I may be a severed head with a sobriety challenge, but in many ways I'm a lucky man. For example, people send me free stuff all the time. Like no-budget independent films on dvd-r. These make wonderful shiny coasters for my highballs, and I like having shiny things around. Gotta have something to focus on after the third zombie and I can't see the TV so well.
But I digress. I have gotten some good movies and books for review, and earlier this year I scored a copy of Martin Gram's reference book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. A winner of the 2008 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for "Best Book of the Year," it is no longer in my "review" pile or my "giveaway/donate" pile, but on my shelves next to another indispensable reference book on classic genre TV, David J. Schow's The Outer Limits Companion.
I had wondered about the necessity of another reference book on the Twilight Zone series; Marc Scott Zicree's The Twilight Zone Companion is a well-known, well-respected and oft-reprinted tome on Serling's classic series. But Grams has contributed much new information on the show by his own research. This included conducting new interviews with some of TZ's actors and crew members, examining Serling's correspondence with a host of people, and doing other research from original sources such as the show's financial ledgers.
Besides plots, casts, and other facts on each episode, Grams details the costs of each, which surprisingly varied considerably from episode to episode. Importantly, for those readers who already have Zicree's book, Grams gives greater attention to the show's final two seasons of it's five year run, chronicling how Serling increasingly lost influence over the series' production after the third season.
The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic is a book to consult, and/or dip into for a short spell. It isn't a critical review with expressed opinions by the author. Clearly, Grams DOES admire the series and Serling. But the book is a chronological history loaded with info. This makes the book not only scholarly but generally an enjoyable read as well. Sometimes the immense amount of info can be a bit of a slog, but for the most part the trip through the "Zone" is well-worth your time and the price of the book.
The book is most fascinating when it describes Rod Serling's relationships with executives, writers, and other people connected with the show. I particularly enjoyed reading about the friction (and a resultant falling out) between author Ray Bradbury and Serling.
Having been engrossed by The Twilight Zone as a kid, and enjoying it again as an adult, it was a real pleasure to read this informative look at the series. I recommend this book to all fans of The Twilight Zone and classic television. You can buy it here.
So I just had to pose a few questions to Martin Grams to share here. Here's my brief interview:
Why did this book need to be written?
What is the first TZ episode you can remember? How did it affect you?
The original Twilight Zone flourished at a time (the late 1950s) of growing disenchantment with the status quo in America, and ended during the rise of the new--if brief-- optimism of the Kennedy years. How were American political and social currents reflected in Serling's Twilight Zone?
The Twilight Zone has been around in one form or another (three television incarnations, a comic book, a theatrical movie, a magazine and a radio series) for almost fifty years. Why has it been able to flourish in so many forms?
Describe something you discovered about the life of Rod Serling or the events behind the scenes on The Twilight Zone that surprised you.
Could Serling thrive as a writer today?
Relevant links: Other reviews of The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic appear here and here.