‘The Twilight Zone,’ from A to Z – The New York Review of Books

The [Twilight Zone’s] articulate underlying philosophy was never that life is topsy-turvy, things are horribly wrong, and misrule will carry the day–it is instead a belief in a cosmic order, of social justice and a benevolent irony that, in the end, will wake you from your slumber and deliver you unto the truth.


The show’s most prevalent themes are probably best distilled as “you are not what you took yourself to be,” “you are not where you thought you were,” and “beneath the façade of mundane American society lurks a cavalcade of monsters, clones, and robots.”

This review of a new book, The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) highlights all the things that made the series not only great in its time, but also an enduring television classic. It’s hard to imagine a series that was more influential on the American psyche at such a time of turbulence. The fact that it still has resonance is testimony to its unique vision.

I wish the series was more affordable in digital format. I bought the first season on the iTunes Store some time ago when it was $10, but each season is $35, which is excessive. I have the entire thing on DVD, and I just don’t have the time to rip them. You can get the whole set on Blu-Ray for only $70. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Source: ‘The Twilight Zone,’ from A to Z | by J.W. McCormack | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

Bob Dylan-Inspired Drama Series in Development at Amazon, Lionsgate TV – Variety

Lionsgate TV is closing in on a deal with Amazon for an hourlong drama series inspired by characters and themes from Bob Dylan’s vast archive of songs.

“Time Out of Mind” will be spearheaded by writer-director Josh Wakely, who managed to secure the wide-ranging rights deal for Dylan’s song catalog.


Details of the Dylan project, named for the songwriter’s acclaimed 1997 album, are still sketchy. Dylan’s incomparable body of work over the past 50-plus years could yield any number of intriguing characters. The plan for the series is that two characters or story threads from Dylan songs that wind up colliding in some way.

Okay, I’m down for this.

Source: Bob Dylan-Inspired Drama Series in Development at Amazon, Lionsgate TV | Variety

A Better Way to Sync Videos to iOS Devices

If you want to sync videos from iTunes to your iOS device, you generally connect the device, then click Movies in the Settings section of the sidebar, and then check or uncheck the movies you want to sync. Unfortunately, the sync interface presents movies by title only, and the titles can be truncated. You can’t sort by, say, date added, to see your most recent movies first.

Sync movies

This isn’t very practical, so I use a different technique. You can see just below the Movies section there is an Include Movies from Playlists section. What I do is use a special playlist for movies; in my case, it’s called iPad Movies.

Include movies

When I want to sync a video, I add it to that playlist; when I want to remove a movie or TV show, I remove it from the playlist. Then, when I connect my iPad, iTunes syncs the video I want without me having to find them in the impractical interface.

You can do the same for TV shows; using a playlist makes it easier to select episodes, which require a lot of clicking in the standard interface.

Get the Complete West Wing in HD

West wingI hadn’t realized it before, but the iTunes Store has the complete West Wing in 1080p HD for a mere $75. Since you can’t buy it on Blu-Ray, this is the only way to get the series in HD. It looks like it was released on the iTunes Store last December.

I would say this is the best dramatic TV series ever. Grab it; if you haven’t seen it, this is a good occasion to watch it. If you have seen it, then you know that it’s worth getting in HD.

Buy the Complete West Wing from the iTunes Store.

While you’re at it, you can also get The Wire in HD from the iTunes Store. Interestingly, this is quite different from the DVDs. It was shot in 16:9, but David Simon preferred the 4:3 aspect ratio, so it was broadcast in that format, and the DVDs were also in that format. The HD release is in 16:9, with many of the scenes looking quite different from the originals. (You can also get The Wire on Blu-Ray.)

HBO to Cut Off HBO Now Users Outside the US

If you live outside the US, you may use a VPN (virtual private network) to access certain services in that country. Many people use a VPN with Netflix, to be able to access a broader range of movies and TV series available in the US than in foreign countries. Some other services also turn a blind geolocation eye to such users. And, it seems that some people are also using VPNs to access HBO’s new $15 a month HBO Now service.

But, according to TorrentFreak, HBO is going to cut these users’ cords.

HBO has started to crack down on paying customers who access the HBO Now service from outside the United States. Subscribers from countries including Canada, the UK, Germany and Australia who use VPNs and other unblocking tools are now being threatened with account terminations.

TorrentFreak has posted a screenshot of an email that some HBO Now users have received:


This isn’t surprising. TV channels have licensing agreements with channels in countries around the world to distribute many of their shows, such as the very popular Game of Thrones. This said, the people paying $15 a month who are outside the US are probably those who would be pirating the series otherwise. So it’s not clear who wins by this decision by HBO.

The Night I Worked for the Saturday Night Live Props Department

In a conversation recently on my podcast, The Committed, I briefly told the story of how I participated in a sketch on Saturday Night Live. I recalled that today, and went online to see if I could find a video of it; indeed, there it is: Samurai Tailor, with John Belushi in his recurring role as the samurai.

Back in the late 1970s, I loved watching Saturday Night Live. You could write in and get tickets, if you were lucky, but a friend found out that you could also go wait on the standby line at Rockefeller Center, where the show was performed. It was a great atmosphere there. The line was in one of the marble-floored halls of the art deco 30 Rockefeller Plaza building, and each week there would be anywhere from about 50 to 100 people. It was a relaxed party atmosphere; we’d wait on line for a few hours, taking turns to go outside and replenish our stores of food and drink. We did this many times, and got in about half the time; all told, I probably saw a dozen episodes of the series.

On May 22, 1976, Buck Henry was the guest host, and Gordon Lightfoot was the musical guest. My friends and I were led to seats at the front row of the area where the audience sat. The audience was above the sets; we could see the sets in the back of the soundstage, and there were other, smaller sets below the seats.

A little while before the show started, a production assistant came up to me with a small paper bag. He explained that, later in the show, there would be a sketch in the set just below where I was sitting. He asked if I could open the bag when he told me to, and drop the buttons it contained directly below me.

Naturally, I was psyched. When the sketch started, the PA came up to the aisle and waved to let me know it would soon be my call. As the sketch progressed, he kept his eye on the action – we couldn’t see anything in the set, but there were monitors the audience could watch – and just when it was time, he gave me a hand signal. You can see my work at about 3:00 in the video below.

I have to say, my timing was impeccable. I may have missed my calling.

(Note: if you’re outside the US, you won’t be able to see this video without a VPN.)

To Be Continued…

Masterclock serial coverIn 1841, readers in New York caused a near-riot when the final installment of Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop reached American shores. They were desperate to learn the fate of Nell Trent: did she live or die? On September 29, 2013, millions of Americans – and people around the world – sat down in front of their TVs to watch the final episode of Breaking Bad, and to learn the fate of Walt, Jesse and the other characters. Who, in this story, would live or die? Separated by 170 years, these two stories gripped audiences so strongly that the need to know the outcome was almost an obsession.

In both cases, people met afterwards to discuss the ends of these serials. In the New York of 1841, they would have talked about Little Nell in taverns and coffee houses; in 2013, they gathered on Facebook and Twitter to debate the dénouement involving Walt and Jesse. The discussions inevitably examined what some readers and viewers hoped would happen, and what future might lay ahead for the remaining characters. Because both Nell and Walt met their ends in the final episodes of their respective serials. While Walt’s death was predictable, readers of The Old Curiosity Shop didn’t expect Dickens to kill off Little Nell.

One Episode After Another

Serials – periodic fiction, film and TV – have been a staple of publishing since the early 19th century, when printing technology enabled the mass production of cheap magazines. The watershed moment was Dickens’ 1836–37 serial The Pickwick Papers. Written under the name “Boz,” this serial was sold in individual pamphlets, one a month, each containing a few chapters (the final number was a “double issue” with six chapters). Dickens would publish eight other novels in this format, through his last, unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Other serials appeared in magazines, and this became the norm in the late 19th century, as part issues could no longer compete with publications that had a varied table of contents. These include The Strand, in England, which published Sherlock Holmes’ adventures; The Atlantic Monthly, which published many novels, including those of Henry James, in the United States; and La Revue de Paris, in France, which published Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. As Scribner’s Monthly pointed out in 1878, “Now it is the second or third rate novelist who cannot get publication in a magazine, and is obliged to publish in a volume, and it is in the magazine that the best novelist always appears first.”[1]

Most of the classics of the 19th century that we read now were first published in serial form. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was published over some four years, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin over forty weeks. Authors such as Mark Twain, Honoré Balzac, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy and many others wrote serials. Even in the 20th century, novels by Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway were published as serials, and, Rolling Stone revived this tradition when it published Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities over 13 months in 1984–85, though Wolfe revised the work extensively for book publication.

Some serial novels lasted for short periods: Henry James’ The American was originally slated for nine installments in The Atlantic Monthly[2], but its popularity led editor William Dean Howells to ask James to extend it another three numbers. Others, such as Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo ran for 139 episodes. So many 19th century novels are doorstops because of serialization: authors were paid by installment, and a successful serial was valuable to both the author and publisher, so they would continue as long as possible.

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Check Your Netflix Streaming Speed with Example Short 23.976

If you’re a Netflix user, and you have problems with the quality of what you’re watching, you may want to find out exactly how fast your internet connection is. You can do speed tests on various websites, but they don’t show the actual speed you get from Netflix, which may be less if your ISP is throttling the service.

There’s a little-known film you can watch on Netflix called Example Short 23.976. It’s a cinema verité short – just 11 minutes long – that explores the relationship between man and his TV screen. Netflix’s description of the film gives little insight into the existential depth of this work:

“An example of 23.976 frames per second. An example of 23.976 frames per second. An example of 23.976 frames per second.”

What’s useful about this film is that it shows you exactly how fast you’re getting data from Netflix, and at what resolution. Here’s a screenshot. (It’s a bit hard to see, but at the time I took the screenshot, I was getting 3000 kbps, at 1280×720.)


When you start watching this movie, the bitrate and resolution will be low, and they’ll increase as Netflix figures out how much bandwidth you have. You may need to leave it running for a few minutes to get an accurate reading for your usable bandwidth. But this, combined with speed tests from other websites, can tell you if problems streaming Netflix are related to your overall speed or specific bottlenecks affecting Netflix traffic.

17 People (West Wing)

If you’re a West Wing fan, 17 People – episode 18 of season 2 – is arguably one of the best episodes. In fact, it starts a run of several great episodes at the end of the season, culminating with the Emmy-award winning Two Cathedrals, that ends the season (with a cliffhanger; but it’s obvious now what Bartlett’s answer will be at the end of that episode).

Jon White has created a brilliant analysis of this episode on his website Seventeen People. As he says, it’s the “best non-Dire-Straits-featuring episode.” (That’s a reference to Two Cathedrals, which features Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms over the last 5 minutes.) White shows just how much Aaron Sorkin could pack into a 42-minute West Wing episode: “It is, simultaneously: a story of intrigue, of persuasion, of drama, of comedy, and of romance.”

Seventeen People is about Toby Ziegler finding something out; something only known by sixteen other people. White fortunately does not say what Toby finds out, though if you’ve seen the West Wing, you know what it is. His analysis of this episode shows just how essential each and every line of the script is to the story, how President Bartlett has to juggle serious crises in addition to dealing with Toby. And how what Toby learns sets the stage for the next couple of years of his presidency.

If you’re a West Wing fan, you’ll find this analysis a brilliant break-down of the episode. If you’re not, read the introduction, and go buy The Complete West Wing on DVD (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). It’s $125 in the US, and only £48 in the UK. (Or, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can watch them free in HD; the HD versions are only available from Amazon Prime and iTunes, there’s no Blu-Ray.) Seriously, if there’s one TV series I’d take to a desert island, it would be The West Wing. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should.

Speaking of Two Cathedrals, here’s the last 5 1/2 minutes, the part with the Dire Straits music. I can’t watch this without tearing up, but also without appreciating the astounding direction by Thomas Schlamme, and the brilliant editing that tells this story. Watch the fluidity of the movement as Bartlett heads out of the Oval Office to his motorcade. Watch all the tiny details; the cigarette in the church, the shots in the press conference before Bartlett gets there. Watch Martin Sheen’s face and body throughout this segment, showing what makes him such a great actor, and how he totally inhabited this character. And the moment when Lea McGarry says “Watch this.”

If you’ve not yet seen the West Wing up to this point, it would be better to not to watch this, because there is a major spoiler…

Apple Refunds Purchasers of Split Breaking Bad Season 5

breaking-bad-season-52.pngI recently wrote about how Apple had split the final season of Breaking Bad into two parts to get people who had paid for season five last year to pay again. Shortly after I posted that article, someone filed a class action lawsuit against Apple for this deceptive practice.

As I pointed out, AMC, the network which airs Breaking Bad, and the actors and creator of the show, have always referred to the second part of the fifth season as part of season 5, but Apple was selling it as Breaking Bad, The Final Season.

I today received the following email from iTunes Support:

“We apologize for any confusion the naming of “Season 5” and “The Final Season” of Breaking Bad might have caused you. While the names of the seasons and episodes associated with them were not chosen by iTunes, we’d like to offer you “The Final Season” on us by providing you with the iTunes code below in the amount of $22.99. This credit can also be used for any other content on the iTunes Store. Thank you for your purchase.”

Whether or not Apple intended to deceive purchasers, the point remains that the description of the season pass for season 5, which you can see to the left, made it clear that this season pass included all episodes of season 5. I don’t think this was Apple’s fault, but they will certainly need to rethink their wording for season passes. Breaking Bad is not the only series that has been split like this, and I’m sure others will complain about not receiving what they expected from a season pass.

In any case, I welcome Apple’s resolution of this issue.