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SyFy: You’re a Bad Network, A Very Bad Network

SyFy (formerly Sci-Fi) has opted to replace its annual Fourth of July Twilight Zone Marathon [1]with a Greatest American Hero marathon. First, I hadn’t realized there were enough GAH episodes for which to justify a “marathon, ” (pathetically, there are [2]). And second, WHY?! Don’t they want people to stay on the channel for long periods of time? They might as well have rolled out ALF [3] too, make it a full-out Guantanamo Bay-style retreat.

I am crushed. For more than a decade I have settled in with family to watch the bi-annual event: Twilight Zone on New Year’s, again on the Fourth of July. Yes, a marathon of viewing, through the ham-handed and the sublime, the silly and the profound. Rod Serling, a corny but cool guide [4] through the dimensions, signposts ahead. War, paranoia, love and fear. Superstition and weakness, bravery and resolve. This was the time to reflect, holed up in air conditioning with a thousand familiar archetypes: the key character who always loses it when a nuclear strike is imminent or he crash lands on a planet. The misfit. The hero. The shrill wife. The comely naif. The vexed soldier. The greedy fool. The old man. The insufferable snob who gets his. The cynical man who gets to go back. The astronaut who never will.

I’ll miss those magic, tragic moments of irony — the doof with the stop watch [5] who cracks it when the world has been stopped, the incorrigible bully and the player piano that exposes him [6], the thieves whose greed outlive the price of gold [7], the poor sap who spends a lifetime trying to catch the devil [8] — only let him escape one more time. I’ll miss James Coburn mocking, “old man! old man!” [9] and then seen splayed out dead with the rest of the village, having defied the “old man’s” advice not to gorge on the toxic canned food. I will miss the alien “cookbook [10]” and I will miss grandfather and his masks, [11]which he gives to his “changeless” family as a New Year’s coup de’ grace and they emerge, twisted and perverted, wearing “all that was inside them and they’ll wear them for the rest of their lives, said lives now to be spent in shadow.”

I will miss Cliff Robertson with his 1860’s rifle [12] and Cliff Robertson the dummy. [13] I will miss boyish Charles Bronson mixing it up with cat-like Elizabeth Montgomery in our apocalypse [14]. I will miss Telly Savalas falling over an evil Talky Tina [15] to his death at the bottom of the stairs and Roddy McDowell when he first discovers he is now an exhibit at an alien zoo [16]. I will miss a young and already balding Robert Duvall coursing with need over the doll house at the museum [17]. The only thing better than William Shatner going bonkers on the plane [18] is William Shatner hugging a clairvoyant devil doll [19]in any-diner-U.S.A. I will miss Inger Stevens and her creepy hitchhiker, [20] and when Rod Taylor and Jim Hutton realize they are part of a disappearing team of heroic astronauts [21] and when the department store manager does a double-take on the mannequin [22] who looks just like the customer (Anne Francis) he left resting in the front office the day before …

It is us at the breaking point — the frailty of our species. The kernel of fear and insecurity in all of us that forces us to conform during the day, but turn on our neighbors and abandon civility at night. Are we really that bad? Was Rod Serling just a pessimist? Just the same, we love to take that ride down Maple Street [23]at dusk, and take in the hysterics at Dr. Stockton’s basement [24]when a nuclear attack is supposedly at hand. The fun is — we never know.

After the neighbors make complete monsters out of themselves trying to get into Stockton’s shelter — and then the attack turns out to be a false alarm — emerges one of the best exchanges in the series’ history (written with the signature Serling ham):

Jerry Harlowe: We could throw a nice big block party, just like old times! Anything to get back to normal! Right, Bill?
Bill Stockton: Normal? …I don’t know what normal is. I thought I did once; I don’t anymore.
Jerry Harlowe: Oh, we’ll pay for all the damages, Bill.
Bill Stockton: Damages? I wonder…if any of us has any idea what those “damages” really are. Maybe one of them was finding out what we’re really like when we’re “normal.” The kind of people we are, just underneath the skin–and I mean all of us–a lot of naked, wild animals who put such a price on staying alive that they’ll claw their own neighbors to death just for the privilege! We were spared a bomb tonight, but I wonder…if we weren’t destroyed even without it.

There are planes with no people, and planes stuck in the land of dinosaurs and planes that come out of the sky from World War I to change the future. There are misanthropes and masochists, meanies and malcontents. There are aliens and primitives, beauties and bozos, heroes and saints. They are all of us and none of us and we can laugh it off or we can see ourselves and maybe take more than five minutes to think about it. I mean, many of us do have the weekend off.

1960 in black and white relief — but mirrored back at us. A fun and eerie reminder that we humans are so “changeless,” despite how quickly the superficial trappings of fashion, politics and culture whiz by, leaving our Willoughbies [25]behind. SyFy, in its infinite short-sightedness and stupidity (or maybe, plain thriftiness, I mean, have you seen those in-house “movies” they produce exclusively for the channel?) have cast me a blow, and maybe, too, the numerous, numerous others who have been resigned to this simple exercise in thrill and pop-culture anthropology for the last ten years or more.

I guess I can go check out the John Wayne marathon at AMC. [26] But it just won’t be the same.

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#1 Comment By N.P. West On June 29, 2010 @ 7:32 am

I never cared for Serling’s programs, especially after learning that he was a Cold War progressive who backed the United Nations and infused his shows with his propaganda. I saw this on a documentary many years ago that was about Serling that was sympathetic to his ideology and mentioned this.

On the other hand, his “Night Gallery” program did produce a segment adapted from Russell Kirk’s short story, “Sorworth Place”.

#2 Comment By Amy On June 29, 2010 @ 8:01 am

Wow. I just Googled “SyFy Twilight Zone Marathon.” Why? Because for some reason I had a bad vibe about it. I had seen no commercials…

This was the page that came up.

I, too, am crushed by this news.

#3 Comment By obi juan On June 29, 2010 @ 8:32 am

Buy the DVD boxed set on Amazon. It used to only be $150 for the whole thing.

I agree, SyFy is a tv channel abortion. So much potential squandered. But who knows, maybe Mansquito IV will be better than the first three?

#4 Comment By DDanicic On June 29, 2010 @ 8:36 am

Thanks for a great post! I’m glad someone’s on record regretting the loss of the Twilight Zone marathon. It was one of the few things that you could leave your TV tuned to all day. Never a drop in quality.

#5 Comment By Rob Sherwood On June 29, 2010 @ 10:05 am

It may not be the same, but hulu.com has most if not all episodes online for free. Perfectly legal, as well.

#6 Comment By TomT On June 29, 2010 @ 11:19 am

I agree it was a great post.

I was a big time lib in the Serling days (actually the “Sterling” days, before they decided to spell his name correctly), so I enjoyed all the old “populist intellectual” sci fi of the day.

Jerry Lewis’ “Visit to a Small Planet” for some reason had made a huge impression on me. And Leslie Nielsen in “Forbidden Planet”.

In my mid-60’s, I don’t have the patience to watch much fiction anymore. I’ll watch a “chick flick” with my wife once or twice a month. Otherwise, my fiction/reality-show/sitcom/drama is limited to a 10-minute stretch of Rachel Maddow, as there is a tiny amount of saving grace in looking good while being a fool.

#7 Comment By daniel duran On June 29, 2010 @ 11:43 am

I too am crushed . Ive watched the different iterations of the marathon since I was 13 . At first when it was on local television (KOFY Tv -20 ) and then twice a year , every year , after that since sci fi took it over .

And for the greatest american hero ? I agree . I wont be watching in protest but I may buy the dvd set just to stick with tradition . Its a 150 dollar blow to the wallet but a small price to pay for continuing something Ive done for almost 22 years straight . Twice a year , every year , since 13 .

This is a huge blow and something , until now , Ive been looking forward to all month.

#8 Comment By Adam Rurik On June 29, 2010 @ 11:44 am

Kelly, you forgot the best TZ episode of all: A railroaded black man is to be hanged in the morning, but the morning doesn’t come. The night stretches past 7, 8, 9 AM in the small southern town. The convicted man is eventually hanged, and Serling’s closing commentary is more cutting than a ruby laser!

#9 Comment By Kelley Vlahos On June 29, 2010 @ 11:58 am

Daniel — I hadn’t realized, 22 years. This is more than a blow it is an abomination.

N.P West: If “cold war progressive” means being a Purple Heart, Bronze Star wounded WWII veteran-turned-anti-war, then right on Rod!

#10 Comment By James Kabala On June 29, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

Another reason not to regret that I downloaded to ultra-basic cable.

#11 Comment By Lanita On June 29, 2010 @ 11:46 pm

Well written! The marathon is a part of my family tradition as well! I guess it represents something special to my family and to the network it’s just a show. Twilight Zone is soooo much more than a show. It’s a lesson.

#12 Comment By Scott Sheaffer On June 30, 2010 @ 3:33 am

I hear you, Daniel. I’m not sure how long I’ve been watching the July 4th Marathons, but my guess is that it’s somewhere around 25 years. I watched it on Channel 11 Alive out of New York years before Sci Fi even existed. One of the earliest I remember, maybe the earliest, was tied in to promoting the premiere of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE on Channel 11. So that would be after the movie was out of theaters, and after it had been in heavy HBO rotation already.

#13 Comment By Nergol On June 30, 2010 @ 5:25 am

Much as I love The Twilight Zone, Greatest American Hero is pretty rad too.

#14 Pingback By Skull / Bones » Blog Archive » There goes my 4th of July Plans On June 30, 2010 @ 9:09 am

[…] Now what am I supposed to do on Independence Day? Why, I might just have to, like, go out and do some actual activities of some kind. […]

#15 Comment By Elena On July 1, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

I’am upset as well why the hell their going to exchange a good show that I like watching on New Year Eve and 4th of July for a corny show. What happened syfy?

#16 Comment By Jacob On July 4, 2010 @ 12:21 am

I cant believe how rediculous this is….i own all the twilight zone episodes on my comp but its not the same as just putting the tv channel to syfy and letting it run… I hope that syfy returns to its original roots besides just missing the twilight zone this year ( my favorite show of all time) I hate that we no longer have stay out of the water sundays on syfy anymore : (

#17 Comment By Joel On July 4, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

I too am quite disappointed. If SyFy were not part of my general cable package, I’d cancel it. The TZ marathon is one of the few times I watch SyFy. Now there’s no good reason to keep it.

#18 Comment By tina On July 5, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

You are crushed? Really? Jeez. There is alot of other stuff way more important in the world to cry over. I love Twilight Zone but I also love Greatest American Hero. people can like both. The Sci Fy channel usually pisses me off because of the shows they put on. Giant man eating…… ?That stuff is vomit. GAH is a classic and alot of fun.