Tony Albarella is editing and writing commentary for a series of books containing all of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone scripts.
“The books will contain … all 92 of Rod’s scripts for The Twilight Zone. But I intend the series to be much more than that. It will be a tribute to Rod’s work as well as to the man himself.”
Rod Serling poured his soul (and nearly every waking hour) into the scripts that he wrote for The Twilight Zone. Over the next decade, Gauntlet Press will publish every one of them in its original form. That means: facsimiles of Serling’s original typewritten pages, in some cases including his handwritten changes and multiple drafts that vary widely from the filmed versions.
The series will be titled, As Timeless As Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling (and hereafter abbreviated in this article to ATAI). It’s a considerable legacy of 92 teleplays that spans 1959-1965, and it currently languishes as microfilm in the archives of Ithaca College in upstate New York.
The Twilight Zone itself is Serling’s main legacy, of course, and it is a brilliant one that you can watch on broadcast TV tonight—or on any other night. But the show expresses its universal truths in context to the surreal half a decade that it spanned. Its symbols and concepts and references are locked into that time period… symbols as big as the Cold War and McCarthyism, concepts as unthinkable as lynching and Mutually-Assured Destruction, and cultural references as ancient as dial telephones and punch-card computer systems.
Future generations will require thoughtful explanation and perspective to appreciate the subtext of those times, the arc of Rod’s career, and how the two intersected during those years to produce the most memorable series ever to appear on TV.
Looking back on Rod Serling’s two print and two video biographies will give any True Fan a scare: three of those four pieces pander to tabloid-style coverage of Serling’s life. (The one that does not, the 1997 PBS American Masters episode “Submitted for Your Approval,” is as creative in its approach as the others are hackneyed in theirs.)
The thing is: not all of Rod Serling’s life—nor all of his writing—was heroic. No one is “adoring fan perfect.” Some of his Twilight Zone episodes and his other teleplays are just plain bad. And he admitted—and even wrote about in his Playhouse 90 teleplay “The Velvet Alley”—the many ways that Hollywood had corrupted him.
But Serling’s fame rests on his enormous talent, his relentless work ethic, and his fierce sense of justice. Criticism is easy. How is a writer supposed to find the necessary balance of respect and realism to do justice to a talent that was extraordinary and very human at the same time?
The answer: through extraordinary and very human effort. Editing Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone scripts might be the project of a lifetime. It’s a task that almost demands a lifetime of preparation. The editor/commentator has done that preparation.
Tony Albarella, August 2002
Tony Albarella is too young to have watched original broadcasts of The Twilight Zone. But his memories of it begin at age 5 and run continuously from then to the present—just like the series itself, which has become immortal through syndication.
He subscribed to the CBS videotape series as soon as it became available. “I flipped when I first saw them,” he says. “Up to that point I had to watch episodes taped off the air, rife with commercials and syndication cuts.” He finally saw moments that syndication had cut out, and watched them so much that he upgraded to the DVDs when they came out not just for the convenience and picture quality. “My videotapes were worn out!”
Those doubting Albarella’s writing credentials can put their minds at ease by reading his commentaries in the jointly-written book The Twilight Zone Scripts of Earl Hamner (Cumberland House Publishing, 2003). Tony offers equal insight to favorite and obscure Twilight Zone episodes—revelations that could come only from deep knowledge of, and respect for, the series. He has no fear of criticizing the work of his idols (Hamner and Serling), yet can find praiseworthy elements in the very worst of productions. The world of 2004 ought to be this fair and balanced.
Rod Serling Memorial Foundation webmaster Stephen Schlich sat down with Tony for a preview of the new books, and a look at the lifetime of preparation he’s had for writing them.
(Full Disclosure: Tony Albarella sits on the Board of Directors of the non-profit Rod Serling Memorial Foundation. He earned that honor by a unanimous vote of the Board, and continues to earn it through selfless donation of time and effort to Foundation activities.)
An Interview with Tony Albarella
Q: What will the series be like?
TA: Well, the primary excitement is, of course, that the books will contain reprints of— eventually—all 92 of Rod’s scripts for The Twilight Zone. But I intend the series to be much more than that. It will be a tribute to Rod’s work as well as to the man himself. We plan to release these in a multi-year, multi-volume series of signed limited editions.
Q: How do these limited editions differ from mass-market books?
TA: In several ways. Gauntlet Press, the publisher of ATAI, is a specialty press that focuses on beautifully bound, quality releases of old favorites and new material from select genre authors. These editions are given the time and care that a mass-market might not otherwise receive, and feature the direct input, when possible, of the author. The books are limited to a certain print run—usually somewhere between 300 to 1000 copies—and that’s it…so they appeal to collectors as well as fans of certain authors.
Due to the short print run and quality production of these books, they are generally a bit more expensive than the average hardcover, but well worth it. For the money you get a marvelously assembled, quality book, and a lot of supplemental material available nowhere else. Plus each book is hand-signed and hand-numbered.
Q: Who signs the books?
TA: Usually the author. In this case however, since Rod unfortunately is not with us, his wife Carol will sign them. Carol has done a splendid job of keeping Rod’s work alive and in the public consciousness over the years, as you know. She’s coordinated several remakes of Rod’s dramas, edited a group of story collections and also edited Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine for about a decade.
Q: What’s the estimated print run?
TA: We’re doing a numbered edition of 750, which we presume will meet demand, but it really isn’t a great many books when you think about it. Carol will sign each copy. There’s also a more exclusive edition available, which is something Gauntlet does with all of its titles. This version is called a “lettered” edition and usually consists of extra participants who sign, a bit of material above-and-beyond the numbered edition, a traycase to house it, things like that. The lettered is limited to an amazingly low number of 52 copies. Naturally, this rarity is reflected in the price, but it’s something that appeals to the serious collector or completist.
Volume one of ATAI will feature appreciations of Serling written by legendary author Richard Matheson and also Rockne S. O’Bannon, who created Farscape, Alien Nation and Seaquest. Rockne worked on the eighties revival of Twilight Zone and credits Serling as a huge influence. These appreciations by Matheson and O’Bannon will be printed in both editions, the numbered and the limited. But where only Carol signs the numbered, all three sign the lettered: Carol Serling, Richard Matheson and Rockne S. O’Bannon. It’s a way of offering different levels to collectors while still producing a book that is affordable enough for casual fans to read and enjoy.
Q: How will Serling’s scripts be presented?
TA: The book itself will be oversized to accommodate pages that are the correct script size, 8-1/2″ x 11″. The scripts are reprinted from Rod’s actual copies, his personal collection which is currently housed and retired at Ithaca College in New York. These copies sometimes contain handwritten notations, which should be very interesting to Serling’s fans.
Another thing that separates these scripts from anything previously available is the existence of multiple drafts and revisions. Some of the teleplays I obtained from Ithaca’s files contain six, eight, ten or more drafts, and Carol Serling has allowed me unfettered access so that I could present unique material to readers. The scripts have several levels of variation; some vary little as subsequent rewrites progress, while others start out far removed from the final version. It is challenging to find a way to present these subtle layers of variation in a way that isn’t confusing or overbearing; it’s like assembling a coherent picture from pieces of several different puzzles. But I think I’ve managed to find a nice balance between Rod’s final work and the process that brought him to it.
In most cases I’ll run the final draft, which contains all the revisions and is basically Rod’s completed script, but bear in mind that often these differ slightly from what was filmed and is seen on the screen. Often they contain dialogue that didn’t make it to production, or was cut in editing. For the earlier drafts, when appropriate, I can reprint just those scenes that differ greatly from the shooting script, for comparison. It’s something that will evolve as the series progresses as each script has its own history. In some cases, I’ve found an earlier draft so different from the final version that I’ve decided to include both. Volume one, for instance, will include two complete versions of “A Most Unusual Camera.” One is close to the version that was filmed while the other contains a different framework, altered scenes and an ending that is different from the one that fans know and generally aren’t too happy with!
Q: What kind of material will accompany the scripts?
TA: Well, there are the appreciations written by Serling’s contemporaries and by current talents that were inspired by him. In addition, there’s a tribute section with comments about Rod and the show that I’ve collected from various interviews. In each volume I’ll also try to feature some rare supplemental material, such as correspondence by Rod about the show, memos from CBS, newspaper reviews from the time that came from Rod’s files, production photos, things of that nature. Material that fans have never seen or been able to access until now. And I’ll compose a commentary on each script as well.
Q: What will these commentaries involve?
TA: They’ll be similar to what I did in the book, The Twilight Zone Scripts of Earl Hamner. That is, I’ve tracked down many people associated with Serling—actors, production people, directors, friends, family, colleagues—and I’ll incorporate their memories of Rod and working on the series into the books and, where appropriate, into specific reviews. I’ve heard some wonderful stories about the show and can’t wait to share them…I really like that “insider” perspective that can only come from the people that knew Serling and helped to bring his work alive. That kind of input brings a new depth to the scripts and their filmed counterparts, the episodes. And I believe that these anecdotes enliven any commentary, offering something far more interesting than just my own opinions and reviews of the episodes.
|Hero and mentor: Earl Hamner Jr. and Chris Conlon, August 2002|
Certain scripts, of course, have less of this type of material than others…after all, the show is nearly half a century old and in many cases there just isn’t anyone left to talk with, unfortunately. But I’ve done extensive research and culled material from other sources beyond the interviews that I’ve conducted. I’ve had a lot of help and support from friends, associates and fellow RSMF members. People such as you, Steve, and Chris Conlon, Andrew Szym, Andy Polak, Stewart Stanyard, Dwight Deskins, the list is nearly endless.
I also have to give Barry Hoffman a lot of credit. He’s a wonderful writer and a true fan of the genre. Barry started Gauntlet Press as a means of getting quality books and rare materials out to other enthusiasts and he truly enjoys doing so. He and I have exchanged thousands of emails since this first started and he’s been a great help in brainstorming ideas. I specialize in Serling and Twilight Zone, Barry knows the genre and the specialty press business, so together we’ve come up with a series that I hope will be a worthy tribute to Rod.
The others I’ve mentioned above have also gone above and beyond the call of duty to support and enhance this project. And of course, Carol Serling has been instrumental in this. Not only did she release Rod’s work so it can be shared with the world, but she’s been hands-on throughout the project. Take any of these people out of the mix and these books wouldn’t be as complete, as interesting, as comprehensive as I intend them to be.
Q: How long will it take to complete the series?
TA: Well, I’m planning on ten volumes. Each will contain nine or ten scripts plus the supplemental material and sections. Volume one is due out in the spring of 2004 and we’d like to then release one every six months or so. If all that pans out, just the publication phase of this project will take over five years! That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. Planning for ATAI started about two years ago and the material I’ve gathered, interviews and such, stretches back to the mid-90’s…last century!
Q: Wow. At 7 years minimum (2 down and 5 to go), this might be the single longest project that you do in your life. Are you daunted by the legacy that rests at least partly in your hands?
TA: Of course I am!
After spending a childhood in the Zone, as I grew older I began to recognize patterns in episodes written by Rod. I started to seek out his other work, and quickly found that he had played a major role in the birth of television drama. I’ve been a fervent fan of his writing ever since and my appreciation of his style grows with each passing year.
To be entrusted with a project that chronicles some of Serling’s greatest work is downright scary. The length of the project doesn’t bother me, it’s the fact that I have a responsibility to present the material in a way that does it justice. Still, the thing that calms this trepidation is the realization that Rod’s work speaks for itself. My role is simply to assemble the fragmented pieces and introduce it to fellow admirers.
Q: How do you manage your time?
TA: I simply do what writers have done for ages… put aside time to do it. I spend a lot of time thinking about subject in focus but, more importantly, take the time to get in there and actually write about it. I put aside a certain time period each weekday to physically write down, re-organize and re-write thoughts, whether I feel like doing it or not. Some initial writings work well, others need substantial revision. But if I get something—anything—on the page, at least it’s there to mold, change, work with. I don’t always do it everyday like your supposed to, but I do try, and never let too much time go by without actually writing.
Aside from these sequestered times, I usually don’t write, other than to jot down ideas so they don’t evaporate. On the weekends, for instance, I spend time with my family (even if we’re just running errands or “vegging out”) and rarely start up the computer. A place and time for everything, that’s what works for me in writing. Organization is important in getting anything done, and that includes a schedule. You can have a lot of trouble finding a paper clip if your desk is disorganized, and likewise, if you don’t organize your time, you can have trouble finding it as well. Me, I’ve got clutter all over the house… so I may not be able to find that paper clip, but I’ll find time to write!
Of course, for something like ATAI, a large majority of the time is spent organizing, researching, comparing Rod’s various scripts and tracking down and interviewing people. All of that has to be done during the “writing” hours, sometimes spilling into the “non-writing” hours. It’s not as bad as it may sound. A little bit each day is fine, and gets me closer to completion. And of course, once the scripts for Volume One were selected, I could concentrate on them, which really narrows everything down.
As each subsequent volume comes along, I’ll follow the same format: complete one and move on to the next. I have access to everything that Rod wrote for The Twilight Zone right now, but as curious as I am about the myriad treasures buried throughout, I leave it all alone if it doesn’t relate to the scripts at hand. That, for me, is where the real discipline comes into play.
Editing involves so many details and that the finished project is just the tip of the iceberg. The research alone is daunting, comparing multiple drafts to trace the evolution of a script. It has to be pulled into a coherent whole and can’t all be published, so I have some hard decisions to make. There are also people to be tracked down, interviews conducted, administrative duties, etc…the final product is built on a very massive and carefully-constructed foundation, which the reader will never see.
That said, I wouldn’t really characterize the project as something I need to “fit” into my life. It’s there to begin with, as my hobby and my entertainment. It’s just a matter of finding time to dig in and get it done, one step at a time. And it helps enormously to have a family that realizes this is a passion for me. They don’t question the notes they find scribbled on pads throughout the house, or the piles of research materials on the dining room table, or late-night phone calls from people halfway around the world, or the fact that I may have to drop whatever I’m doing to run to the computer and knock out something that just gelled in my head.
Q: I know that you still watch your Twilight Zone DVDs. How often?
TA: Surprisingly, when I’m not researching, a good month or two can slip by without me watching a TZ episode. Then I’ll get on a kick and watch a whole bunch of them. Recently, since my daughter has been getting into them, we’ve watched quite a few. But I don’t like to get burnt out on favorites, so I’ll avoid them. I do like to re-read Serling’s novelizations and short stories often, because his same style shows through in the format, but there’s so little of it, really.
Q: Do you collect memorabilia?
TA: I do collect memorabilia…photos, books, articles, anything of that nature. Anything on or about Serling or Twilight Zone, basically. Old regional TV guides and magazines have been an invaluable source of research material, so this is another case of combining my hobby with writing work. If I find a great interview with Rod buried in the musty pages of an old periodical, I’m eager to get that information out to whomever might be interested in it.
There’s no benefit to keeping it hidden on my bookshelves, it should be shared with those who can appreciate it.
That was the impetus for an article on The Loner. It’s a series that few know much about, I had some interesting material on it, it was a show I knew and enjoyed, and I could contact a few of the people that worked on it, both in front of and behind the cameras. What more can one ask for when contemplating a subject for an article?
Q: Non-writers often mistake typing for writing: they don’t “get” that your work is turning over in your mind at all times. And that’s not a choice that you consciously make. Writers are *always* working. You expressed that well when you explained that your family understands when you have to suddenly run off to you keyboard and punch out an idea while it’s fresh. So how often does this happen?
TA: If I’m working on a commentary for a certain episode, I’m always working on it, until it’s done. In the car, at home, everywhere. I guess that’s how writers get that reputation of being preoccupied or eccentric. My wife swears up and down that we had conversations I can’t remember—and I know it’s because I was there but not really there. I can operate on a “regular” level while my head is in the clouds, thinking of some deadline, turn of phrase or other piece of business that needs to be addressed. I can’t turn it off. So it’s more of a curse than a talent. That’s why I feel lost and barren when I’m between projects. A whole section of my internal existence is suddenly shut off. Luckily, this project will be with me a long time!
- The adage “write what you know” could not be truer for you. It’s clear you’re a lifelong fan. Tell us how that fandom led to your development as a writer.
TA: I always daydreamed of being an author but never seriously pursued it. Some years ago, my interest in Serling led me to contact members of the RSMF and arrange a guided visit of Binghamton. I fell in love with the town that inspired Rod and the RSMF folks there that share a passion and give freely of their time, money and energies.
I live about four hours away in New Jersey and try to make it up to Binghamton at least once a year, but thanks to the internet I’m always connected to my friends. The people that live in town keep the RSMF going locally, and people like you and I do what we can from afar. One of the greatest achievements at spreading news of the RSMF is this website, which expands knowledge of our existence and goals beyond Binghamton to the entire world. And we have you to thank for that, Steve, for the countless hours of design and maintenance.
Anyway, one of the friends I made through the Foundation, Chris Conlon, is a professional writer. Conversations with him inspired me to try my hand at it. With his gracious help I started with a topic I know well and wanted to contribute to: Serling and The Twilight Zone. I sought out Earl Hamner for an interview; Earl was an established writer, revered the world over for The Waltons and other shows, whose involvement in TZ seemed to be overlooked. I struck up a friendship with Earl, who is a marvelous guy, that I’m proud to say continues to this day, and the resulting interview made my daydreams of publication become a reality.
- And this led to publication of The Twilight Zone Scripts of Earl Hamner and your current project, ATAI.
TA: Yes. I published a few articles and made many contacts with TZ writers, actors, production people in doing so. When some mutual friends (Bill Devoe, Dwight Deskins, Stewart Stanyard and Andrew Szym) decided to stage a TZ convention of sorts in California, we all lent a hand in making it a reality. Chris Conlon hosted a writer panel, I did an actor panel, and the others really worked hard to bring it all together. Andy Polak made it out to California, and you were there, Steve, so the RSMF was very well represented and we had a wonderful time.
Prior to this, I pitched to Earl (and eventually to his publisher) the idea of publishing his Twilight Zone scripts, which we eventually did. When Barry Hoffman of Gauntlet Press asked me to check with Carol Serling on the availability of Rod’s scripts and her desire to publish them, ATAI was on its way. I’m lucky in that both Barry and Carol felt my contacts, enthusiasm and experience made me a good choice to edit the books. They both know it’s so much more than just an assignment for me. It’s easy, really, to be lazy and simply introduce Rod’s scripts, which are the meat of the books. But I felt his work deserves to be framed in the most complete way possible, so I’ve worked hard on gathering and presenting background information and appreciations from many of those connected to and inspired by Serling’s work.
|Like herding cats: Albarella presides over a lively actors’ panel at the 2002 “Stars of the Zone” convention.|
Q: What’s your oldest memory of the Twilight Zone?
TA: I literally grew up with the show. My first exposure to it came at such a young age—five or six, as I recall—that I really only remember disjointed scenes that left immediate, permanent impressions. Y’know, all the major surprise endings, which seem magnified and especially shocking to a child. I took to the series right away and sought it out on weekends, when it played on a local station during the day. I remember being frightened by some episodes, awed by others, and usually blindsided by the twist endings. Some were funny. Some I didn’t understand as a child. But I was enthralled.
Even then I recognized some of the unique qualities of the show: the striking cinematography, the actors I’d seen in other shows or movies (looking much younger, of course), and the shocking, suspenseful stories. It wasn’t until I was a teenager (when the videotapes were released) that I actually saw every one of the 156 episodes. It didn’t matter what I age I was; each new episode brought a thrill of excitement, a desire to be whisked away by stories of time travel or aliens or magic. Where bad guys get their comeuppance in the strangest way, and the losers and the downtrodden are granted a second chance. You never knew what to expect as each show was so completely different. You knew the normal rules of life could be bent or snapped at any time.
I do recall watching “The Invaders” for the first time at my cousin’s house and being totally blown away by the ending. We were playing a board game with the TV on in the background, and my cousin kept telling me to pay attention to the game. I was totally immersed in the show, couldn’t wait to find out what the hell was going on. After that ending I was in such shock that couldn’t go back and concentrate on the game.
Now, my daughter is seven and watches the show with me. I just showed “The Invaders” to her a few weeks ago, and she reacted to the conclusion with a wide-eyed, “Whoa…cool!” It’s such fun to see her get pulled into the stories and watch her jaw drop at endings, just as mine did at her age. The series truly is timeless.
Q: What’s your favorite episode?
TA: “Walking Distance.” It’s just a case of everything coming together perfectly. Brilliant, wistful writing, poignant acting, stunning camerawork and direction, a score that brings tears to my eyes—it’s a show that is more than the sum of its considerable parts. The theme is heartrending: trying to recapture the past, leaving behind the problems of adulthood and going back to a carefree existence under the protection and safety of loving parents, of having a whole life of endless possibilities ahead of you…and realizing that there really is “only one summer to a customer” and that happiness is as fleeting and tenuous as life if you allow it to pass you by. It’s universal. It resonates. And for Rod it captured that very real personal connection to Binghamton, his hometown, which lends the teleplay even more authenticity. Truly the finest half-hour in television history, as far as I’m concerned.