TWILIGHT ZONE TAPEWORMS: First, there was the Lost In Space marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel, which presented about 20 back-to-back Lost In Space episodes in conjunction with the feature film release earlier this year.

Media Mix Then, a couple months back, during the first weekend in April, Canadian cable channel Trio ran a full-day marathon of classic SCTV episodes. Sure, they were the half-hour episodes sliced and diced by Nickelodeon rather than the often-brilliant, 90-minute originals that ran on NBC back in the early 1980s; but there's still a lot of laughs to be had, from Fred Rogers boxing Julia Child in the "Battle of PBS Network Stars" to Bob and Doug McKenzie's "Great White North Palace."

Even better was "June Bugs" on the Cartoon Network a couple weeks back, which featured two-and-a-half solid days of Bugs Bunny cartoons. Not everyone enjoys six or seven straight hours of Looney Toons, but these marathons offer us an outstanding opportunity to compile a collection of our cult favorites. (When you'll find the time to watch all the stuff you've taped is a whole 'nother problem--we've barely scratched the surface of those Lost In Space episodes....)

The upcoming holiday weekend brings another marathon tradition--The Fourth of July Twilight Zone marathon. Originally presented by a television station that held the rights to the Zone--God only knows what the patriotic link is--the showcase has been continued by the Sci-Fi Channel.

The Zone was groundbreaking television--a TV series that took viewers "to another dimension beyond that which is known to man." There were westerns, war stories, travels to the prehistoric past and sterile totalitarian futures, even trips to hell and back.

It was all the brainchild of Rod Serling, an up-and-coming writer of screenplays for dramatic programs like Playhouse 90 in the 1950s. Serling particularly liked to explore man's dark side--mob justice, racial hatred, hunger for power, misdirected passions and plain, old-school greed. Unfortunately, those topics often put him at odds with network execs, who--as always--foresaw trouble with sponsors.

Somewhere along the line, Serling realized he could better tell his stories in a different format--and so The Twilight Zone was born. From 1959 to 1965, Serling served up 156 black-and-white episodes of the Zone, introducing each one in his own goofy style and topping most with a firm, ironic twist.

Whether set in deep space or the Louisiana bayou, Serling's stories were little morality plays that examined what made people tick. His secret was simple: He told universal stories that made people think about community and conscience and the human heart.

Yeah, there were a lot of bad episodes, a lot of overwritten scripts, some predictable stories, some overdone performances and a lot of cheesy effects. (And for one regrettable season toward the end, the show expanded to an hour's length and often dragged.)

But there was also fantastic work from amazingly talented actors, writers and directors, who took viewers "into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of the imagination."

Lots of folks have played with The Twilight Zone since its initial run, from new television shows to a big-bucks Hollywood feature. But no one's ever really captured the spirit of the original material. Without Serling, the show just didn't seem to have its heart.

Coincidentally, the Sci-Fi Channel has produced one of Serling's old dramatic scripts, A Town Has Turned To Dust. Serling's original script, which was inspired by a Mississippi lynching, ended up butchered by network suits who were worried about offending sponsors.

We're not sure the story fares much better with Sci-Fi's remake. Originally set in the South, it's been reworked as a post-apocalyptic tale. Although Serling's touch is evident in the characters, overall the movie is too long (although the burned-out desert setting looks pretty cool).

The Twilight Zone marathon runs from 8 a.m. on July 4 to
3 a.m. on July 5, interrupted only by an encore presentation of A Town Has Turned To Dust at noon on Saturday.

QVC--THE FINAL FRONTIER: This just in, from Universal Press Syndicate's News of the Weird column: "In February, two Russian cosmonauts aboard the Mir space station hawked NASA space pens ($32) and other paraphernalia on the American QVC shopping channel, in an effort to raise some money for their country's underfunded space program. A total of 530 people bought something, including 11 who paid from $90 to $2,500 for tiny Mars rocks. Six others submitted to credit inquiries about buying $25,000 Sokol KV-2 spacesuits." (For more "Weird News," see page 70.)

This will come as no surprise to those of you who race out to see Armageddon this weekend, in which Steve Buscemi's demented character remarks to Bruce Willis during their shuttle launch, "We're sitting on 250 tons of fuel and a live nuclear warhead, in a machine made of (hundreds of) moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Doesn't that make you feel good?" That ailing Russian space program also gets a cameo in the movie's meteor shower of explosive special-effects. TW

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