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The Question: What's Your Favorite Classic Show?

By James Guttman, James Bullock, and Dan Crocker Nov 16, 2016 - 7:33 PM print

It's time for another edition of "The Question" - We Want Insanity's weekly answer to something we all have our own opinion on. See what we have to say and then share your own. That's what questions like this are for...

What’s Your Favorite Classic TV Show?

James Guttman:

For the purposes of this question, we decided that “classic” would be any show from before you were born or when you were too young to channel surf on your own. Because of that, I had to go with my 4th of July marathon friend…and New Year’s Even marathon buddy…and current online streaming marathon obsession – The Twilight Zone.

I love the Twilight Zone. So many stories that have been done and redone and rebooted and tweaked through the years were all fresh and new in the eyes of Rod Serling. Many tired “twist endings” from 2016 originated with the Zone whether it was Burgess Merideth’s broken glasses or Dick York’s balanced coin. The bottom line is that the twists and turns on the Twilight Zone might not have originated there, but they certainly were the mainstream inspiration for many shows to follow.

Just to show how great this show is, take a look at the 1985 version or even the 2002 version. For many TV shows, a reboot is a kiss of death to its legacy. But TZ was so amazing that its follow up broadcasts decades later still felt true to form. It says a lot about Serling’s storytelling ability. The movie, complete with Bart Simpson and her mouthless sister who gave me nightmares for years, can be counted in that group too. Unfortunately, Vic Morrow’s sudden death during filming makes it a tougher pill to swallow.

Despite it airing before my birth, I loved watching Twilight Zone as a kid. Today, I love showing it to my daughter, who begs me not to and points out that it causes nightmares. I don’t know why she points that out. I already know. To paraphrase Bart Simpson, “Don’t have a mouth, man!”

James Bullock:

Before there was Youtube, Hulu, Netflix, or any other type of streamable service that could be played through everything from your TV to your phone, or DVD/Blu-Ray/VHS box sets (yes, there were tape box sets back in the day), there was this little thing called cable TV. Wait, you say cable TV still exists? Okay, let me rephrase that – affordable cable TV where the “Basic Package” was under twenty dollars a month and had almost every channel other than HBO and Cinemax. With cable entering my home when I was barely six years old, my world opened up quickly to TV shows both then-currently on air and those that ended way before I was born. Easily my favorite when it comes to the latter is the one that struck a chord with me almost immediately for its obviously eccentric, all African American cast, “ Good Times”.

The spin-off of a spin-off produced six seasons – all of which concluded years before my existence – that eventually became available through several channels and the power of syndication for yours truly and almost immediately hooked me thanks to, mostly its comedy, and characters that, for a black person in America during my generation, became aware of relatively fast. We all knew that artist (be it a person who drew on everything or tried to rap) who kind of bummed around like J.J. while spouting jokes left and right. We all knew the relatively intelligent girl who just so happened to be fine like Thelma. There was at least one militant brother hanging around similar to Michael. You had that one gossip queen (who too was fine) on the verge of making it big (at least in her mind) like Willona. And, most importantly, we knew of the nuclear family with a pair of strong willed, hard working parents in James & Florida.

It wasn’t until I got a little older that I gained a greater appreciation for the stories with actual depth presented throughout the series including religious beliefs, societal differences and stereotypes based on race & homelessness, and, most importantly, death & abandonment. Thanks to contractual and creative disputes, the exiting of James Evans (John Amos) produced one of the most emotional two-part episodes in TV history; and perfectly captured the feeling one has when a person you truly love and care about unexpectedly passes. While it wasn’t always good times (both on and off screen), without the bad there wouldn’t be any good to inspire such a series that, to this day, brings a smile, tear, or both to my face anytime I hear the iconic theme song and realize that, yes, I’m watching this episode (or two, or five) that I’ve seen enough to remember multiple lines per show.

Dan Crocker:

Imagine if you will, a show so well-conceived that nearly fifty years later it still often tops “best of all time lists.” Not only is The Twilight Zone my favorite classic television show of all time, it's also tied for my all time favorite television show of all time period (I really liked the Battlestar Galactica reboot). Of those two, however, The Twilight Zone is the better quality show. It was so good that even today if a student of mine writes a story with an ironic twist ending, I tell them they had better check the signpost up ahead because The Twilight Zone did it so well those kinds of endings are now cliché.

Of the 156 episodes of the show, Rod Serling wrote 96. Let that sink in for a moment. It's amazing. Well over half of all the episodes. Classics like, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” “The Eye of the Beholder” and “To Serve Man.” Even at its worst, The Twilight Zone was always entertaining. At its best, however, it told us a little something about ourselves. It commented on Cold War paranoia (frequently), the allure of fascism, the right of the individual versus the demands of the state. It's no wonder the show attracted writers like Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson.

Often, The Twilight Zone held up a mirror reflecting our own insecurities, biases, bigotries and fears. As divided as we all are now, we could another show like it.

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