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Happy 50th Anniversary, Twilight Zone!

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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

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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

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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
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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
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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