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As for the inexplicable "One Step Beyond"-"Twilight Zone" rivalry (if you
can call it that), where do I begin? First of all and most important, they
were both excellent shows, each in its own way. "Zone" is undoubtedly a
popular and well-known classic, while "Beyond" is a lesser known
near-classic with a relatively small but loyal following.
Also, the latter was not based on fictional works, but dealt with strange
events that were supposed to have actually happened.
Rod Serling was a better host than John Newland, but then he had a much stronger screen persona. Since the stories Newland introduced were supposedly true, his understated, scholarly approach was more appropriate, and there was no need for cleverly written lines and sardonic wit. They both served their respective shows well, and in the long run it matters not one iota who hosted what, or if there were no hosts at all. Each series was driven by the quality of their stories, and neither would have lasted longer than the standard thirteen episodes without an interesting tale to tell.
And since "Zone" was on twice as long as "Beyond", it obviously produced more episodes, and that's not always a good thing. Let's face it, there were quite a few poor stories that most of us avoid whenever they turn up (you know which ones they are). On the other hand, I have never seen a single episode of "Beyond" that wasn't interesting and entertaining. So the latter series actually had a better track record of consistent quality. Not bad for an also ran.
The production values on "Beyond" were certainly on a par with the average half hour show of that time, and since there were no spaceships or aliens, no lame effects were used. And it employed the talents of performers who invested their material with conviction and authenticity to spare, from long-established character actors to rising stars, such as: Christopher Lee, William Shatner, George Grizzard, Charles Bronson, Louise Fletcher, Patrick O'Neal, Robert Loggia, Suzanne Pleshette, Pernell Roberts, Patrick Macnee, Paul Richards, Edward Binns, Jack Lord, Ross Martin, Donald Pleasence, Elizabeth Montgomery, and even Warren Beatty.
As for the stories, there's too many to choose from, and limiting examples to only a couple was a tough call, but two of my favorite episodes are as follows:
In "Doomsday", the great Torin Thatcher appears as a 17th century lord who condemns a witch to death. She sets a curse upon him, his son dies, and so it will be with the lord's descendants, for generation after generation, that each head of the family will be predeceased by his eldest son and heir. Nearly 300 years later, the current head of the family (Thatcher again) is on his deathbed, and his eldest son is terrified, waiting for the curse to strike as it always has before. But then... It's a tragedy with a twist.
In "The Devil's Laughter", another great, underrated character actor, Alfred Ryder, plays John Marriott, an English murderer waiting to be hanged in 1895. The frightened man is eventually led up to the gallows, the noose is placed, and the lever is pulled. But the rope breaks. After being revived, Marriott is no longer afraid, and calmly goes to the gallows again. But the trap door won't spring. Finally, Marriott receives clemency and is set free. And then... The story is both grim and funny, and very well done.
As for the "based on actual events" aspect of the series, "based on actual claims" would be more accurate. I had heard about some of the claims elsewhere, and so they were indeed based on something which supposedly took place. Whether you believe these actually occurred, or were the product of the supernatural or a more reasonable explanation, is beside the point. That they could have happened, or that someone claimed as much, gives the series an extra shudder or chill that "Zone" can't duplicate. And episodes were always recounted in an intriguing and compelling manner.
Unfortunately, the last I saw of "One Step Beyond" was at least six or seven years ago on the Sci-Fi Chanel, where "Zone" episodes now reside ad infinitum. It's long past time to resurrect the former for another round or two, or three. It's also time to give this otherwise underappreciated series the respect it deserves. While admittedly not as great as the other show, "Beyond" nevertheless has carved out its own niche as the best of its particular genre.
I'm a huge fan of "One Step Beyond". I've been watching it since the early
70's in syndicated reruns and own all 96 episodes on VHS. I can safely
adjusting the rocks in my head of course, that "OSB" is easily televisions
greatest supernatural series.
I don't want to knock "The Twilight Zone" because, while that show was not scary or nearly as eerie and atmospheric as "OSB", it certainly deserves it's place in television history. To say however that "OSB" was merely a "spook" show and that "TZ" was the trend-setter, well that is just as inaccurate as it is crazy. That's just looking at things through "TZ" colored glasses. Putting aside the fact that "OSB" premiered 10 months before "TZ" and putting aside the fact that when "TZ" finally started airing it was trounced in the ratings by "OSB" and putting aside the fact that Rod Serling called John Newland to meet him for lunch to explain that he was doing a show like Newland's and that it would be purely fiction and not a rip-off of Newland's already established hit, consider this, or better yet, think about the following.
Watch "OSB's" "The Vision" which aired 3/24/59 and then take a look at Serlings "The Purple Testament" which aired 2/12/60. Watch "OSB's" "The Devil's Laughter" which aired 3/31/59 and then watch Serlings "Execution" which aired 4/1/60. Or, in one of the more blatant "coincidences", take a look at "OSB's" "The Haunted U-Boat" which aired 5/12/59 and then watch Serlings "The Thirty-Fathom Grave" which aired 1/10/63. See what I am getting at folks? Seems that a lot of "TZ's" stories have a striking resemblence to episodes aired a lot earlier on "OSB". And these are just a few of many examples. Hmmm! Rod, where did those ideas come from afterall? Watch "OSB's" "The Burning Girl" and tell me that it isn't a dead-on, early version of Stephen Kings "Carrie"! Again, I don't mean to knock "The Twilight Zone" but my point is that "One Step Beyond" was much more then a "spook" show or some golden age TV fodder. It was truly the father of all supernatural television series that followed and the true trend-setter. And obviously, an inspiration to all the shows that followed, "TZ" included. Those who don't know about "OSB" simply aren't true television fans.
This "spook" show television sidebar, as "TZ" maniacs call it, boasted some great talents in lead roles. Some veterans and some soon to be stars. Cloris Leachman, Warren Beatty, Jack Lord, Christopher Lee, Elizabeth Montgomery, Donald Pleasence, Ross Martin, William Shatner, Robert Loggia, Mike Conners, and Charles Bronson, just to name a few. How about writers like Don M. Mankiewicz, Charles Beaumont(yes, the very same), Larry Marcus and Collier Young. Surely talent like this elevates this program from "spook" show status. There isn't a person I have come across that doesn't remember it. And the key is that this is a show who's episodes stay with you for a lifetime and that, to me, is one of the marks of excellence.
John Newland was not only the perfect host, but a very gifted and talented director. The use of light and shadows to create an intense feeling of unease, spookiness and a downright eerie feeling. The inventive close-ups and overhead shots. Quite simply, Newland and this show were quite ahead of it's time. Take a look at "Ordeal On Locust Street" and tell me straight faced that you don't see "The X-Files". Watch "The Hand" and tell me you don't feel like your watching a film noir. Just fantastic. Quite simply, there wasn't anything like it before and nothing like it since.
If your looking for a real, honest to goodness spooky half-hour, look no further then "One Step Beyond". Just goes to show that true commitment, love and doing something you believe in can produce something unique and magnificent.
This is a very worthy program that deserves revival, (preferably on DVD from 35 mm stock or original negatives). Comparisons with "The Twilight Zone" are really not terribly helpful inasmuch as they each have separate entertainment objectives.
"One Step Beyond" purports to dramatize actual psychic experiences. In this sense, its writers would have been working to depict (allegedly anyhow) first hand experiences with ESP etc.
Irrespective of the truth of this, the show possesses a very singular, outre quality, quite unlike "TZ". Anyone seriously interested (academically or otherwise) in the paranormal would likely find this show of interest.
A great deal of the oppressive mood of the episodes can be credited to Mr. Lubin's music, (some of which was released on LP--this is definately a record you should seek out)most especially the title theme.
Mr. Newland made for an urbane and elegantly clad host, whose nebulous persona fit the mood of the episodes snugly. Not only was he personally interested in the paranormal, but he had a long stage, TV and film career already underway by 1959. Amongst other things, he was frequently featured on the excellent, "Loretta Young Show," and directed a film starring John Beale as a heart attack victim, (sorry the title escapes me at the moment).
At all events, "Alcoa Presents One Step Beyond" merits reappraisal.
I am a connoisseur of "horror" movies/series, and have seen them all since the 1950s, but One Step Beyond remains the scariest of all the series. The only one that came close was Boris Karloffs'-Thriller! John Newlands' beginning monologue reels you in, to have you gripping the arms of your chair during the story, too scared out of your wits to even move, then having the story ending to Mr.Newlands epilogue to further heighten your anxiety of being too fearful to go to sleep!! Unlike..Twilight Zone, Hitchcock, Night Gallery,Tales from the Crypt, Outer Limits and X-Files which ALL have humorous episodes which discount their "scare-quotient", and leaves you disappointed....however "O.S.B."satisfies the most discriminating of "scary-movie" tastes !!! O.S.B never had one "hokey" episode that would tickle your funny bone and that is what makes for excellent scare tactics. I wish they had this series on DVD !!!
There have been so many comparisons between this show and The Twilight Zone
I may as well add my own two cents on the subject. These two shows were both
hosted and created by men who had been active in live television. Rod
Serling had been one of the top writers of the live so-called "golden age"
of TV drama in the fifties, while John Newland had been a prominent actor on
the small screen during the same period. Alcoa Presents (rerun as One Step
Step Beyond, and best-remembered by this title) actually preceded the Zone
by half a second, and ran for less than three full years. TZ has a bigger
cult audience, but OSB (as I prefer to call it), has its admirers, of which
I am one.
The Zone was liberal in tone, dark and moody in its photographic style. Its set designs, particularly its street scenes, were reminiscent of film noir. While the Zone's stories were all fiction, many adapted from short stories, OSB's producers claimed that its stories were all based on fact. The different styles of the two shows can be seen in the way their hosts presented themselves. Serling was dark, intense, urban and verbose. Newland was light, mild, laconic and somewhat effete. While Serling seemed like the sort of guy you'd see at the ballpark or at the fights, Newland was the kind of guy one might expect to turn up at the opera. Serling came off as very American in all respects, while Newland could almost pass as British.
OSB presented each episode as if it were the truth, only slightly dramatized. There was nothing on the surface to suggest that the show was in any way about the supernatural or ESP. The sets were unimaginative, prosaic, and often seemed flooded with light; as the overall visual style of the series was not that different from a commercial,--or an episode of the Loretta Young Show. What made the shows creepy were the acting, which was often excellent, and Harry Lubin's eerie, otherworldly music, which kicked in whenever something weird was happening. The actors tended to react to the strange goings-on realistically,--as it they were choking to death, had just seen a ghost, talked to a dead person or had witnessed a murder that had happened twenty years earlier--and the "startle reactions" on the faces of the players, plus Lubin's beyond the grave music, could send chills down one spine. This was a million miles from the often sentimental and didactic Zone, which seldom went for straight horror, straight sci-fi or straight anything unless there was a "meaning" (i.e. a point, a lesson), while the only lesson one learned from OSB was that "such things exist, such things happen". Chilling television, this was, and story-telling with a vengeance. "You want meaning?", Newland seemed to ask the viewer after each episode, "Go find it for yourself. My job is to give you the facts".
One commenter offered the proposition that "The Twilight Zone" was not
a very good show and "One Step Beyond" was much better. There is truth
to the latter statement. Step was a truly wonderful show, and I might
add, MUCH freakier and scarier to a little kid. "The Burning Girl"
episode killed me. And the one they did about the San Francisco
earthquake was awesome. Suffice it to say that I spent a few nights
awake wondering about this stuff. Unlike the Twilight Zone, Step
featured stories that were somewhat based in fact, or at least
believable to people who believe. But I have to take the original
poster to task. He made it sound as if Twilight Zone sucked. I can
assure you, it did not.
These shows aired when television was still in it's infancy. As was the writing, the directing, the acting and all that goes with it. In both cases, there were experiments. Nobody knew how it would turn out. But one thing is certain. BOTH shows helped to create the sci-fi dramas we accept as so commonplace today. There was NOTHING commonplace about the "Willoughby" episode of the Twilight Zone. Nor was there anything commonplace about the Burning Girl episode of One Step Beyond. They were both wonderful shows that broke ground for the future. That being said, when are the One Step Beyond episodes coming back for viewing? I sure miss them.
I was born five years before Alcoa produced this wonderful series - and
it is wonderful, even though I remain thoroughly skeptical about the
"truth" of the stories that were presented. Hosted by John Newland, in
a quiet, thoughtful, and urbane manner, it presented different types of
occult phenomenon each week, in well produced half-hour shows. I did
not see it until the 1960s, when it was in syndication as reruns. But
it was certainly entertaining and creepy. I won't dare to rate it
against THE TWILIGHT ZONE or THE OUTER LIMITS (in particular as they
were outwardly fictional and frequently entered science fiction), but
it was one of the top horror shows in television history.
Newland would come out with his weekly introduction - just like Rod Sterling or Alfred Hitchcock on their shows. Sometimes he would bring a small prop or item related to the story. On one show he brings out an old watch, which he will look at several times in the half hour, telling the time on it. He says to the audience, when he first looks at it, "J.W.B. Those are the initials of the owner of this watch. They are the initials of a murderer." The episode that follows deals with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (the watch being John Wilkes Booth's). It is not a simple retelling of the story of Lincoln's death. The episode describes the odd premonitions and signs that reportedly happened in Washington, D.C. on that date, and around the country. For example, Lincoln's relating several eerie dreams he had (one of which was of him in the East Room, being told that the visitors there were in mourning for the President - who had been assassinated).
There were many odd stories. In one Donald Pleasance was a successful barrister, about to become a high court justice in Great Britain, when he is confronted by evidence that only he can understand that shows how he allowed an innocent man to be hanged years earlier at the start of his career (he was the prosecutor). Supposedly the truth was told to him by the so-called murdered woman (apparently not so murdered as she was supposed), but he never reported it to the authorities. Twenty years later and evidence that he destroyed reappears, forcing him to confess - and driving him insane in the end (he becomes a madman addressing the crowds in Hyde Park daily relating his evil act).
An episode with Patrick Macnee about premonitions regarding the sinking of the Titanic ends with a reference which I can vouch for is true - that in 1898 Mr. Morgan Robinson wrote a novella, FUTILITY: THE WRECK OF THE TITAN, about the world's greatest ocean liner being sunk by an iceberg on it's maiden voyage with great loss of life. Another episode with Werner Klemperer dealt with an unrepentant Nazi, pursued by some malevolent spirit on a U-boat, who causes so much noise that the U-boat is forced to surrender to an allied naval craft or be blown out of the water. There was one curious episode about an evil aristocrat's diamond choker that picked up the vibes from her personality, and choked her to death (and later killed her maid who stole the choker as well). Elizabeth Montgomery played a young flirt on an old west cavalry post, who thoughtlessly forces a young officer to do a dangerous assignment that kills him, and yet, weeks later when the post has a regimental ball, is confronted before everyone by his ghost who dances with her until she dies.
So it went on these episodes. Even if, like myself, you did not believe in the phenomenon that Newland's stories presented (and he never forced anyone to believe them) you got into the mood and watched some interesting stories, and some first rate acting (William Shatner, Charles Bronson, and Edward Binns were three other actors who appeared on the show). For a really spooky, but enjoyable experience, ONE STEP BEYOND was very hard to beat.
This is a show that never gets the respect or attention of its' better
relatives, "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits".
The show has a simpler format than the above mentioned series but is, or as a result of, able to maintain an air of "hey it could happen" throughout each episode.
Most of the performances are well done by the various actors, with only some being ham fisted.
Newland's performance as the convert host also enhances the production as does the haunting music.
Anyone who has ever had a chance to see any of the original episodes of
One Step Beyond has truly experienced great television, the way it
should be even today in our so called "state of the art" world.
It really doesn't take a whole lot to make a great, convincing program. The mood and music and stories behind each episode is disturbing even now. My hubby found a 2 CD box set of the series that only cost us $5.00! But what great episodes they are. I would really like to own all of the series, if they are still available.
Once again, One Step Beyond was real television. Forget about the new reality shows of today. I'll gladly take one step beyond back to the way real great t.v. shows were meant to be.
I do not understand the debate about the Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond. Both were excellent in their own rights. If both were on at the same time, I would watch one and tape the other. True horror fans of the anthology shows would see that these are two entirely different beasts. OSB is fictionalized accounts of supposedly true events. The creepiest One Step Beyond episode that I ever saw involved some German young people who were into gliders before WWII. One gets jealous and kills one who kissed his girlfriend before taking off in the glider. He stabs him and the glider disappears. The made a pact before hand to meet back after the war.Lo and behold the glider returns on that day with the survivors there. That was creepy!The horror wasn't really shown on screen which is a testament to the writing and creativity of the stories and the show. I just wish I could find old episodes to buy or rent. The show was just that good.
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