Last month, muddled rumors surfaced on the web of CBS and Bryan Singer talking of reviving what is possibly the best science fiction show of all time. That’s correct, a return to another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; The Twilight Zone. If you count the 1983 film there have been four incarnations of the concept, so if it is rebooted, there’s a lot of tradition to consider! With that in mind, here a five ways to prevent a new Twilight Zone from totally sucking.
5. Do it in Black and White
Despite the various merits and awesome roster of writers on both the 1985 and 2002 revivals of the show, the weirdest thing about post-classic Twilight Zone, is the fact that it’s all in color. The Walking Dead is about to pull a big publicity stunt of re-running the entire show in black and white, which though a little bit of a cynical move, is also kind of cool. This is what The Twilight Zone should do. Be intentionally retro. The stories wouldn’t need to be set in a black and white era, but definitely shot in a throwback style. In keeping with this notion, it would be great if the show were shot on film with zero (or at least minimal CG effects.) The limitations of the original show accidentally created something classic. Now, it would be nice to impose those limitations on the creators on purpose.
4. Try to Cast Non-Genre Actors
Something that drives me a little nuts about science fiction television (particularly from the 90’s and early 00’s) is how often the same actors are always showing up. I understand many of these people get typecast, but it gets a little old when you see Battlestar Galactica’s Mark Sheppard on an old episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and then later Doctor Who. What I’m saying, is I really don’t want to see new episodes of the Twilight Zone in which people like Katee Sackhoff, or worse, Brent Spiner, are showing up as the leads in these one-off episodes. Yes, William Shatner famously starred in TWO episodes of the classic show, but I think we’re past this kind of sci-fi incest. Further, if the show is going to succeed, it needs to be a little more welcoming to the mainstream.
3. Return to the 30 Minute Format
Seriously. I understand whatever network is running the show won’t like this idea (less commercials), but maybe there could be two episodes run back-to-back on the night the show is supposed to air. The brevity of The Twilight Zone is what makes the-twist-at-the-ending format work so well. Part of the reason why I think M. Night Shyamalan movies are good on paper but tedious in practice is because they’re too long to warrant their premise. The only movie-length Twilight Zone-style film that actually works is Planet of the Apes. And really, why would anyone want to remake that? (Oh, wait.) This may sound insane, but The Sarah Jane Adventures was a 30-minute show, and some of those zany sci-fi premises were better for it. Contemporary TV doesn’t have to be oppressive with the amount of time it takes up.
2. No Reoccurring Characters or Plot-lines!
The trend of ongoing storylines is what made Babylon 5 groundbreaking, Battlestar Galactica addictive, and Lost insanity-inducing. But at this point, it’s little played out because most savvy TV viewers no longer really trust show runners to actually plan more than a season ahead. Shows with ongoing plotlines are sometimes thought of as novels for television, but if novelists wrote books the way contemporary TV shows see-saw on their premises, said novelists would likely have seizures. The idea of having what are essentially small cool, sci-fi short stories on TV is what makes The Twilight Zone fun. It is also a great way to get someone into the show. Never watched it before? It literally doesn’t matter.
1. Hire Good Writers. Make Sure Some of them Are Not TV Writers
Sure, the majority of classic Twilight Zone scripts were written either by Rod Serling or Richard Matheson, but throughout its long history and various iterations, the list of well-known Twilight Zone writers has included folks like George Clayton Johnson, Damon Knight, John Landis, Harlan Ellison, Joe Haldeman, Rockne S. O’Bannon, Ira Steven Behr, Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, to just name a few.
But a new version could benefit from genre and non-genre literary talent alike. How about an episode written by China Miéville, Junot Diaz, or Jim Shepard? In fact, there are an endless amount of short story writers who would be great for this. Nearly every single writer in this Fantastic Women anthology could pen a great Twilight Zone (with Kelly Link probably leading the pack) Etgar Keret’s stories already read a bit like Twilight Zone stories anyway. Hell, Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler could probably pull off a fairly awesome Twilight Zone. Genevieve Valentine, Charlie Jane Anders. The list of talented short fiction writers with an ability to really take on a Serling-esque feel goes on and on. The advantage of using non-TV writers (or at least adapting from more literary sources) is that it will feel fresh for TV viewers. The originality which springs from prose could be translated to a new Twilight Zone without needing to alter much from the source material. Am I saying a new Twilight Zone could increase literacy and encourage reading? Why not. It’s my fantasy.
Hopefully The Twilight Zone will, eventually come back, and when it does Bryan Singer, or whoever else will listen to my advice. Until then, what would you want to see in a new version of the show? Chime in below!
Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com.