Why I Won’t Be Watching SyFy’s Twilight Zone Marathon This New Year

Rod_SerlingAs the calendar turns each December, SyFy interrupts its regular schedule of supernatural dramas, paranormal reality shows, and SHARKNADO sequels for a marathon visit to the middle ground between light and shadow: The Twilight Zone

For many of us, a New Year’s Eve smoke with host and creator Rod Serling followed by a Talky Tina-exacerbated hangover has been a holiday tradition for twenty years. But this year, as the The Twilight Zone marathon begins its third decade, SyFy is entering a new dimension: high definition. The NBCUniversal-owned network has finally junked the blurry, hissy, standard definition video masters they’ve been airing since they were called The Sci-Fi Channel in favor of new HD versions from CBS Television Distribution.

Plus, after programming 46 hours last New Year, the network has has nearly doubled the duration of this year’s marathon. Between Wednesday, December 30 at 7 p.m. (ET) and Sunday, January 3 at noon, SyFy will air every episode of The Twilight Zone, in chronological order. That’s 87 hours of stops at Willoughby, monsters on Maple Street, and trips to the cornfield.

twilight-zoneThese are welcome developments to be sure, but the marathon still has one fatal flaw that renders it unwatchable for me: the Twilight Zone episodes SyFy airs are edited.

Unless the network alters its business model and decides to go ad-free for the next five days, SyFy will broadcast The Twilight Zone with roughly ten percent of each episode cut in favor of extra commercials. That means that if you binge all 156 episodes in a row — and there are surely people who will try — you’ll miss at least 348 minutes, or nearly six hours of material.

It’s not necessarily their fault, of course. SyFy is an ad-supported channel, and half-hour shows in 2015 have eight minutes (or more) of commercials, whereas they had five (or fewer) during Zone’s initial 1959-1964 run. And to be fair, it’s not like the network has a monkey with Final Cut Pro randomly lopping off two minutes from every show. The masters provided to SyFy by CBS are pre-cut for syndication, and care is taken to insure that edits don’t remove vital plot points.

But the episodes are still edited. Beats are missed, pacing is changed, and the closing credits from each show are usually minimized and muted by SyFy in place of a promo. That means each episode airs without the theme song reprise at the end. That alone bugs the hell out of me.

12df0c777de27cce0d44842b4022b53aWhile I’m glad to see SyFy upgrade to high def, as long as they air edited versions I won’t be tuning in. Which begs the question: why, in the age of streaming, are we watching one of the most beloved TV series of all time in an altered form?

When I asked this question last year, one viewer on Twitter cited the shared experience of watching live with fellow fans. As a frequent live-tweeter, I share that sentiment. But streaming gives us the option to duplicate the broadcast experience in high def with no edits or commercials – and without dropping $170.99 on a Blu-ray box set.

With apologies to my fellow Netflix-and-Chill’ers, the world’s most popular subscription VOD service is not the best place to stream The Twilight Zone. That distinction goes to Hulu, which is the only SVOD service offering the entire series in HD without commercials. (Both Netflix and Amazon don’t offer the rarely-seen hour-long episodes from the fourth season, nor do they stream the series in HD, though Amazon does offer HD streams for $2.99 per-show.)

Like all good Twilight Zone episodes, this story has a twist. Hulu does have commercials, but you can avoid them simply, and at little or no cost. If you’re not already a Hulu subscriber, simply sign up for a free, one-week trial and choose the commercial-free plan. Then you can cancel after the marathon ends and owe nothing. If you are a subscriber, upgrade to the commercial-free plan for an additional $4-per-month ($11.99 vs. $7.99), then cancel on Sunday. Your pro-rated costs will be minimal. (Note to conspiracy theorists: I don’t own Hulu stock, so I have nothing to gain from this scheme.)

Or, if you want no part of Hulu, subscribe to the CBS All Access subscription VOD service, where you can watch every episode of The Twilight Zone ad-free in standard definition. They also offer a free one-week trial and you can also binge on retro staples like Mission Impossible and the classic Hawaii Five-0, both of which are no longer available on Netflix Instant.

Like Netflix, Hulu and CBS All-Access are available to watch on your TV via Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast. And both have easy-to-use apps for phones and tablets if you want to keep watching while you go to the gym to work off your New Year’s Eve revelry.

To be clear: I think it’s good that SyFy has kept this show I love so much in the public eye for the last two decades. I think it’s real good. And I appreciate the fact that a mainstream basic cable network is going black-and-white for five straight days. Nobody does that anymore, not even Turner Classic Movies.

I also understand that the vast majority of viewers will ignore me and gleefully watch SyFy’s marathon with 17 minutes of commercials each hour, and 2+ minutes of each episode lost to the cutting room floor. And that’s fine. But while I give the channel all due credit for creating new generations of Twilight Zone fans, this old school viewer will be entering The Hulu Zone this weekend.

To track along with SyFy’s broadcasts while you stream, follow this helpful schedule. And if  the world ends this New Year’s weekend and you find yourself locked in a vault, make sure you don’t step on your glasses. 

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About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in Slate.com and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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42 Responses to Why I Won’t Be Watching SyFy’s Twilight Zone Marathon This New Year

  1. maxofdimitrios says:

    Will, Simply… BRAVO! and I’m not referring to a Cable channel. Max

  2. jaydro says:

    Thanks for the big tip on Hulu vs. Amazon Prime vs. Netflix.

  3. Cable networks already know that shows don’t have to start exactly on the hour or half hour anymore. The biggest selling point they have after broadcasting episodes in HD is airing them “uncut”. I would watch way more old TV show reruns if they were offered “uncut”. Forget the “lost” episodes or “colorized” episodes just give me “uncut” and maybe the possibility to read the credits afterwards too.

  4. Linda says:

    Or you could watch it on Decades the CBS over the air sub channel 2.3 (in NYC). They had a ‘mini binge’ of six episodes on Christmas Day (Serling’s birthday). They don’t seem to be edited for more commercial time. In fact, I believe they still maintain their original running time. I saw the talking Tina episode awhile back, and didn’t recognize it because the episode starts with Mom and Daughter getting out of the car and walking into the house. I remember it starting with them in the house. I could have checked with my dvd set, but didn’t so take it with a grain of salt. You also have to keep up with their schedule because most of their programming is the ‘this day in history’ type, and the shows shown reflect that day or theme. The binge weekends are nice. The best one for me was Naked City. I believe this weekend is Route 66.
    I haven’t watch SyFy since they changed their name. I really can’t deal with three minutes of program and six minutes of ads.

  5. Kelly says:

    They are right it was on Decades they showing standard version also but maybe in the future they show hd version

  6. Can’t say I blame you for skipping this year. I watched the marathon this past July 4 weekend, and I found all the commercial interruptions maddening, to say the least. When you think about what subscribers have to pay in monthly cable fees, it feels an added injury to then have to watch so many more commercials–especially when the episodes are cut. Considering how tightly written and constructed the original episodes were, it’s almost a desecration for any amount of footage to be removed.

  7. jaydro says:

    So I was just celebrating learning that Hulu was now the best place to stream TZ, only to find (hover over search results for episode titles) that most, if not all, episodes appear to be expiring in less than a week! Not fair. Not fair at all. 😦

  8. Tom Perconti says:

    It would be nice if Hulu and Netflix supported playlists… and that those playlists could be shared. That could be a fun way to shadow the SyFy marathon (though for the reasons stated by the author it wouldn’t match up exactly).

    Or perhaps have a “live” playlist that one could tune into in “progress”.

    On the other hand I’m probably holding on to the social aspect of the shared experience. Yeah, I’m old. 🙂

  9. Alisha says:

    My eyes well up with true happiness to know that there are people out there like you who believe in the originality and absolute truth in what the creators of this wonderful series wanted the audience to see. I’m so glad to know that it still exists in its true form. Thank you- I have Hulu on my phone and this reinforces the fact that it was a good decision. ” To be clear: I think it’s good that SyFy has kept this show I love so much in the public eye for the last two decades. I think it’s real good”. Love this reference from little Anthony. My Hulu decision was good. It was real good. And so was this wonderful article I came across here. Thanks Will.

  10. jaydro says:

    Update: hey, the episodes I’m streaming from Amazon Prime and Netflix are indeed HD , so I’m now thinking I should concentrate on those Season 4 episodes on Hulu…. Less panicked now! 🙂

  11. steve john says:

    That was a lot to friggen read. I do enjoy the show and would put up with the edits but yes its anoying. Sad most of us watch on tv what we own already. Bcaa also edits the hell out of star trek ng. Its not watchable. They get greedy now corporations.

  12. S. Thomas says:

    Like the original author, I am appalled at the increase of all these cursed commercials! In fact, I even took a stopwatch and timed two episodes and both came out with 21 minutes + 21 seconds of actual program time (which included the intro, plus split screen abbreviated credits at the end), which translates to over 8-1/2 minutes of nauseating commercials!! In fact, I was so ticked that I went onto ebay and just bought a complete set of the ‘Twilight Zone – definitive collection’, which I got for under $65.00 NEW! However, I didn’t think to see if it were HD or not – I hope it is; I also “assumed” it contains the hour-long episodes. If anyone knows the answer to these concerns, please reply. In the meantime, if I watch any of the SyFy episodes, I will make full use of the MUTE button as a “silent protest” against all the excess commercials!!!

    • S Dem says:

      @sthomas – I agree with you & the sentiments of this author. It’s a pity they’re edited on SyFy, but at least are still being aired. I like the tradition.

      Anyway, I, too, have the definitive collection, and yes, Season 4 contains the hour-long episodes.


  13. Tyler says:

    I got here via the search “syfy ruins the twilight zone.” I hadn’t even noticed the cutting out of material and insertion of more ads, which is worse than my original complaint. What bothered me was the placement of the ads more than their duration: cutting into the show five minutes after starting made it impossible for me to get into the pace of the show. It just doesn’t work. It’s simply insulting to present something as classic and essential and then cut out hours of material, and break up the episodes into intolerable short clips.

    • lcs says:

      But you must realize they don’t care about your viewing habits or preferences. The purpose of commercial TV is to suck you in with content then pull the old bait and switch trick. FX does this with movies. It is an old game and we fall for it every time.

  14. Derridada says:

    Why do all the episodes look weird this year. Like too dimensional or something? They all look like soap operas.

    • atomicmonkey says:

      Those were the ones shot with video tape.

      • willmckinley says:

        Yes, there are a few episodes shot on video that have the look of a soap opera. But checking out the marathon today (January 1), I think SyFy is “image smoothing” the episodes they’re airing. That alters the frame rate and gives stuff shot on film (like “The Twilight Zone”) the look of stuff shot on video (like a soap opera). I did not notice this on Wednesday when the marathon started, which suggests that SyFy has made some sort of a change to how they are broadcasting.

        If this is the case, it only makes what SyFy is doing even worse.

      • derridada says:

        It seems to be a lot more this year than last. Like the HD format did something to the way the episodes look.

    • You are correct!…. and it’s NOT just the few episodes that were originally shot on TV cameras and recorded on videotape (rather than on 35mm film as most were)… Somehow they were ‘digitally re-mastered’ to make them appear to be 30 frames/second (rather than the original 24 frames/second)… Plus, there appears to be some sort of ‘smoothing’ over of the image…. If anyone knows the story on this, please let us know too…

  15. skyrocket1000 says:

    I have noticed more cuts than before.

    I think it’s a travesty. You don’t alter a work of art.

    And in fact they have fucked up the pacing and removed some very important scenes.

    Whoever is responsible for this should be shot. They have no respect for the show or the viewers.

  16. lingowire says:

    I found this article when I noticed a chunk of Talking Tina episode missing. That’s it for me, I’m done with SyFy Channel.

  17. j.b. says:

    i agree with lingowire.. was wathching talking tina episode when a classic part was edited out… was in disbelief.. not to mention the fact that years ago the marathon was aired on sci-fi ch in FULL SCREEN FORMAT which is no longer the case for a number of years which i seldom see mentioned … a real shame

  18. #rodiscrying says:

    Wow! I was just wondering if I was dreaming about the Living Doll episode. I wondered if I had made up the torture in the garage in my own twilight head. I rewound to see if I actually missed it. It just wasn’t there. So I Googled twilight zone edited versions to see if I was crazy and got your article. Thank you for confirming that I am not a complete nut.

  19. Paul Bruneau says:

    They cut the Talky Tina scene with the power tools!!! WTF?!?!

  20. jaydro says:

    Hallelujah, looks like Hulu renewed them all, even though at one time earlier today they were saying “expires in one hour”. Been watching way too many one-hour episodes. Now I can relax. 🙂

  21. William says:

    Yes, They are using some kind of video enhancement. But only on the marathon.. It’s back to normal on the daily airing.. I have recorded 25 shows on the marathon and compared it to my DVD’s…

    • Tom says:

      Did anyone else notice “pauses” in the broadcast where the scene freezes for as much as a full second before continuing?

  22. Bonita1973 says:

    Wondering why Hulu took Twilight Zone off the free site and put it on Hulu Plus.

  23. rich says:

    I’ll be ok if they cut 5 minutes of each show.

  24. Eli Turner says:

    The twilight zone Marathon is something I look forward to every year. Watching quality television is one of life’s simple pleasures. After thirty nine years pay purposes active and reserves, US Army, several deployments and over twenty years in the US postal service this quality television programming is very relaxing and informative in preserving way of life. Remember the immortal words of Carly Simon THESE ARE THE GOOD OLD DAYS!!!!!

  25. Mary o'Obrien says:

    I love the twilight zone
    I watch it every New Year
    Never missed it and I am 64 years old
    Nobody can top Rod Sirling nobody

  26. Mike says:

    That’s really bad to take out the best parts of each show I know because I just watched the new talking Tina and it was really sad to see so much less of the show shame on whoever is responsible

  27. Anthony Rufo says:

    Well, after all that I read, I am glade I bought The Twilight Zone: The 5th Dimension, the complete series box set because I find cutting work to fit in time for commercials is rude. Furthermore, I hope Syfy isn’t turning season 4 into half hour episodes, that would certainly damper my day because thats my favorite season.

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