The New People ran for seventeen episodes in 1969-70 on ABC. An Aaron Spelling production, the series focuses on a group of rebellious lefty college students who have been causing problems for the State Department during a cultural exchange trip to Southeast Asia. They’ve been ordered home, but their plane crash lands on a deserted South Pacific island.
The island had been the site of clandestine testing by the Atomic Energy Commission so there are already buildings and food there (sounding familiar yet?). Thought dead by their families and the government, these made-for-TV hippies decide to create their own world, free from the societal problems and the older generation’s corrupt authority figures back home. But will they succeed or will it get all Lord of the Flies meets Wild in the Streets???
You might be tempted to write this off as goofy-sounding, but the first episode of The New People was written by none other than Rod Serling not long after he turned out his classic script for Planet of The Apes. Although the idea for the series was created by Larry Gordon and Aaron Spelling, Serling—a bleeding heart liberal if ever there was one—had an influential hand in its development.
The New People was one of television’s first real attempts—and a sincere one at that—to appeal to the countercultural zeitgeist of the day. The series aired opposite Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and Here’s Lucy and so was almost guaranteed a swift cancellation. Tyne Daly, Richard Dreyfuss and Billy Dee Williams made appearances on The New People before they became famous and the theme music was recorded by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition.
The Twilight Zone debuted on the CBS television network on October 2nd, 1959. Created, narrated, and mostly written by the iconoclastic and visionary TV writer Rod Serling, the sci-fi/fantasy anthology series ran for five mind-blowing years. During that run, the show’s name, its eerie theme music, and even Serling’s distinctive speech cadences became - and still remain - catch-all badges for weirdness, irony, horror, and the surreal. The show’s cult has endured for over 50 years - reruns are still being shown on SyFy - and it inspired two televised revivals and a feature film (none of which were on a par with the quality of the original series, though the film certainly had moments), with a possible third TV revival in the works via director Bryan Singer, and a new film being pitched by Leonardo DiCaprio. Copious information on the series can be found online, and home video episode compilations are plentifully available.
In the annals of television, The Twilight Zone is as close to immortal as it gets.
The series began with the last-man-on-Earth drama “Where Is Everybody?”
It ended with the broadcast of a STUNNING adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.”
In between, the show featured career highlight performances from the likes of Burgess Meredith, William Shatner, Buster Keaton, Veronica Cartwright, and Dennis Hopper, won two Emmys, and made Serling a household name for championing a style of narrative irony that was half O. Henry and half EC Comics. But he had already made enough of a name for himself before The Twilight Zone to merit this marvelous in-depth televised interview with Mike Wallace in 1959. Serling proves as gifted an extemporaneous speaker as Wallace as he details his struggles to maintain writerly integrity and effectively confront social problems in the face of network and sponsor interference. And holy shit, Wallace chain-smoked his way through the whole damn show - how the hell did he live to age 93?
Zsa Zsa Gabor walks through a magic mirror, a portal to a psychedelic prehistorical land complete with dinosaurs, looking for her little dog “Pookie” in a clip from Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. (Somehow THAT bit is easier to believe than her working in a thrift store…).
“Pookie! Pookie ver are yoo? Pookie? Pookie?”
The “Jurassic Park on acid” stuff starts at around 4:30.
Years ago a friend wrote me a story about how we all started talking but in doing so, stopped listening to each other. It was a short and simple story, adapted I believe from its Aboriginal origins, that also explained how our ears developed their peculiar, conch-like shape.
Like all the best tales, it began: Once upon a time, in a land not-so-very-far-away, we were all connected to each other by a long umbilical loop that went ear-to-ear-to-ear-to-ear. This connection meant we could hear what each of us was thinking, and we could share our secrets, hopes and fears together at once
Then one day and for a whole lot of different reasons, these connections were broken, and the long umbilical loops dropped away, withered back, and creased into the folds of our ears. That’s how our ears got their shape. They are the one reminder of how we were once all connected to each other.
It was the idea of connection - only connect, said playwright Dennis Potter, by way of E. M. Forster, when explaining the function of all good television. A difficult enough thing, but we try. It’s what the best art does - tells a story, says something.
It’s what Rod Serling did. He made TV shows that have lived and grown with generations of viewers. Few can not have been moved to a sense of thrilling by the tinkling opening notes of The Twilight Zone. The music still fills me with that excitement I felt as a child, hopeful for thrills, entertainment and something a little stronger to mull upon, long after the credits rolled.
Serling was exceptional, and his writing brought a whole new approach to telling tales on television that connected the audience one-to-the-other. This documentary on Serling, starts like an episode of The Twilight Zone, and goes on to examine Serling’s life through the many series and dramas he wrote for TV and radio, revealing how much of his subject matter came from his own personal experience, views and politics. As Serling once remarked he was able to discuss controversial issues through science-fiction:
“I found that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say.”
His work influenced other shows (notably Star Trek), and although there were problems, due to the demands of advertisers, Serling kept faith with TV in the hope it could connect with its audience - educate, entertain and help improve the quality of life, through a shared ideals.
As writer Serling slowly “succumbed” to his art:
‘Writing is a demanding profession and a selfish one. And because it is selfish and demanding, because it is compulsive and exacting, I didn’t embrace it, I succumbed to it. In the beginning, there was a period of about 8 months when nothing happened. My diet consisted chiefly of black coffee and fingernails. I collected forty rejection slips in a row. On a writer’s way up, he meets a lot of people and in some rare cases there’s a person along the way, who happens to be around just when they’re needed. Perhaps just a moment of professional advice, or a boost to the ego when it’s been bent, cracked and pushed into the ground. Blanche Gaines was that person for me. I signed with her agency in 1950. Blanche kept me on a year, before I made my first sale. The sale came with trumpets and cheers. I don’t think that feeling will ever come again. The first sale - that’s the one that comes with magic.’
Like Richard Matheson, Philip K Dick, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Serling is a hero who offered up the possible, for our consideration.
Growing up in the sixties, I was not the kind of kid who watched cartoons or TV shows involving horses, dogs or puppets. I was the kind of twisted little kid that watched The Outer Limits, Thriller and, of course, The Twilight Zone. These were my fairy tales, my fables, my mythology and my introduction to the alternative realities that I would later explore with psychedelics, mysticism and art. The Twilight Zone was a cathode ray jolt to my budding imagination and Rod Serling was the chainsmoking, black-suited Doctor of Darkness who administered my weekly dose of electric medicine.
These “lost” interviews with Serling are a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of television’s few visionaries.
From the Youtube description:
In 1970 University of Kansas professor James Gunn interviewed a series of science fiction authors for his Centron film series “Science Fiction in Literature”. This footage from an unreleased film in that series featuring an interview with Rod Serling, which wasn’t finished due to problems with obtaining rights to show footage from Serling’s work in television. This reconstruction is based on the original workprint footage that was saved on two separate analog sources since the audio track was separate. Re-syncing the footage was a long involved process as the audio track didn’t match the film and there was substantial sync drift. While not perfect, there’s a lot of interesting information on writing for television in the dialogue with Serling as well as a prophetic statement about his health at the beginning.”
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 a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!