Or maybe the node title should include “...and exactly what you’re doing wrong”, since there are actually people writing episodes of “The Twilight Zone
” for a new version being aired on the UPN
. Sure, it sounds difficult
, doesn’t it? After all, “The Twilight Zone” was one of the smartest
most innovative TV series
, wasn’t it? The truth is yes, it was. But the reason for that was because there is a rubric
for which one can easily develop a Twilight Zone
concept. The following points adhere to the sensibilities of almost every original episode
of The Twilight Zone:
1) The Characters
In each episode, one or more characters find themselves in the Twilight Zone. If you have entered the Twilight Zone, there is only one thing for certain: You either have an insecurity or fear that you are not addressing or you’re driven by something immoral or selfish. The Twilight Zone absolutely never, ever, took a guy who seemed to be doing the right thing and addressing all the problems in his life honestly. What is so difficult about this after all? Insecurities and fears are human nature, the perfect are boring when it comes to psychological behavior. The Twilight Zone addresses fears, and its message in most cases is to accept the things you fear. Those who have fears tend to come out of the Zone having faced them or realized them, and villains generally die, become the subject of a cruel mind fuck, or in some cases realize the error of their ways. Some examples:
One for the Angels: A salesman (Ed Wynn) asks for a reprieve from Death, who then picks a little girl instead.
The salesman in this episode is an old man, and when Death comes to him, he decides he’s not prepared to die. He’s afraid. And worse, he tries to trick Death, an immoral action. Death then puts the salesman in a situation where his selfishness would rob a little girl of her life. In the end of the episode, the salesman does everything he can to trade his life for the girl's, overcoming his fear of Death and accepting it.
The Rip Van Winkle Caper: Thieves emerge from suspended animation to spend the gold they pilfered 100 years before.
The Thieves are immoral villains, greed has driven their actions, and once they reach the future, they become more and more consumed with greed until there is only one of them left who has killed the others. As he dies, thirsty in the desert and clinging to his last bar of gold, we find out that gold is meaningless in the society he has traveled to.
2) The Setting
Once you’ve got your characters, you have to decide the setting they inhabit. It is always a nice touch to have your character enter this setting from elsewhere, which gives the sense that this new setting they are unfamiliar with is specifically a tangible part of the Twilight Zone. However, this does not have to be the case. A great Twilight Zone episode doesn’t travel around a lot, and limits its location to one major area (ie. A seedy bar, an airplane, a single street in a small town). This provides a simple basis for your story to unfold upon. Example:
Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?: An alien tracked to a diner could be any one of seven snowbound bus passengers.
By limiting the setting to a Diner, the story is allowed to unfolding unnervingly through the characters and their actions.
3) The Story
Now that you have your characters and your setting, it’s time to set up the most important part – the interaction that takes place. The beauty of the Twilight Zone is it deals entirely with human psychology and philosophy, but has it reacting to a science fiction spin. Your main character(s) should be (at the most until the last few minutes of your episode, wink wink) an entirely human, relatable character that finds himself put in an extraordinary situation. These situations tend to involve (be ready to laugh): aliens, robots, outer space, monsters, nuclear holocaust, psychic powers, time travel and supernatural possession, among other things. The reactions the characters have to these things are exactly as you would react to them in context of the story. These science fiction situations are what truly differentiate the Twilight Zone from any regular story. Would the episode mentioned above be as interesting if it was an escaped criminal who had been tracked to the diner? It wouldn’t be a Twilight Zone episode, and that’s the point. Once your sci-fi element has been introduced in to the story, the story usually follows the characters trying to adapt to this new information. Example:
Death Ship: Jack Klugman plays one of three astronauts who find their lifeless look-alikes in a crashed spaceship on a distant planet.
In this episode, the astronauts go about trying to discover how there came to be dead counterparts of themselves on this planet. Why? Because it would be the natural curiosity to respond to this unnatural element.
4) The Mind Fuck
Not essential, believe it or not, to the success of a Twilight Zone episode. However, the mind fuck is entirely welcome and the most recognizable signature of the series. The point is, if your episode doesn’t have a mind fuck then don’t force a mind fuck. Also, don’t succumb to a lame mind fuck. Respect your audience’s intelligence. If you’re going to just toss a mind fuck in there, you’re best off throwing in something as far from left field as possible, as long as it can make sense in the scheme of things (Twilight Zone rules applying here, not our natural rules). Example:
To Serve Man: Apparently altruistic aliens arrive and abolish all adversity. Keyword: apparently.
One of the best: It made perfect sense and you didn’t see it coming. Aliens convince humans to come in to their spaceship and then a woman comes out to reveal the aliens want to eat them.
They will give you chills, make you shout at yourself that you couldn’t have seen it coming. But that’s the point, after all. That is the rule of the Twilight Zone: Nothing is ever as it seems. Now was that so difficult? I didn’t think so. You didn’t think Rod Serling could sit in his room and write the bulk of these things on his own just because he was a genius, did you? Let’s just try one. What do you say:
Goodnight Earth, Sleep tight Earth:A bitter, lonely drifter stops at a bar in the middle of nowhere and encounters an alien who informs him that at midnight he’s going to destroy the world. Does the drifter try and bargain a way out of the earth’s annihilation? Or does he accept the circumstances since he has nothing to live for anyway?
I’m no Shakespeare, folks, so I’ll just let you decide if it sounds legit enough. Try it yourself, be creative. After all, with this trick, as a wiser man than I once said, the only boundaries are that of imagination…