Twilight Zone" remains one of the freakiest TV
shows of all time.
60 years after it first aired, many still see Rod
Serling’s anthology series as the pinnacle of
30-minute storytelling, with its chilling mix of
fantasy, horror and sci-fi, excellent writing and
twisty, brain-bashing endings.
Dawidziak sees something else: life lessons.
writer, critic and longtime Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio,
resident took his love of the show and turned it into
his latest book, "Everything I Need to Know I
Learned in the Twilight Zone" (St. Martin’s
presents 50 lessons based on multiple episodes like
something out of Aesop’s fables: "Count Your
Blessings," "Share With Others,"
"Never Cry Wolf," "Respect Your
show, which lives on in reruns and DVD compilations,
originally ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964. Serling, who
created the series and was its iconic deadpan host,
wrote 92 of the 156 episodes. He also recruited a stable
of contributors that included star writers Richard
Matheson, Charles Beaumont and Earl Hamner Jr.
very little writing that jumps generation to generation
that actually speaks to people as vibrantly as it did
the day it appeared," said Dawidziak. "You
watch The Twilight Zone and the resonance is just the
same as the date it aired."
refers to the book as a tribute to the show
"wrapped in a self-help book."
deal with the devil gone wrong in the episode
"Escape Clause" becomes a lesson about the
careful reading of contracts. The unnerving "To
Serve Man," in which aliens transport humans to
their planet in order to eat them, becomes "Never
Judge a Book by its Cover." The classic
"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," starring a
pre-"Star Trek" William Shatner as a man
hallucinating (or is he?) on an airplane, manifests into
a lesson about believing in yourself.
I Need to Know" is a breezy, relatable account not
only of the episodes and their lessons, but also of the
cavalcade of performers who helped make the show so
memorable: from Burgess Meredith, Jack Klugman and Art
Carney, to Robert Redford, Inger Stevens, Telly Savalas
and Carol Burnett.
also reached out to famous folks to provide an eclectic
melange of "guest lessons," peppering his
pages with insights from Mel Brooks, Dick Van Dyke,
astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, "The Walking
Dead"‘s Greg Nicotero and Sopranos creator David
Chase, among others.
did not see ‘The Twilight Zone’ in its original
run," Dawidziak said. "I was a little young. I
discovered the show in 1966 (in reruns) when I was 10
years old. At that age, I fell in love with the show for
the reason anyone that age would — it was cool!"
he got older, he started to sense the morality plays
tucked inside many episodes. In 2011, after joking about
the show’s life lessons with his then teenage daughter
Becky, he had one of those "Hey, there might be a
book in this" moments.
Dawidziak has had many such moments.
has written or edited 15 books, and served as co-writer
and co-editor on five others, about everything from
Columbo to Dracula to Mark Twain.
who shares Twain’s shaggy white-silver hair and
mustache, has performed many times as the author in
plays produced by the theater company he founded with
his wife, actress Sara Showman.
journalism career has included stints in Virginia,
Tennessee and Washington, D.C. He covered TV and movies
at the Beacon Journal from 1983 to 1999, and has been
the TV critic at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland for the
past 18 years.
Serling, he grew up in New York (Dawidziak on Long
Island, Serling in Binghamton), and both found their way
a paratrooper during World War II, studied language and
literature at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
After graduation in 1950, he became a writer for WLW
radio in Cincinnati (for $90 a week). He continued to
live in Ohio until 1954 before turning his attention
full-time to television, moving to New York and later
churned out loads of scripts, including the towering
dramas "Patterns" and "Requiem for a
Heavyweight," before creating his own show. One of
Serling’s most notable speeches, touching on the
Vietnam War and America’s raging protests, was
delivered in Akron in 1971, and Dawidziak closes
"Everything I Need to Know" with excerpts from
it. (Serling died in 1975 at age 50 following open-heart
the book now, in the midst of headlines about
immigration bans, you can’t help but be struck by the
timelessness of several episodes concerning
stereotyping, paranoia and fears of "the
is no political agenda to ‘The Twilight Zone,’
except that Rod was passionate about things he thought
everybody should be passionate about — prejudice,
racism, bigotry, ignorance," Dawidziak said.
"There is a moral center to The Twilight Zone. Like
Mark Twain, Serling was a moralist in disguise. The same
way Twain used humor, Serling used fantasy."
show was also exceedingly influential. "It led
directly to Star Trek," said Dawidziak, "and
then you had ‘The Prisoner,’ ‘The Night Stalker,’
‘Twin Peaks,’ ‘The X-Files,’ ‘Buffy the
who are the descendants of Serling today?
playhouse is primarily the cable drama and has been
since the dawn of ‘The Sopranos’ in 1999," he
look at people like David Chase (‘Sopranos’),
Matthew Weiner (‘Mad Men’), David Simon (‘The Wire’),
Vince Gilligan (‘Breaking Bad’). Those guys are the
great, illuminating American writers. They are the ones
defining and examining the American soul the way Arthur
Miller did in the 1950s, or John Steinbeck did in the
if you ask those guys, ‘Who is the writer who most
influenced you?’ the name that keeps coming up, over
and over again, is Rod Serling."