“The place is here, the time is now, and the journey into the shadows that we’re about to watch could be our journey.” So began the premier episode of season 1 of The Twilight Zone, “Where Is Everybody?“
This was a very special episode. It had to sell the series to the network, and that was no easy proposition. There were a lot of people who had to buy into the concept. Rod Serling himself wrote the story and really threw himself into the task. Serling had read about isolation experiments that were being carried out for training astronaut candidates. One day as he walked through a large empty movie studio lot, he saw all the trappings of a community, but there were no people, and so the nightmare began and The Twilight Zone was born.
There were lots of tweaks along the way from the germ of an idea to the small screen that fateful night of October 2, 1959. One of the biggest hurdles was determining who would be the narrator of the show. Several names were bandied about, but the clear winner was Orson Welles. He did have a great voice, he was well known and would lend an air of drama to the program. However, Welles’ asking price was way above the production budget, so the idea was scrapped. Serling suggested that he do it himself, an idea received initially with skepticism, but it turned out to be the greatest decision they could have made. It was easy on the budget (free) and Serling’s voice became as iconic as the series.
There are many differing opinions as to why the series was picked up by CBS. Some say it was because the pilot story was good. Other say it was because they wanted Serling to do his show, any show. He had star power and they would have let him do just about anything.
“Where Is Everybody” is a good story, although Serling became more unhappy about it as the years passed. He felt it hadn’t aged well and was unhappy that it didn’t have a “twist.” I can understand that! I love those Twilight Zone twists! If he had the chance to make the episode again, he would have done something like have Mike Ferris take a ticket when he went into the movie theater. Then when he was being taken out of the isolation booth to the hospital, he would reach in his pocket and find the ticket. Classic! Sort of like when Peter Corrigan reaches in his pocket after he gets back from Lincoln’s assassination and finds John Wilkes Booth’s handkerchief. Or when the sand falls out of Captain Embry’s shoes in “King Nine Will Not Return.”
Still, there’s only so much time to get something ready for presentation. Serling, producer William Self and the rest of the staff did everything they could to present the series to the decision makers, and in the end they were successful. That’s what counts.
The story opens as a lone amnesiac man in an Air Force jumpsuit walks into a small town that is totally devoid of people. He gradually becomes more and more hysterical as he runs about the town looking for anyone at all. At the end, he is pushing the panic button in a small isolation booth where he has lived for 484 hours as a test of his ability to endure loneliness during space travel.
The story has a bit of a recurrence in season 5’s “Stopover in a Quiet Town.” This time, however, there is a married couple running about a deserted town looking for evidence of life. Unfortunately, there’s no simulation going on this time. They have been transported as pets for a giant little girl in another world.
Why did space travel have to be a solitary event? Only short trips beyond the atmosphere were one-man adventures; the rest had at least three persons on board. Did Serling think that was how space travel would eventually be or was it just a great plot device?
The opening theme was not the well-known chromatic theme by Marius Constant. That didn’t appear until the second season. The premier opened with harp arpeggios, plaintiff violin sostenuto, and the sudden loud low pitched notes of cellos and basses. The music was composed by Bernard Herrmann and conducted by Joel McNeely. It’s truly masterful composition.
The budget for “Where Is Everybody” was quite high for the time–$75,000. However, this pales in comparison to the cost of pilots today, which runs into the hundreds of thousands. The shooting took just nine days, scoring and editing took just three more, and incredibly it took just six hours to sell the series to the network and potential sponsors.
Earl Holliman – This was nearly a one-man show for Holliman. It wasn’t until the last few minutes that we saw other actors, portraying the Air Force officers who were conducting the isolation study.
Holliman had a traumatic start in life. His biological mother was poverty stricken in northeastern Louisiana after his father died six months before he was born and she gave him up for adoption at birth. Life was normal until at age 13, Holliman’s adoptive father died. He disliked his new stepfather and lied about his age to get into the Navy during World War II. This lasted only a year until the Navy discovered his real age and discharged him. A year later, Holliman re-enlisted in the Navy. He met several actors during his time in the Navy and he developed an interest in acting, which he pursued after the war was over.
Holliman had several film credits before he appeared in The Twilight Zone, and he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Rainmaker in 1956. He acted opposite many Hollywood legends, including Rock Hudson in Giant, and John Wayne and Dean Martin in The Sons of Katie Elder.
Aside from the distinction of appearing in the premier of “Twilight Zone,” Holliman is also well known for his television role in “Police Woman” from 1974 to 1978.
James Gregory has a short role at the very end as an Air Force officer. Gregory is well known for his role in TV’s Barney Miller and for his deep gravelly voice. He also appeared in season 3’s “The Passersby.”