Monday, April 11, 2011

"Where is Everybody?"

Earl Holliman, first resident of
The Twilight Zone
“Where is Everybody”
Season One, Episode 1
Original Air Date: October 2, 1959

Mike Ferris: Earl Holliman 
Air Force General: James Gregory 
Doctor: Paul Langton 
Reporter #1: James McCallion
Air Force Colonel: John Conwell
Reporter #2: Jay Overholt
Air Force Captain: Carter Mullaly
Reporter #3: Gary Walberg
Air Force Staff Sergeant: Jim Johnson

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay) 
Director: Robert Stevens 
Producer: William Self
Director of Photography: Joseph La Shelle 
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy and Alex Golitzen
Set Decoration: Russell A. Gausman and Ruby Levitt
Assistant Director: Joseph E. Kenny
Editor: Roland Gross
Makeup: Bud Westmore
Sound: Leslie I. Carey and Vernon W. Kramer
Music: Bernard Hermann

And now, Mr. Serling (recorded in 1961 for a re-run of the episode): 
“I’m about to show you a picture of something that isn’t what it looks like.  Pleasant little town?  It isn’t this at all.  It’s a nightmare.  It’s a chilling, frightening, journey of one man into a mystifying unknown.  You’re invited to join that man in a most unique experience.  Next week, Earl Holliman asks, and you’ll ask with him, ‘Where is Everybody?
          “Here’s an item we forgot.  A moment for the people who pay the tab.  It’s often said that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’  Case in point.  Before we meet again try Oasis.  You’ll know what I mean.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
The place is here, the time is now, and the journey into the shadows that we’re about to watch could be our journey.”


             Mike Ferris is traveling on foot down a rural highway when he wanders into a quaint little town that looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, a seemingly quiet, idyllic place to live, complete with a welcoming town square, drugstore, diner, and local movie theater.  It will become his nightmare. He has no memory of who he is and no destination.  The town he has found himself in shows all the normal indications of a functioning community except for the fact that there are no people to be found anywhere in it. Ferris wanders into a café where a jukebox plays to an empty room. A smoking cigar lies unattended in an ashtray in the middle of the local police station. A phone rings inside a phone booth though no one on the other end has placed a call.  As he wanders from place to place Ferris grows suspicious that he is being watched.  As night falls on the town, his paranoia and loneliness finally eat away at what is left of his rationality. With desperation clinging to him, he collapses against a stoplight, frantically pushing the ‘walk’ button and pleading for someone to come help him.

            Cut to a different place entirely. Mike Ferris is being observed on a monitor by a group of military officials. The ‘walk’ button he believes himself to be pressing is actually the panic button inside of the isolation chamber that he has been strapped into for the past 400 some-odd hours.  Ferris is an Air Force astronaut aboard a simulated flight to the moon. Upon witnessing his fragile condition, the Air Force general in charge of the project decides to have Ferris removed from the chamber.  After a few moments he begins to regain his grasp on reality and inquires to the staff doctor as to why he believed he was in an imaginary town with no people in it. The doctor explains to Ferris that man has an instinctive necessity for companionship and without it his mind will begin to make up scenarios in order to fight the loneliness. As he is being taken away by medical personnel he realizes that when the time comes for him to go on a real flight to the moon there will be no panic button to push and no one to come and rescue him from his own mind. 

Rod Serling’s closing narration: 
“Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation.  It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting…in the Twilight Zone.”


             As the premiere episode of The Twilight Zone, “Where is Everybody?” perfectly sets the tone for the series.  The episode begins as Mike Ferris discovers a mysterious town with signs of life in every direction but no visible inhabitants. In the second act, the conflict escalates to a suspenseful climax as Ferris’s paranoia mounts and his reasoning begins to deteriorate. In the final scene, we see that he is not in a town at all, but in an experimental isolation chamber.  Thus, all the pieces of the puzzle come together. This would become the formula used throughout the series and the show’s success is due largely to the simple format of an ordinary person thrust into an extraordinary situation. This format grabbed the audience’s attention within the first few minutes and held it to the finale where there would usually be some sort of twist or a logical explanation of events. Many of the hour long episodes in the fourth season suffer because they do not successfully fit this format. 
                An interesting aspect of "Where is Everybody?" that is not often discussed is how many symbols and motifs occur in the episode which would be repeated throughout the course of the series. There is the repeated symbol of the broken clock, seen again in "Time Enough at Last" and "A Kind of Stopwatch." There is the otherworldly call in a phone booth, seen again in "The Hitch-Hiker" and "The Jungle." There is also the recurring symbol of a mirror, one of the show's most oft-repeated images, seen in episodes such as "Mirror Image," "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room," and "The Mirror." Mike Ferris also enjoys a drugstore sundae, seen again in "Walking Distance." 
             In terms of its approach to fantasy, however, “Where is Everybody?” is an atypical episode in that it is almost entirely devoid of any fantasy elements. For the pilot episode, Serling was not attempting to write a science fiction masterpiece; he was simply trying to sell his show to CBS, who had shot down his pitch for a fantasy program before when he submitted his time travel fantasy, "The Time Element." Serling's original pilot script, "The Happy Place," about a future in which citizens over the age of sixty are sent to idyllic rest homes in order to be euthanized, was also passed on by pilot producer William Self. Serling obviously understood what the executives did not want to see. They did not want a very far-out concept or a concept too far on the bleak side. Thus, in order to sell the show he deliberately toned down the fantasy aspect. Serling initially got the idea for the episode while walking around an empty backlot, which resembled a real town but was devoid of people. A similar experience inspired Earl Hamner to craft his very similar fifth season episode, "Stopover in a Quiet Town." This subtle approach to fantasy compliments the first half of the episode rather nicely in that there is only a whispering suggestion that anything supernatural is occurring, which helps cloak this part of the story in mystery. However, once the curtain is drawn and it is revealed that all of the events we are witnessing are taking place in Ferris’s mind, the lack of the supernatural seems to take the audience in a direction it was not anticipating. It takes them into an entirely new story with new characters, a new setting, and endows a new perspective on the protagonist. 
                 Serling would use this device in several other episodes. “King Nine Will Not Return” is an episode with a premise nearly identical to "Where is Everybody?" in which the pilot of a World War II bomber awakens after a crash to find that his crew has mysteriously vanished. At the end of the story it’s revealed that the entire event has taken place in his mind (or has it?). “King Nine” might prove to be a superior episode given that the main character is struggling not only with the burden of loneliness but with the guilt of abandoning his crew, which makes the ending slightly more believable. The two episodes are also related in another manner. One of the regrets Serling had about "Where is Everybody?" is that it is devoid of any fantasy. When Serling came to adapt the story for his 1960 volume, Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam), a book released just as the first season was finishing its initial broadcast, he added a moment at the end of the story in which a ticket stub from the imaginary movie theater is found in the pocket of Ferris's uniform. In the story, Ferris reached into the box office and took a ticket, tearing it himself at the usher stand as he entered the theater. The scenes give the eerie suggestion that Ferris had actually been in some other world, whether one of his imagining or not is left to the reader's own imagination. When Serling came to write "King Nine Will Not Return" to open the second season of the series, he added a similar scene to the end of the tale in which sand is found in the pilot's shoes, giving the impression that it was not all an hallucination and that he may have actually gone back in time. 
Loneliness is the primary theme at work in "Where is Everybody?". The show would return to this theme many times throughout its five season run in episodes like “The Lonely,” “A Stop at Willoughby,” “Nothing in the Dark,” “Two,” “Miniature,” “Probe 7 – Over and Out,” and several more.  The main element which fails to lend it verisimilitude is the fact that Ferris knows he is in an isolation chamber. He is aware that he is being monitored by people who are right there with him in the same room, and he also knows that the panic button is his get-out-of-jail-free-card which he can press at any time to end his claustrophobic nightmare.  It seems doubtful that under such fail-safe circumstances his mind would construct such an elaborate hallucination.  It is also amazing how fast he recovers from a complete mental collapse and is able to regain his senses enough to rationally answer the doctor’s questions, although this can be excused under the circumstances as due to a limitation of time.
“Where is Everybody?” is an episode that depends, almost entirely, on the performance of its lead actor. Earl Holliman is completely believable and effective as the frantically lost Mike Ferris. His role is not an easy one, considering that his character is alone for the majority of the episode and speaks aloud to himself as a way of providing exposition to the audience. But there is never a moment when he loses the audience’s attention.  Holliman was born in Louisiana in 1928 and studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse and UCLA. In 1956 he won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his role as Jim Curry in the film The Rainmaker, starring Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn.  His other notable film appearances include Forbidden Planet (1956), Giant (1956), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), the latter with John Wayne and Dean Martin. In the 1960’s he began a long and versatile television career. On the same night that “Where is Everybody?” was first broadcast (October 2, 1959) Holliman also appeared in the starring role of the first episode of the short-lived CBS western series Hotel de Paree, which also featured Strother Martin and Jeanette Nolan, both of whom would later feature in an episode of The Twilight Zone. From 1974 to 1978 he starred as Lieutenant Bill Cowley in the CBS series Police Woman with Angie Dickinson. In 1983 he was featured in the critically acclaimed mini-series The Thorn Birds. 
This episode also owes a great deal to director Robert Stevens, whose fluid camera movements bring Serling’s script to full mass.  In one of the more memorable shots from the first season, Stevens shoots Earl Holliman as he races down the stairs at the movie theater and runs straight into, and shatters, a full length mirror; it’s only here that the audience realizes Stevens was not actually shooting Holliman but was shooting Holliman’s reflection in the mirror. It makes for a very interesting effect.  In the early 1950’s Stevens made a name for himself as director, writer and producer on the live CBS series Suspense. Today he is best remembered for his prolific work on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, where he directed nearly fifty episodes between the two shows.
Despite its relatively minor flaws, “Where is Everybody?” remains an immensely enjoyable episode, one which holds a distinctive place in the lexicon of popular culture as the beginning of one of the most celebrated series in the history of American television.
Grade: B

--The original opening sequence to the pilot episode was different in several ways.  The biggest difference was that Serling was not the narrator.  Serling and producer William Self cast veteran voice-over actor Westbrook Von Voorhis to be the voice of the show.  After CBS bought the pilot, however, everyone agreed that a new narrator was needed to avoid sounding like every clichéd science fiction movie of that era.  Also, the original opening features images of galaxies and stars with Von Voorhis stating that "there is a sixth dimension." This was later replaced with the animated sequence that was used for most of the episodes in the first season. Serling also rewrote the opening narration to say “There is a fifth dimension…” after he was informed that there were, in fact, only four.

--This episode was shot in the famous Courthouse Square on the Universal Studios (then Universal International) backlot where To Kill a Mockingbird and Back to the Future would later be filmed. Universal provided its backlot to CBS as a favor and did not, at the time, provide to television productions. Fortuitously, CBS acquired backlot and studio services at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, which gave the show much of its quality.
--Serling later wrote that he got this idea from walking around a movie backlot one day and was struck with how frightening it would be to walk into a city with no inhabitants.  Also, the scene where Holliman gets stuck in the phone booth supposedly comes from a real incident where Serling believed he had locked himself in a London phone booth.
--"Where is Everybody?" was adapted into a short story by Rod Serling in Stories From the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1960).  It was also made into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring John Schneider (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).
--James Gregory also stars in season three episode, “The Passerby,” and in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Stop Killing Me."
--Paul Langton also stars in the season four episode, “On Thursday We Leave for Home.”
--James McCallion appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Diary."
--"Where is Everybody?" was adapted into comic book form for the 1979 book Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam; a Skylark Illustrated Book) by Rod Serling, stories adapted by Horace J. Elias and illustrated by Carl Pfeufer. 

--Brian Durant and Jordan Prejean

1 comment:

  1. I really love this episode: it's like watching the birth of a classic TV series, and it's as good an introduction as any I can think of. That the ep was filmed on the Universal back lot gives it a familiar feel, as I know that lot well from so many other TV shows and movies, and it shall never been seen again on The Twilight Zone.

    Earl Holliman was the right man to play the slowly mentally unraveling major character, as he was a fine actor, yet also capable of a measure of showboating that a more "sincere" player (Richard Basehart, for instance) wouldn't have. He's entertaining early on, and likable as the viewer gets to (sort of) know him.

    A terrific beginning for a great series,

    John B.