Monday, October 29, 2012

Season Two (1960-1961)

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

Contemporary New York Times article (June 7, 1960)
detailing Serling's struggles on the series
            Rod Serling battled fickle corporate sponsors and an attempt by CBS to bring in a bigger name as host and narrator (namely, Orson Welles, who turned down the offer) to come back stronger for The Twilight Zone's second season. Though never a ratings champion, the series developed a dedicated viewership (many of whom, to the surprise of both Rod Serling and producer Buck Houghton, were children and young adults) that pushed ratings high enough to keep the series afloat in its 10:00 EST time slot on Friday nights. The problem which constantly dogged the series was an inability to hold on to sponsors. It remains a testament to their talent and determination that Rod Serling, Buck Hougton, and company continued to produce quality material on a series which always seemed to be tottering on the brink of cancellation. 

              Rod Serling gradually became more visible as a television personality, prompting CBS, in a fortuitous turnaround after its failed attempt to lure Welles to the series, to increase Serling's exposure on The Twilight Zone. For the second season of the series, Serling made the transition from an off-screen voice to an on-screen host, not only for the preview segments but before and after each play. In April, 1960, Rod Serling returned to The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (venue for Serling's "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 Playhouse 90 episode, "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1956).  

              The Twilight Zone became not only an entertainment property but a commercial opportunity quickly seized upon by the CBS marketing department, which loaned out the name and images from the show to a number of media ventures.  1960 would see a book of short stories adapted by Rod Serling from his teleplays and published by Bantam Books (Stories from the Twilight Zone) just as the first season finished its initial broadcast. The following year saw the series turned into a comic feature for the Dell Four Color series, which eventually grew into a proper Twilight Zone comic book which enjoyed a successful run from Dell & Gold Key Comics until 1982. Eventually, The Twilight Zone gave life to further books, buttons, records, trading cards, toys, and a 1964 board game from Ideal Games. Among the awards given to the series for its impressive premiere season were the Hugo Award, given out at the World Science Fiction Convention, and an Emmy Award for Rod Serling for Outstanding Writing Achievement in the field of Drama. 

                Upon entering Season Two, Rod Serling and producer Buck Houghton decided that several changes needed to be made in order for the show to craft the voice for which it had been searching.  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 two pieces from French composer Marius Constant.  When combined, Constant's music became a highly unusual twenty-eight second theme song which perfectly fit the atmosphere of the show. This music would eventually become one of the most iconic pieces of music in the history of television. Since Constant's song is shorter than Bernard Hermann's theme for Season One, the opening animation segment needed to be cut down as well.  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, dark 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 now read “The Twilight Zone created by Rod Serling.”

                The new season saw 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 Edmondson working with 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 stories adapted by Rod 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 initiated by CBS, the number of episodes was reduced from 36 to 29, with six episodes to be shot on videotape. The videotape form was in its infancy at the time* and the result was of such poor production quality that it was quickly decided videotape was not a feasible method for shooting the series.  Aside from this, the second season of The Twilight Zone marks arguably the most successful creative period during the show's 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.

*The videotape method required no director of photography since it was a standard four camera setup. It also required no editor since editing was accomplished virtually on the spot by switching from one camera to another in order to achieve the desired angle. Videotape did not allow for exterior photography, thus greatly limiting the type of shows Rod Serling and company could write for the videotaped episodes. The videotaped episodes had a different shooting schedule as well, requiring more days for rehearsal and fewer days for actual shooting. The videotaped episodes were transferred to 35mm film for broadcasting and storage. 

--Brian Durant and Jordan Prejean

1 comment:

  1. I've been waiting for season two! As crummy as the taped episodes look, "Night of the Meek" is one of my favorites, and who can forget "Twenty-Two"?