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Happy 50th Anniversary, Twilight Zone!

You are about to enter a dimension of sight and sound ... of a column requested by a reader. That's a signpost up ahead ... next stop, TV-Holic's look at The Twilight Zone.

1. The Truth about the Theme Song

Much like the "dum-de-DUM-dum" Dragnet theme, the opening notes of The Twilight Zone theme song have become a pop culture icon. Any time something frightening or inexplicable is mentioned in conversation, odds are someone will intone the iconic four repetitive notes composed by Marius Constant. The French avant-garde composer was never commissioned to write the theme song; it was instead cobbled together from two different short "cues" he had previously written for CBS. "Etrange 3 (Strange No. 3)" and "Milieu 2 (Middle No. 2)" were two different short pieces Constant had written and recorded for the CBS music library in 1959 with a small ensemble featuring two guitars, bongo drums, a saxophone and French horns. When The Twilight Zone was picked up for a second season, the show's producers were looking to replace the original Bernard Hermann theme, which CBS execs had described as "too down." By splicing together the two rarely-heard short pieces composed by Constant which were already owned by CBS, the network managed to create a theme song legend without having to pay a truckload of royalty fees.

2. Rod Serling Was a Boxer, a Paratrooper and a Peabody Winner (all before the show!)

Rod Serling, the host and brainchild behind The Twilight Zone, holds the record as the recipient of the most Emmy Awards for dramatic writing. Serling grew up in Binghamton, New York, and served as a U.S. Army paratrooper in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The combination of a small-town childhood plus the horrors that he saw during the war influenced his writing. After graduating from Antioch College, he started penning scripts for shows such as Kraft Television Theatre, Studio One and Lux Video Theater in the then-fledgling TV market. Serling had been a fairly successful boxer during his time in the military, and he drew from that experience to write a teleplay called "Requiem for a Heavyweight" for Playhouse 90. "Requiem" won a Peabody Award, the first given to an individual script, and suddenly Serling had a "name" in the industry.

3. The Actors Only Got One Take

Every Twilight Zone fan has his or her favorite episodes, and there are a few which are universally popular and always featured in marathons. Interestingly enough, many of the actors in these pieces, when interviewed decades after the fact, confessed that they weren't particularly proud of their performances. The Twilight Zone had a budget, just like any other series, and often the bulk of the money per episode had to be spent on sets and special effects. There was no luxury of multiple retakes until the actor felt just right about a particular scene. A sub-par performance wasn't a matter of concern in most episodic television of that era, but, as William Shatner later mentioned in an interview, at that time a Twilight Zone appearance was just another job—no one ever suspected that these episodes would be aired over and over (and over!) again for years to come.

4. William Shatner Still Gets Asked About It

William Shatner was the star in one of the fan favorite episodes, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." He portrayed salesman Robert Wilson who was traveling on an airplane for the first time since his release from a sanitarium after a nervous breakdown. All was well en route, unless Wilson looked out the window; there he'd see a gremlin on the wing. Of course, every time he alerted someone to the situation the gremlin would jump out of sight. In the end, Wilson is removed from the flight in a straitjacket, but after he's carted away it is noted that the outer covering of one engine has unusual damage, as if something had been clawing at it. Shatner says that even today when he flies a fan will occasionally recognize him and ask "Do you see anything on the wing?"

5. The Burgess Meredith Episode

Screen shot 2009-10-09 at 2.12.06 PM

Depending on your age, the name Burgess Meredith usually conjures up either The Penguin on Batman or trainer Mickey Goldmill in Rocky. The versatile actor with the unruly hair also appeared on The Twilight Zone several times, most memorably in "Time Enough at Last." Meredith's Henry Bemish was a meek and mild-mannered bank teller who was brow-beaten by his boss and his wife, and who loved nothing more than to lose himself in a good book. One day during his lunch break, Bemish retreats to the bank vault in order to have some uninterrupted reading time. Suddenly the vault shakes so violently that Henry is knocked unconscious. When he awakens and ventures outside he discovers that the world as he knew it has been destroyed by an H-Bomb, and he is the last survivor on Earth. After wandering around, trying to comprehend the situation, he stumbles upon the ruins of a public library. As he slowly realizes that he now has the time and the resources to read to his heart's content, he stumbles and his glasses fall off his face and shatter on the ground. In the original story, Henry Bemish's specs were strictly reading glasses, but Rod Serling had Burgess Meredith wear them throughout the episode in order to make him look more "bookish."

6. The Isolation Episode

Screen shot 2009-10-09 at 2.12.21 PM

In "Where Is Everybody?" Earl Holliman, dressed in an Air Force jumpsuit, finds himself stranded in a seemingly deserted town. He doesn't know where he is or how he got there, and every place he goes gives hints that someone was recently there (food cooking on a stove in a restaurant and burning cigarettes in ashtrays, for example). Feeling more and more isolated and panicked, he wanders the streets, calling out to someone, anyone and finally collapses at a street crossing, hopelessly pressing the WALK button. In reality, Holliman was astronaut-in-training Mike Ferris who'd been confined to a sensory deprivation chamber for three weeks to test his reactions to complete isolation. Holliman stated that the hardest part of this role was having to constantly talk to himself and make it sound convincing. He never really felt a sense of isolation, since the film crew was always within his sight.

7. The Episode Referenced on The Simpsons

Billy Mumy was just six years old when he starred in "It's a Good Life," but he already had over a dozen acting credits on his resume. His freckle-faced fresh-scrubbed look made him the perfect Anthony Fremont "“ all-American kid on the surface, evil spoiled brat in actuality. For some reason, Anthony has amazing mental capabilities and is in complete control of his small Ohio town. He controls the weather and which foodstuffs are available at the local grocery store. He has eliminated electricity and automobiles, and for all the few remaining inhabitants know, he has also destroyed the rest of the outside world. Everyone walks on eggshells around Anthony lest they displease him; earning the wrath of Anthony means being banished to the "cornfield." His punishment for one man who dared defy him was to turn him into a jack-in-the-box, a scene which was recreated in a Hallowe'en episode of The Simpsons.

What are your favorite Twilight Zone episodes? Remember to be very, very good when commenting—I don't want to have to send you to the cornfield.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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