Sunday, February 17, 2013

Special Report: The Lost Five

The original five-season run of The Twilight Zone is comprised of 156 episodes.  After the series ended in 1964, 151 of these episodes were assembled into a syndication package and began airing in local markets around the country.

But wait, that’s five episodes short.  What gives?

First, let’s list the missing episodes. 

(originally broadcast 2/21/1963)

(originally broadcast 12/13/1963)

(originally broadcast 2/28/1964)

(Originally broadcast 4/03/1964)

(Originally broadcast 5/01/1964)

Cayuga Productions accepted outside teleplay submissions for consideration; however, they rejected a great many of them.  Unfortunately, there were subsequent lawsuits filed by some of the aspiring writers they’d turned down.  Theoretical example:  Dick Johnson submits a script about a rampaging army of telepathic squirrels, which gets summarily rejected.  Serling then later writes a script that happens to incorporate a telepathic squirrel, which gets produced.  Dick Johnson believes Serling stole his intellectual property, so he screams plagiarism and files a lawsuit.  Of course I’m simplifying this some, but that’s the basic gist of things. At the time the series’ syndication package was put together, three episodes were stuck in mid-litigation (“Miniature,” “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain,” and “Sounds and Silences”) and were therefore held back. 

“The Encounter,” meanwhile, contained some fairly heavy racial content, so it too was omitted (which is kinda odd, since it was allowed to air in the first place).  “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was left out because it wasn’t really a Twilight Zone episode at all… but we’ll delve into that particular story when we get to it (a little over a year from now).

Aside from “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” getting a repeat broadcast during the summer of 1964, these five episodes essentially disappeared.

Fast forward 20 years. To celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary in October 1984, a feature-length syndicated special was aired which resurrected three of “The Lost Five”:  “Miniature,” “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain,” and “Sounds and Silences” (coincidentally the same three that had been previously suppressed for legal reasons; presumably their respective lawsuits had either been dismissed or otherwise dealt with by 1984).  The special was hosted by Patrick O’Neal (who had starred in “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain”).  Here’s a link to the New York Times’write-up.  

I think the episodes may have suffered some minor editing (we’re talking about syndication, after all), but they seemed relatively unscathed… except for “Miniature,” the fate of which we’ll address later this week.

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “The Encounter,” meanwhile, first reappeared on VHS in 1992 in the two-tape Treasures of The Twilight Zone set.  The set also included “The Howling Man,” “Eye of the Beholder,” “The Masks,” and “Where Is Everybody?” This release was later broken up into two separate DVD volumes in 1999 (Treasures from The Twilight Zone and More Treasures from The Twilight Zone; incidentally the first two TZ DVDs ever released; both "Lost Five" episodes appear on the first volume).

“The Lost Five” formally rejoined the series for the first time when the entire 156-episode run was presented on VHS by Columbia House.  You had to join the club, and wait impatiently as the volumes trickled out once a month but, at the time, this was the only way for a collector like me to acquire the entire series… at a pretty enormous cost (with shipping, I ultimately paid close to $1,000.00 to complete my set; it still amazes me that the entire series can be bought now, in pristine high definition with copious bonus features, for a mere fraction of that… in 2013 dollars, no less!).

Offer no longer valid... but hey, it might be fun to try.

At some point, probably in the early 2000’s or so (I’m totally guessing here), “Miniature," "A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain" and "Sounds and Silences" were added to the syndication package, reducing "The Lost Five" to "The Lost Two." Despite the fact that "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and "The Encounter" remain MIA from the syndication package to this date, all 156 episodes are easily available on both DVD and blu-ray (and via streaming: all 156 are available for free on Hulu, while paying members of Netflix can view all the half-hour episodes); in other words,“The Lost Five” aren't really lost at all these days.  Their unique history is little more than a footnote now, but for those of us who pre-date the digital age, “The Lost Five” were once frustratingly out of reach, and therefore hold a special unique place in the legacy that is… The Twilight Zone.

*Speaking of plagiarism claims levied against The Twilight Zone… well, stay tuned.  I’m working on a pretty big expose that I hope to publish in the next month or two.  You might find it quite eye-opening.


Joel Benedict Henderson said...

Actually they still haven't added Encounter and Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge back to any syndication package (including the ones on ME-TV) so basically its still the "lost two".

Ken said...

ME-TV hasn't shown any of them, and I've watched the cycle come around 3 times so far. Can we write to them? Maybe they didn't get them from CBS. I noticed that this time around, they're showing the new CBS distribution logo at the very end, so maybe it's a new set of copies.

The hours have been frustratingly rare for years before the video era. KTLA used to show a few during marathons, and it took me 3 or 4 years to see them all at least once. ME-TV ran them a few times last year in an hour time slot (although they strangely skipped Miniature and No Time Like the Past each time).

And a fun trivia fact: "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" made its VHS debut in 1985 on a budget tape from Kids Klassics home video. It was taken from a 16mm copy with some film scratches, but at the time, it looked like it did on KTLA. It even had the "Queen of the Nile" promo! I watched that tape over and over, and even made an audio tape of the soundtrack!

Craig Beam said...

Ken - Yeah, I have (had? I haven't seen it for several years) the Kids Klassics tape, which I've always suspected was an unauthorized bootleg.

Joel - I would swear one of the marathons (SyFy or KTLA) showed "Occurrence," but so far I haven't been able to verify it. In either case, "The Encounter" seems totally MIA. I'll edit my post accordingly.

Ken said...

Craig-A Short Drink should be 12/13/63. 12/20/63 was Ninety Years Without Slumbering.

Craig Beam said...

D'oh! Fixed.