Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Face Off: Outer Limits or Twilight Zone


Karen: The two best science fiction anthology shows of all time: The Outer Limits and the Twilight Zone. Which is your favorite? Both have their own special flavor. TZ and Rod Serling specialized in tales with the ironic twist, while OL seemed more melancholic. TZ had a cool-cat host in Serling, while OL had the omniscient Control Voice (the late Vic Perrin) -and of course, a fantastic menagerie of monsters created by Wah Chang and others. Both featured some terrific actors and memorable theme music.

Karen: Personally, my vote goes to Outer Limits. It just captured my imagination in a way Twilight Zone didn't, and I'm sure that as a child all of those terrifically weird monsters were a big part of that. But when I go back and watch episodes now, as an adult, I get a lot out of them, beyond the monsters. My favorite episode is "The Architects of Fear," featuring Robert Culp. This is a story that manages to take two of mankind's strongest emotions -love and fear - and show what each of them can compel men to do. The alien suit, worn by Janos Prohaska, is still utterly inhuman and disturbing.

Karen: But Twilight Zone must get its due, as one of the most influential science fiction programs of all time. The show was well-written and every aspect of the production was solid. There are many memorable episodes, but one of my favorites, "Time Enough at Last," featured Burgess Meredith in a position all of us readers can appreciate.

Karen: So, if you have to choose, which show is it for you?

24 comments:

david_b said...

As a youth, I wasn't too interested in either, primarily because neither were available for me to watch, due to my locality in Wisconsin: The only channel that carried it was an affiliate with weak signal from Milwaukee (that had ALL the cool shows), and the antenna reception was typically pretty bad.

I would have loved Outer Limits more if I had watched it. But the Twilight Zone episode I enjoy the most is always 'To Serve Man'.. Just LOVE that climatic ending:

"..IT'S A COOKBOOK..!?!"

Loved 'The Beholder' episode and the one with Bill Shatner on the plane as well, but 'To Serve Man' was always the funniest and most ironic of the bunch to me.

Roygbiv666 said...

I would say "Outer Limits". In fact, before I'd ever seen the show, I think the first time I really heard of it was either in connection with "Star Trek" (Roddenberry visited the sets) or an episode guide book. I remember flipping through that book at the bookstore on my way home from school for weeks, dilly-dallying on whether to buy this book about a show I'd never seen. But the stories seemed so interesting and cool that I had to get it.

Then I bought the DVDs.

Twilight Zone was really more science fantasy, and I found the "twist" endings a little to easy to spot.

William said...

Two words... ROD SERLING, nuff said.

Karen said...

I forgot to mention the awesome music by Dominic Frontiere for Outer Limits. It was hauntingly beautiful.

David: I love "To Serve Man!" The Richard Kiel aliens are both hilarious and freaky. I actually bought a 12" figure of the alien, including the cookbook!

J.A. Morris said...

I prefer Twilight Zone, even if the "twist" endings can be seen a mile away.

My favorite would be 'Night Of The Meek', a Christmas episode starring Art Carney.

Anonymous said...

Put down for the Outer Limits as the better of the two. The Twilight Zone made a deeper impression on the public conscious but geez some of the plot twists can be spotted from a mile away ...

The Outer Limits was genuine sci-fi story telling and I think its episodes stand the test of time much better. A few favorites: "The Man Who Was Never Born," "The Zanti Misfits," "ZZZZZ," "The Forms of Things Unknown," and, of course, "Demon With A Glass Hand."

Inkstained Wretch said...

Oops. That was my comment above giving the Outer Limits the thumbs up. I hit the publish button by accident before I could write my name.

And the first line of that post is supposed to be: "Put me down for the Outer Limits as the better of the two."

Edo Bosnar said...

This is one of those "makes my head explode" choices. Maybe I would give Twilight Zone a slight edge, just because I've seen more of those, but then I just remember how many Outer Limits episodes I just love (personal favorites are the unusually light-hearted "Controlled Experiment" and "Nightmare") and it comes back to a stalemate.
Regardless, both were such intelligent and outstanding shows, and were arguably the very best television fare when they originally aired - and they pretty much remained so when they were in syndication.

William Preston said...

The episodes from my youth that most stayed with me—even haunted me—were from Outer Limits. Outer Limits was on more regularly when I was a kid (born in '62), in reruns, whereas Serling had moved on to The Night Gallery when my TV viewing kicked in.

Though there are some terrific Twilight Zone eps and some marvelous writing and adaptations, the parable-like nature of the show and the brevity of the episodes kept the episodes from being too utterly absorbing. And the tone varied wildly from ep to ep. Not that that's a bad thing, but it made Outer Limits, with its longer episodes, more persistently disturbing tone, and more complex moral universe (isn't "Nightmare" one of the best things ever?) a more coherent entity. The show's commitment to giving us frightening scenarios in which people struggled to act morally—enhanced, I think, by the cheap-but-effective monster makeup—make it more psychologically and narratively significant for me in my development.

Robert said...

Twilight Zone - I was at an impressionable age when BBC2 started to run repeats late at night and always thought they were awesome. That said, I don't think I've ever seen anything from the original run of 'Outer Limits'. Still, gotta love the creepy yet handsome and strangely reassuring Rod Serling.

Anonymous said...

Hard choice, but I would vote for Outer Limits by a very slight margin. My judgment is probably clouded by nostalgia, since I remember seeing it when I was a child. I don't remember seeing Twilight Zone until years later, when it was in syndicated reruns. Also, Outer Limits seems to have a more consistent tone or style from one episode to another. It was always science fiction, while Twilight Zone was sometimes SF, sometimes fantasy (and sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, often ironic). Both shows usually ended with a moral, but I think Twilight Zone sometimes over-depended on the twist ending. With Outer Limits, the ending was generally determined by the story; with Twilight Zone, it was often the other way around.

Lemnoc said...

I think the writing and presentation was definitely superior in Twilight Zone, much of which was often satirical in content. TZ was also the more experimental and adaptive, and drew from a wide range of literary sources.

Consider, for example, TZ's "The Invaders," without a single word of dialogue. Very innovative, even daring for the era.

Outer Limits was always far darker, far more dedicated to science fiction concepts. For that, it was the more disquieting and unsettling of the two. It had a dark creepiness to it TZ could not approach.

Anonymous said...

Both shows were excellent, but I think Twilight Zone was sometimes hamstrung by the need for every episode to have an ironic twist ending, while Outer Limits was often hindered by the requirement that every episode have a scary monster (I think the show's bible or writers' guide called it "the bear").

Jason Atomic said...

Twilight Zone has the more iconic theme tune (although it is recycled, the music was orginally written for a docu-film about the Watts Towers)
However, for me a a Bronze Age kid Outer Limits was the best.
It was all about the monsters for me too.
Those Zanti Misfits, in particular, blew my mind!

Ram said...

Twilight Zone Rules!!!!
It has the best opening credits in the history of television!

Anthony said...

I have to go with Twilight Zone. I enjoyed both shows when I was younger but I remember watching the Twilight Zone more often. Outer Limits wasn't always as readily available in syndication as Twilight Zone was in may area if memory serves. For that reason I've seen almost all the Twilight Zone episodes compared to less than half of Outer Limits. If the situation was reversed I would probably still prefer the Twilight Zone. I think because the show did switch tone and style it made it more interesting. I love Outer Limits too and I think both shows have stood the test of time. I would also give honorable mention to Night Gallery and One Step Beyond.

Stephen T. Harper said...

Loved the Twilight Zone. I have a theory that the plot to any Sci-fi movie from the 80's thru to today can be traced back to an episode of either the Twilight Zone or Star Trek. Between the two, they seemed to have done every plot the movie industry can think of first. You can just watch the commercial and call out the episode. For example, based on the TV ads, the current movie "Chronicle" is a a less imaginative update of "Plato's Stepchildren" from Star Trek.

Anyway, I must go with the Zone here. Many reasons why, but "Two" with Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery as members of rival armies and perhaps the last two survivors of an apocalyptic war is still one of the best single episodes of TV I can think of.

For some reason, I never really watched a lot of the Outer Limits. Some, but not a lot. I always liked it, but it was in far less heavy rotation in re-runs over the years than the Zone. Maybe that would be a way to get my 8 bucks of value out of streaming Netflix. Do they have it?

Rip Jagger said...

Outer Limits all the way for me. This show actually scares me, while Twilight Zone merely amuses.

Both are well crafted, both are visually interesting, but Outer Limits sizzles while Twilight Zone simmers.

Rip Off

Matthew Bradley said...

Having written, edited and/or contributed to several books by or about TWILIGHT ZONE contributor Richard Matheson (who wrote "The Invaders" and both Shatner episodes, including the iconic gremlin-on-the-wing "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"), I can scarcely be called impartial on this subject. But I'd still have to give the nod to TZ, which in my opinion benefited from a more varied pallette and, for four out of its five seasons, a shorter running time. Some of the OL episodes I've seen felt padded or meandering. That said, each had its ups and downs, and each is an important milestone in genre TV.

Those interested in OL should check out the marvelous blog We Are Controlling Transmission (http://wearecontrollingtransmission.blogspot.com/), to which--full disclosure--I occasionally contributed. And yes, Anonymous is correct that their monsters were known as "bears," a nickname I believe was coined by ABC. On the other side of the fence, you can read all about Matheson's TZ career in RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-4216-4).

Karen said...

Matthew, thanks for the link. I've read a few stories by Matheson (including I Am Legend) and enjoyed them. It's impressive how much of his work has reached the big and little screens. On a side note, I'm curious: how did you like working with McFarland?

If anyone's really interested in the Outer Limits and how Joseph Stefano and Leslie Stevens and the rest put the show together, The Official Outer Limits Companion by David Schow is outstanding, although a bit pricey to get ahold of now.

Matthew Bradley said...

Hi, Karen. I was remiss in not mentioning David's book, but can assure you that Peter Enfantino and John Scoleri, the creators of WACT (and many other fine blogs devoted to Bronze Age culture), did not commit that injustice. They not only invoked Schow at every opportunity but also solicited his input on the blog and, just for good measure, reproduced the pertinent pages from the book in each post, because it IS so hard to come by now.

As for McFarland, they haven't sold a vast number of copies or seemed to spend a bundle to promote the book, but frankly, that's about what I expected for such a specialized subject. In fact, I was eminently familiar with their list and used many of their titles to research and write my book (which took 13 years), so I had no other publisher in mind. I doubt anyone else could have done much more for it, or would even have been likely to publish it. Matheson and I were both very pleased with the final product, which did get some quite nice reviews, and that is satisfying. It was never expected to be more than a labor of love anyway. :-)

Karen said...

Oh Matthew, I wasn't trying to imply anything by bringing up the Schow book. I just think it's an excellent read and I'm glad I got my mitts on it when it came out!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on McFarland. I have one book from them and have considered purchasing others. I've also thought of pitching a couple of ides to them, although now I'm more focused on fiction writing. Their catalog certainly has a number of titles that appeal to the geek world. But congratulations on getting your book published! That is an accomplishment right there.

Matthew Bradley said...

Karen: Thanks so much! And no worries on Schow; I just hate when I neglect to give credit where it's due. I was lucky enough to get the second edition, and so far have gone through the first-season DVDs episode by episode (long before WACT existed), reading the pertinent Schow section for each one. Always lots of fascinating background material.

As a customer, I'd recommend McFarland almost unreservedly. I have literally dozens of their titles in my personal research library (and my bibliography), and I'd say about 90% are excellent. The only problem is that since they don't appear in most bookstores, you can't thumb through them before making the decision to buy. Got a lot of them through the late, lamented Movie/Entertainment Book Club and was rarely disappointed. And, as noted, they were the only publisher I had in mind for my own book.

Anonymous said...


I would like to know if anyone here knows what show aired this episode. It was filmed in black and white, and it is about a group of neighborhood people who find out that they are living in a gaint ant farm/aquarium, and, are being fed by giant ants. I saw this episode about two years ago, and, for the life of me, I cannot recall which show this episode is from. I thought it might be from twilight zone or outer limits, but I am not sure. I also would like to know the title of this episode, so that I can watch it, again. My son saw this episode and, said that it was from twilight zone, but, I could not find it among the episodes. Is there anyone who may know where this episode is from? Thanks.

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