As 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.
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.
While 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.