makeup talents led him to create and perform within realistic and often frightening gorilla suits on such classic horror films as The Unholy Three, Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Island of Lost Souls, working alongside such stars as Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, and Charles Laughton. Though it would have been special to see what Gemora could have done with the material presented on The Twilight Zone, Serling nabbed his own genius makeup artist for the production team of the show, Academy Award winner William Tuttle. Read about William Tuttle's contribution to The Twilight Zone here.
             "The Time Element" indeed stands the test of time as an intuitive and somewhat ingenious early offering of the type of fantasy to soon be featured prominently on late '50s and early '60s television. Beyond Rod Serling's natural talent at writing, his greatest contribution to fans of this type of show was simply the drive to get it on television, to put it in front of producers and network executives and sponsors and to show that this type of programming works. Though The Twilight Zone was never a ratings winner (it was never a ratings loser, either, but sat right in the middle of the pack for most of its run) it undoubtedly remains one of the most critically acclaimed and fondly remembered shows in television history. "The Time Element" can be considered seminal along with the best of The Twilight Zone in that it upholds to the same high standards representative of the best the show had to offer. The type of show that "The Time Element" represents is the type that provides both the escape and the provocation, utilizing the medium to its fullest potential. It is an effort that Serling would continue for the remainder of his professional career, reaching the apex of artistic success with The Twilight Zone.
Grade: B

--Allen Reisner also directed the season one episode "Mr. Denton on Doomsday."
--Martin Balsam also starred in the season one episode "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" and the fourth season episode "The New Exhibit."
--Don Keefer also starred in the season three episode "It's a Good Life," the fourth season episode "Passage on the Lady Anne," and the fifth season episode "From Agnes, With Love."
--Jesse White also appeared in the season three episodes "Cavender is Coming" and "Once Upon a Time."
--Bert Granet also produced 18 episodes from season five of The Twilight Zone.
--Desi Arnaz returned onscreen to deliver additional narration to end the show wherein he asks the audience how they would explain what happened. It was an attempt to soften the fantasy element of the show as the networks and sponsors felt audience would not accept an outright fantasy construct. The narration has been cut off syndication edits of “The Time Element” and I was unable to view or find a transcript of Arnaz’s outgoing narration.

--Jordan Prejean