Thursday, July 11, 2013

Twilight Zone: 2.3

In 1988, the CBS network attempted the television equivalent of a Hail Mary Pass. Their intention was to take a failed prime time series and try to turn it into a syndication success.

Three years earlier, the company had taken a stab at resurrecting The Twilight Zone, the classic television series which had run on that network from 1959 through 1964. While TZ had never been more than a cult hit the first time on the air, the show had earned the company a considerable amount of money during two decades of syndicated reruns.

The 1985 attempt at rebooting the show wound up bringing mixed results. The initial ratings had been strong and critics had given the show a fair amount of praise. Then the number of viewers had started tapering off after the first couple of months. When asked why they were changing the channel, the response from the audience had been fairly consistent.

Some of the stories are fairly interesting

but the general feel of the show doesn't match the

Twilight Zone that we came to love on late night TV.

With ratings dropping below the break even point, the network canceled the show halfway through the second season. Hoping to recoup some of their money by syndicating this version of TZ to individual stations, the CBS executives had to face a second inconvenient reality. Although this sixty minute version of the show has been produced in a way that would allow each installment to be neatly divided into two half hour episodes, the early cancellation of the program had left CBS holding a short stack of product.

CBS needed at least one hundred half hour episodes to make their plan viable. They currently had slightly more than seventy. After considering their options, the company decided to open the checkbook and pay the money necessary to produce another thirty stories.

While seasons 1 and 2 had been completely produced in California, the actual filming of 3 was moved to the greater Toronto area. By shooting in Canada and placing a limit on the amount of special effects these episodes could use, the company hoped to maximize the amount of profit they could earn from syndication. CBS was also paying attention to one of the major complaints concerning the initial two seasons of the revival. Several of the episodes had seemed more concerned with sparkle than with plot.

While reducing the costs on filming and effects, the company allowed the writing budget to remain fairly high. By using this money, Seaton McLean and J. Michael Straczynski were able to attract a wide variety of top notch talent for the third season of the show. Although the production budget for these thirty episodes was significantly lower than the ones that had preceded them, several of them are near the top of the list when it comes to fan favorites.

Here are the ones I refer to as my fabulous five.

The Curious Case Of Edgar Witherspoon

Doctor Jeremy Sinclair has just been handed what appears to be a run of the mill psychiatric assignment. His task is to investigate and report on an elderly man name Edgar Witherspoon. Edgar is a sweet old fellow who's taken to collecting and hoarding a wide variety of items that most people would describe as junk.

After he succeeds in muscling his way into Edgar's basement apartment, Jeremy discovers an entire room filled by a strange contraption made from piano wire, doll heads, playing cards and other assorted items.

“Mr. Witherspoon,” Jeremy says, a touch of concern in his voice. “Would you mind explaining the nature of this device?”

“This machine is the only thing that keeps the everything in balance.” Edgar replies, with a wry smile. “Without it, the entire world would just go poof!”

Harry Morgan as Edgar Witherspoon
Cedrick Smith as Dr. Jeremy Sinclair

Dream Me A Life

Eddie Albert stars as Roger Simpson Leeds.  An old man who can't seem to get away from a bad dream. The problem has been going on for weeks now. Constant repetitions and distortions of the same series of disturbing events. The situation has reached the point where Roger is almost afraid to go to bed at night.

After falling asleep, the man opens his eyes and finds himself barricaded inside a crumbling house. His only companion is an attractive woman, close to his own age, who seems very afraid of whatever is trying to break down the door.

Things become even stranger when Roger meets the newest resident of the retirement home where he lives. Her name is Laural and she's been in a catatonic state for almost ten years. According to Roger's friend Frank, after the unexpected death of her husband, Laurel just sort of “went away”.

Laurel just happens to be an exact ringer of the woman in Roger's night mare.

Frances Hyland as Laurel
Barry Morse as Frank

The Trance

Leonard Randall is a handsome con artist who's only one step away from reaching the big time.

About a year ago, the man invented the persona of Delos. According to Leonard, Delos is a long dead resident of the lost island of Atlantis. After Leonard walks onto a theatre stage, sits in a comfortable chair and allows himself to fall into a trance ... The spirit of Delos enters his body and uses it to advise audience members who believe they might have problems that require a special sort of spiritual guidance.

After months of carefully calculated performances, Leonard has finally gained the attention of the national talk shows. Just as he's about to sign a deal that will send him on a highly publicized world tour, Leonard begins to speak in a voice that belongs to neither Delos nor himself. And it is a voice that Leonard appears to have absolutely no control over.

Peter Scolari as Leonard Randall

Room 2426

Professor Martin Decker ... A research scientist who's been imprisoned in a mental hospital. His only crime appears to be a steadfast refusal to cooperate with an oppressive dictatorship. The Professor invented a compound that could possibly be used to produce a deadly nerve gas. The regime appears willing to do anything necessary to learn the formula.

Professor Decker's “therapy” has gone on for several months. Sleep deprivation. Drugs. Long periods of isolation. The man still refuses to give his captors any information about where his files are hidden.

During the past several weeks, Decker's last remaining connection to sanity has been an enigmatic cell mate. Although the young fellow's conversations have always appeared to be quite sane, he has just made Decker an offer that seems to come from the depths of absurdity.

“They sent me to get you out of here, my friend.” The young man whispers in Martin's ear. “ I can use the power of my mind to teleport the two of us to safety. You simply have to believe in me.”

Dean Stockwell as Martin
Brent Carver as Joseph

Crazy As A Soup Sandwich

Tony Franciosa stars as Nino Lancaster, a Mafia Boss who is owed more than 100 grand by a street punk named Arky Lochner. It seems that Arky has a first class reason for his inability to repay the money he borrowed from Lancaster's loan sharks. The man bet every penny of it on the local horse races, after making a deal with a Demon to learn the names of all the long shots that would cross the finish line first.

Unfortunately, while each of Arky's horses were indeed the first ones to cross the line, every single stag and mare was disqualified for one reason or another. Which means that Arky now has a much larger problem than his inability to repay Mr. Lancaster. He's also unable to fork over the One Million Dollar Bounty which would prevent the Demon from having the right to claim Arky's immortal soul.

Nino Lancaster now finds himself in a very unenviable situation. If he wants to regain the money which is rightfully his, the man will have to help a pathetic loser defeat a highly powerful Minion of Darkness.

Wayne Robson as Arky

I sincerely hope you take the time to find the episodes of Season 3 and enjoy them. Your imagination will thank you for it.

Travis  Clemmons

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