Sunday, July 25, 2010

June 16, 2009: Psychobabble recommends The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic

I’d been meaning to dive into The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic ever since OTR Publishing put it out last September. Having finally got my clutches on a copy of this potentially daunting, nearly 800-page tome, I was further daunted by Martin Grams, Jr.'s introduction to the book. He promises that it will not be a platform for personal opinion about all of those weird, wondrous, (and sometimes weak) episodes of “The Twilight Zone”. Rather he wrote it as a definitive reference guide full of carefully researched facts and figures, clearly irritated by the numerous “Zone” books that apparently got the details wrong. 800 pages of facts and figures? Sounds like a blast.

Fortunately, The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic actually is a blast. While I can’t (and wouldn’t want to) fathom the kind of fan who needs to know the brand of typewriter ribbon Rod Serling used, I can’t imagine one who won’t find much of this information fresh and fascinating. In keeping with his neutral approach, Grams’s text is generally pretty dry and academic, but there is plenty of color to be found. Serling’s heated correspondences with writers Charles Beaumont (who accuses the man of plagiarism) and Ray Bradbury (who bitches about rewrites of his script for “I Sing the Body Electric”) are more dramatic than a thousand reality show slap fights and they really draw attention to how underappreciated Serling was in his own camp.

The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic is divided into two parts, the first being a linear history of the program, the second being an exhaustively detailed episode guide (although I was disappointed by the cursory treatment a couple of my favorite episodes received, most notably the fantastic “Jess-Belle” from season four). Along the way, readers are treated to such goodies as synopses of episodes that never came to be, letters from people like Steven Allen and Jack “Book ‘em, Danno” Lord explaining how they longed to work on the show, and some truly illuminating trivia (Bill Mumy’s theory about why we don’t get a good look at his two-headed gopher in the “It’s a Good Life” episode comes close enough to answering a question I’ve had for decades).

It’s doubtful that anyone is going to read this book without doing a fair share of skipping around; there is too much tedious minutia about how much sets cost or how much actors were paid. Lack of critiques and details about Serling’s life means you shouldn’t throw away your copies of The Twilight Zone Companion (which Grams accuses of inaccuracy in his introduction) or Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television’s Last Angry Man, but The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic is an invaluable book to sit on the shelf next to them… assuming you have the space to store this behemoth.
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