Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Spend the New Year in the Twilight Zone

Are you looking for something to do on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day?

For several years now, I've spent much of the holiday watching the Sci-Fi Channel's "Twilight Zone" marathon — which Sci-Fi does twice a year, actually, around the New Year's holiday and the July 4 holiday.

Typically, it's two days and two nights of Rod Serling and the original "Twilight Zone" episodes. Occasionally, it's been for three days — depending on when the holiday falls in the calendar, I suppose — but this time it's two days.

It's a significant time to hold a "Twilight Zone" marathon. The year 2009 is the 50th anniversary of the debut of that series — although the Fourth of July marathon will fall closer to the actual anniversary of its debut, which is in September.

But that's a technicality. The fact is it's been half a century since the "Twilight Zone" first appeared on America's TV screens — and what the episodes lack in color and special effects, they more than make up for in the quality of writing, acting and directing.

And, as my brother and I have observed so often, it's a great way to see many stars who were still learning their craft. Robert Redford, for example, was an early guest star on the show. So was Dick York — who later was the first Darrin on "Bewitched." So were Cloris Leachman, William Shatner, Cliff Robertson, Buddy Ebsen and lots of character actors you might recognize from movies and other TV series.

Burgess Meredith wasn't exactly starting his career when he was on the "Twilight Zone" — but he appeared in four of the episodes that are regarded as classics today.

Since this marathon comes at the start of the 50th year since the show first went on the air, I thought I'd do a little research.

A television website, TV.com, allows visitors to register and then rate episodes for every TV show that's ever been on the air. The ratings are updated daily to account for the previous day's visitors and their ratings, but it's a pretty good way to see how fans of a particular show feel about a specific episode.

Anyway, after locating the schedule for this week's marathon, I looked at TV.com to see how many of the Top 50 episodes were scheduled to be shown. I found that 14 of the Top 50 episodes (according to the ratings on that day — they may change before the marathon begins at 7 a.m. Central on Wednesday) were not scheduled to be shown. Of those 14, four were an hour long — as opposed to the 30-minute episodes that were produced in most of the five years the show was on the air.

However, the top 10 episodes will be shown.
  1. The show currently rated as the best by visitors to TV.com is "The Eye of the Beholder," from November 1960. You might recognize one of the stars of the show — Donna Douglas, who later became Elly Mae on "The Beverly Hillbillies." You can see it on Sci-Fi at 7 p.m. (Central) on Wednesday.

  2. The episode that is currently judged the second best is "The Midnight Sun," which tells the tale of a change in earth's orbit that draws the planet closer and closer to the sun. It stars Lois Nettleton, who died earlier this year, and you can see it at 10:30 p.m. (Central) on Wednesday. It was originally aired in November 1961.

  3. The third-best episode was "A Stop at Willoughby," first shown in May 1960. James Daly starred in it, and Serling said it was his favorite episode from the first season. You can watch it on Sci-Fi at 10 p.m. (Central) on Thursday.

  4. The fourth-best episode was "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You," from January 1964. Personally, I never had that much regard for it, but I can appreciate the moral of the story — "being like everybody is the same as being nobody." It will be shown at 3:30 p.m. (Central) on Thursday.

  5. "To Serve Man" is the fifth-best episode, according to TV.com, and it's always been one of my favorites. It's the one about aliens coming to earth and appearing benevolent at first — but what they're really looking for is a new food source. You can see it at 9 p.m. (Central) on Wednesday.

  6. The sixth-best episode is "The After Hours," another episode from the first season. First aired in June 1960, it wasn't one of my favorites. It's about store mannequins who come to life and take turns leaving the store each month to live among the living. You can see it at 11:30 p.m. (Central) on Thursday.

  7. Next in the Top 10 is "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" — in which a hobo, clown, bagpipe player, ballerina and military officer find themselves trapped together. It will be shown at 11 p.m. (Central) on Wednesday.

  8. The eighth-best episode is "It's a Good Life," which will be shown at 10:30 p.m. (Central) on Thursday. It's about a little boy who can read the minds of the people in his small town and make them do what he wants them to do. I'm sure you'll recognize many of the people in this episode. Billy Mumy, who plays the little boy, went on to enjoy a successful TV career. So did Cloris Leachman.

  9. The ninth-best episode is "The Masks," the story of a dying, wealthy man whose family, eager to grab his possessions when he dies, visits him on his deathbed. The story takes place in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and the man instructs his family to wear specially prepared masks which, unknown to them, have very unusual powers. It will be shown at 9:30 p.m. (Central) on Wednesday.

  10. The tenth-best episode, "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" is from the second season. A group of bus travelers are standed in a roadside diner by a snowstorm. While stranded, they determine that one of them must be an alien — but no one knows who it is. It will be shown at 8 p.m. (Central) on Wednesday.
Many great episodes are being shown over the two days.

Enjoy the shows and have a happy new year.