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8 Bizarre Facts About Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone

Though it’s been more than 50 years since it left the air, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone continues to be a benchmark for all the science fiction and fantasy series that have followed. Shows like Lost, The Leftovers, and Under the Dome often draw comparison to Serling’s densely-populated fifth dimension of moral quandaries and supernatural occurrences. Naturally, the show’s history has a few curious footnotes. We’ve unlocked the door to some of the most intriguing.

1. Serling vs. Bradbury

Though Serling was contracted to write most of the scripts for Zone during its five-year run from 1959 to 1964, it was impossible to tackle every single episode. At first, the multiple-time Emmy winner wanted to give new writers a chance to break into the business. But when the show received over 14,000 submissions—most of them either unread or deemed unsuitable—he learned to depend on authors like Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and George Clayton Johnson for story springboards or full scripts.

Serling also sought out the talents of sci-fi giants like Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury. Clarke was unavailable, but Bradbury wrote several scripts, only one of which made it to air: an adaptation of his short story “I Sing the Body Electric.” Serling would go on to say that Bradbury’s work “seems to lend itself to the printed page, rather than spoken language.” Bradbury, possibly nursing a bruised ego, accused Serling of the capital crime of writing: plagiarizing stories. An offended Serling told interviewers he admired Bradbury immensely, but it’s unknown if the two ever reconciled before Serling’s death in 1975.

2. The Episode That Won an Oscar

When Serling’s budget for the series tightened in the fifth and final season, he decided on an unusual cost-cutting measure: the writer paid $10,000 (by some accounts, $25,000) for the rights to broadcast An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a French short based on the Ambrose Bierce story about a Confederate sympathizer who escapes the hangman’s noose at the end of the Civil War. No dubbing was needed: the short was virtually silent, and its haunting cinematography was a perfect fit for the show. The year prior, it had won an Oscar for Best Short Subject. Bierce’s story was also adapted into an episode of the other popular anthology of the day, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, marking the only time the two series used the same source material.

3. Tossing Shatner off the Plane

Director Richard Donner still had his feature career in front of him (Lethal Weapon, Superman: The Movie) when he worked on “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” about a man (William Shatner) getting on a plane after recovering from a nervous breakdown. Inevitably, Shatner wigs out when he sees a gremlin on the wing tearing the guts out of the engine, and is unable to convince his wife or attendants of the danger.

The episode was shot in an empty water tank, with the plane roughly thirty feet off the ground. Produced in the show’s typical hurried pace of three days, Shatner and actor Edd Byrnes decided to add to Donner’s stress by staging a mock fight on the wing. As Donner looked on, the two grappled before throwing a Shatner-sized dummy that crashed to the concrete below. The director was horrified, but later joked his first thought was that they’d have to reshoot with another actor. (Serling himself didn’t fare as well with another “Nightmare”-related prank. He once stuck a picture of the monster on writer Richard Matheson’s window seat; the propellers blew it off before Matheson could see it.)

4. Six Dimensions

When Serling recorded his famous opening narration for the pilot episode in 1959, he began by intoning that there was “a sixth dimension” to explore. A CBS executive heard it and asked the writer why he had skipped a fifth dimension—weren’t there only four? Serling, puzzled, hadn’t really considered it. “Oh,” he said. “Aren’t there five?” The narration was re-recorded before any angry letters from physicists poured in.

5. J.J. Abrams’ Felicity Homage

Countless Zone parodies and tributes have aired over the decades, but writer/director J.J. Abrams wanted something bolder than a bad Serling imitation. For a 2000 installment of his twentysomething drama Felicity, Abrams filmed an episode that put the cast in a dreamscape of paranormal events. To mimic Zone’s trademark black and white visuals, Abrams hired one of the show’s original directors, 77-year-old Lamont Johnson. Critics praised the effort. (Abrams, an admitted Serling fan, bought the writer’s last script, The Stops Along the Way, in 2013, with an eye on producing it as a limited series.)

6. Your Host, Desi Arnaz

While CBS deliberated over Serling’s pitch for a primetime fantasy anthology series in the late 1950s, producers of the network’s Desilu Playhouse had pulled his original pilot script, “The Time Element,” from storage. In it, a man sees a psychiatrist with recurring nightmares where he tries to warn others of an impending attack on Pearl Harbor; at the climax, he disappears, with the doctor being told he died during the attack some 15 years prior.

After the hourlong drama unfolded, Arnaz came out to address the audience directly, offering his take on the ambiguous ending. “We wonder if Pete Jenson did go back in time,” Arnaz pondered. “Any of you have any answers? Let me know.” Arnaz’s clumsy wrap-up would later make Serling’s deft touch look stellar in comparison.

7. Humoring Producers

Though prolific and cutting in his veiled social commentary, Serling’s one weakness as a writer may have been trying to wring comedy out of his erudite characterizations. In “Cavender is Coming,” an angel is sent to Earth to help Carol Burnett find happiness. (The moral: Even in a humdrum existence, she had it all along.) CBS thought this would make a fine pilot for a sitcom, and so for the first and only time in Zone’s run, producers added a laugh track. Viewers did not embrace the social enforcement: “Cavender” never made it as a series, and the canned laughter was removed for syndication and home video release.

8. God Complex

Though he spoke fondly of Serling through his entire career, Zone teleplay writer Richard Matheson (“Steel,” “The Invaders”) found one mandate puzzling: According to Matheson, only Serling could use the word “God” in his teleplays. It was off-limits to the rest of the writing team. “I used to get ticked off at Rod because he could put ‘God’ in all his scripts,” Matheson said. “If I did it, they’d cross it out.” Matheson never asked, and was never told, the reason behind the rule. Chalk it up to a mystery worthy of The Twilight Zone.

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Every New Movie, TV Series, and Special Coming to Netflix in May
Netflix
Netflix

Netflix is making way for loads of laughs in its library in May, with a handful of original comedy specials (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Carol Burnett, Tig Notaro, and John Mulvaney will all be there), plus the long-awaited return of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here’s every new movie, TV series, and special making its way to Netflix in May.

MAY 1

27: Gone Too Soon

A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Amelie

Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures: Season 1

Beautiful Girls

Darc

God's Own Country

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous Live at Radio City

Mr. Woodcock

My Perfect Romance

Pocoyo & Cars

Pocoyo & The Space Circus

Queens of Comedy: Season 1

Reasonable Doubt

Red Dragon

Scream 2

Shrek

Simon: Season 1

Sliding Doors

Sometimes

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Carter Effect

The Clapper

The Reaping

The Strange Name Movie

Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V: Season 2

MAY 2

Jailbreak

MAY 4

A Little Help with Carol Burnett

Anon

Busted!: Season 1

Dear White People: Volume 2

End Game

Forgive Us Our Debts

Kong: King of the Apes: Season 2

Manhunt

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Tina Fey

No Estoy Loca

The Rain: Season 1

MAY 5

Faces Places

MAY 6

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

MAY 8

Desolation

Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives

MAY 9

Dirty Girl

MAY 11

Bill Nye Saves the World: Season 3

Evil Genius: the True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Spirit Riding Free: Season 5

The Kissing Booth

The Who Was? Show: Season 1

MAY 13

Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife

MAY 14

The Phantom of the Opera

MAY 15

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 4

Grand Designs: Seasons 13 - 14

Only God Forgives

The Game 365: Seasons 15 - 16

MAY 16

89

Mamma Mia!

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The Kingdom

Wanted

MAY 18

Cargo

Catching Feelings

Inspector Gadget: Season 4

MAY 19

Bridge to Terabithia

Disney’s Scandal: Season 7

Small Town Crime

MAY 20

Some Kind of Beautiful

MAY 21

Señora Acero: Season 4

MAY 22

Mob Psycho 100: Season 1

Shooter: Season 2

Terrace House: Opening New Doors: Part 2

Tig Notaro Happy To Be Here

MAY 23

Explained

MAY 24

Fauda: Season 2

Survivors Guide to Prison

MAY 25

Ibiza

Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life

The Toys That Made Us: Season 2

Trollhunters: Part 3

MAY 26

Sara's Notebook

MAY 27

The Break with Michelle Wolf

MAY 29

Disney·Pixar's Coco

MAY 30

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4

MAY 31

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Howard Stern

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Solve a Murder Mystery (and Eat Cheesecake) with The Golden Girls
NBC
NBC

Something is rotten in the city of Miami. A murder has been committed—and nobody knows who’s behind the dastardly crime. The police are likely no match for the killer, so it’s up to the Golden Girls characters to combine their wits (over cheesecake, of course) to crack the case. But they can’t do it without your help.

That’s right: Peddler’s Village, a quaint shopping village in Lahaska, Pennsylvania, is now offering a Golden Girls Murder Mystery dinner and show every Friday and Saturday night through August 25, 2018. The whodunit takes place at Peddler's Pub at the Cock 'n Bull Restaurant, at 7 p.m.

While the major plot details have been kept under wraps (it is a murder mystery, after all), we do know that Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia have "invited a couple of well known detectives to join the party and discuss their famous capers." And given that the show is titled "The Golden Girls: The Curse of Jessica Fletcher," we can only guess (and hope) that an amateur sleuth from Cabot Cove, Maine will be making an appearance.

It's not the first time Peddler's Pub has hosted the gals from Miami; the current show is a sequel of sorts to the original Golden Girls Murder Mystery that Peddler's Pub put on back in 2016. Fun fact: Mental Floss Editor-in-Chief Erin McCarthy beat out a room full of other Betty White sangria-drinking armchair detectives to correctly solve the mystery during its original run. (She has the mug to prove it.)

Tickets are $69.95 per person, and you can make a reservation (which is required) by calling 215-794-4051. As for what you'll be dining on: You can scope out the menu online (and yes, the Girls’ favorite dessert is involved).

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