A while back it was announced that CBS was once again taking a crack at remaking The Twilight Zone. It seems that every decade or two this idea rears its head and some producer thinks he will be the one to finally crack the code and make a new Twilight Zone that is actually on par with the original series. The enduring popularity, and name recognition, of The Twilight Zone contributes to this regular push for a remake, although the times it has actually happened has showed it’s usually a rather misguided idea.
The Twilight Zone is one my favorite television shows of all-time, so the whole idea of remaking it doesn’t sit well with me. It’s a classic, just leave it alone and create new franchises. However, if someone were to put a gun to my head, I have some thoughts on how one could remake The Twilight Zone and have it succeed, where past attempts have failed.
The Past Attempts
The first attempt to remake the Twilight Zone came in the 1983 movie. The movie is forever infamous for the fact three cast members (including two children) died during a helicopter accident on the set. Apart from that tragic incident, the movie itself is rather tame and not very memorable. They basically remade three classic episodes and added a fourth original story. All were filmed in color and didn’t look or really feel much like classic Twilight Zone episodes. The best part of the movie is the humorous opening scene with Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd in which they discuss TV theme songs.
While the 1983 movie was not a breakout hit, two years later CBS revived The Twilight Zone series on television. I admit I’ve only seen a few of these episodes as reruns years ago, but they don’t stand out to me. They were shot in color and just didn’t have that original Twilight Zone feeling and style to them as the original. Most have the look of bad 80s television. I’m sure there are a couple gems amongst this series, but it never caught on and become a phenomenon. CBS canceled the series after three seasons and this incarnation of the Twilight Zone is mostly forgotten today.
More than a decade after the demise of the 80s Twilight Zone series, there was another attempt to bring the show back to television in 2002. Forest Whitaker played the Rod Serling role as narrator and the episodes were an hour in length, although split between two different stories. Again it was shot in color and again failed to capture the style of the original series. It only lasted a single season on UPN before it was unceremoniously canceled.
Looking at these numerous failed attempts to recreate the Twilight Zone over the years, my stomach churns at the idea of yet another remake. It’s such a classic and iconic show, that any remake seems bound to fail. However, the challenge of remaking the show also appeals to me in some sense. Is there a way to remake The Twilight Zone and have it actually be good and stand on the same pedestal as the original series? I’m not sure, but here are some features that should be included that might allow a remake to actually be a worthy successor.
Black and White
First and foremost, film the damned thing in black and white! I realize there hasn’t been a show filmed entirely in black and white for close to fifty years, but seeing anything called The Twilight Zone in color just doesn’t mesh for me.1 The black and white of the original show was what gave it that eerily and somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere. You had those long, black shadows and almost dreamlike sense to things. Filming the remake entirely in black and white would make it stand out and emulate the atmosphere of the original series.
In addition to the black and white film, the style of the original show would have to be retained. I feel the previous remakes simply adopted the bland style of their time, and didn’t try to create a stylized vision of the Twilight Zone world. I’d try to minimize using any CGI effects and use a more minimalist approach to the sets. The original Twilight Zone sometimes looked more like a filmed play for certain episodes, and it worked! Modern TV shows sometimes try to go overboard with green screen and bad CGI effects, which I worry any remake of the Twilight Zone would employ. Yet, doing what all the other shows do won’t make a show stand out. A Twilight Zone remake needs to go back to the original’s style and look distinct from anything else on television.
Any remake should have the episodes be a half hour in length. The original series’ episodes were almost all a half hour and I think it’s the perfect length for this type of show. The truly great Twilight Zone episodes were highly focused and gave the viewer a punch at the end. The half-hour format is ideal for that and going to a full hour can sometimes make the episode drag and introduce unnecessary elements. The original show experimented with hour long episodes in season four, but quickly realized it didn’t work and went back to the standard half hour length.2
Single Show Runner
What made the original Twilight Zone so masterful was it was run exclusively by Rod Serling, who wrote the majority of episodes. It was his singular vision that helped make it feel coherent week to week, even though each episode was sometimes radically different. While no one can replace Rod Serling, I think you need a truly great show runner/writer at the helm. Ideally you would want someone that understands and is influenced by the Twilight Zone, such as J.J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan, or Joss Whedon, although its doubtful any of them would have the time to head the remake. Brian Singer is attached to the current reboot of the Twilight Zone, which might be a good choice, although I’m more uncertain and wonder if he has the vision to make the show stand out, or the time to fully devote himself to the show. Whoever they get, I think it is important that it be a single person with a distinct vision, which is the best way to make an anthology show consistent week to week.
The last, but maybe most important, aspect a remake needs is great writing. The original series had some of the best television writing of all-time, not just from Rod Serling, but other famous science-fiction writers such as Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and Ray Bradbury. The remake would need to cull the best writers out there and have scripts that can create these big and mind warping ideas, but distill them down to an entertaining half hour story. It’s a hard job, but writing will make or break any new Twilight Zone series.
While I’m still highly dubious whether anyone should even attempt to remake The Twilight Zone, I think if a remake hit all these points, it would at least be a high quality show that could be fairly successful. Only time will tell if any future remake will ever be able to capture the magic of the original series.
1. From what I can tell, the last American television show to be filmed entirely in black and white was the first season of “I Dream of Jeanie” in 1965.↩