Television is more doggedly recyclical than ever. Inquiring photographers might consider asking persons on the street, "What is your favorite new old TV show?" This weekend, two promising returnees premiere: "The Twilight Zone," an anthology of spooky tales a la Rod Serling's originals, on CBS tonight; and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," a revival of the long-running anthology series -- and even a revival of the late Mr. Hitchcock -- Sunday night on NBC.
Of the two, and judging only from the premieres, "Twilight Zone" is clearly superior and yet not as satisfying as it was in the old days -- not as bracingly imaginative, not as otherworldly in appearance. Some "Hitchcock" episodes will be based on scripts from the old shows, newly produced in color, whereas "Twilight Zone," premiering at 8 on Channel 9, offers new stories on the old Zone's wavelength.
As the program begins, a few notes of the unmistakable "doo-doo-doo-doo" musical logo remain, but they have been incorporated into a new and underwhelming theme by the Grateful Dead and Merl Saunders. There is a glimpse of Serling in the opening credits, but we do not hear his pungent voice beckoning us to "another dimension" as it once did.
Each one-hour edition of the show will include two or three stories. Two are told on the premiere: "Shatterday," starring Bruce Willis of "Moonlighting" as a man who discovers there is an alternate self living in his apartment and talking to his mother on the telephone; and "A Little Peace and Quiet," with Melinda Dillon as a harried homemaker who discovers that with an antique sundial locket, she can make everything else on earth freeze in its frame (the original "Twilight Zone" included a similar, but not identical, tale about a man with a literal-minded stopwatch).
Standing out in bold relief from many other prime-time programs, "Twilight Zone" is thoughtfully and meticulously produced (by executive producer Philip DeGuere) and is practically swimming in imposing credentials. "Shatterday" is based on a story by the esteemed sci-fi gadfly Harlan Ellison, who is serving as creative consultant to the series. The two premiere stories were directed by Wes Craven, whose imaginative horror movie "Nightmare on Elm Street," released early this year, added mind-popping new wrinkles to what had seemed an almost irredeemable movie genre. Other directors scheduled to contribute include William "The Exorcist" Friedkin and Joe "Gremlins" Dante.
Nevertheless, "Shatterday," which dabbles in such topics as astral projection and spiritual redemption, and has no special effects, seems an awfully sullen and muttered mood piece with which to begin a new series, and it may be commercial suicide to lead off with it on a night and in a time period in which TV dials are traditionally controlled by youngsters. The narrative is artfully divided into acts with names like "Day 3: Woundsday" and "Day 5: Freeday," a device which must have played better on paper, and turns out to be a rather heavy-handed essay on personal morality.
"A Little Peace and Quiet" exists in a more playful corner of the outer limits. Dillon, instantly sympathetic as the heroine, plays a wife and mother so besieged and harried by household hysteria that even to sigh, "Calgon, take me away," would probably be ineffectual. Luckily, she stumbles across something more potent than a water-softening agent: a magical talisman that brings screeches to halts. Indeed, as the story ends, she finds it has an even wider application than muzzling the dog and stifling the husband.
The last scene in the show generates precisely the kind of pleasurable spine tingles and goosebumps in which the original Serling series specialized. It's good to feel those tinglebumps again, but the new "Twilight Zone" is going to have to be much more proficient at inducing them than it is on tonight's premiere.
"Shatterday" was written by Alan Brennert and "A Little Peace and Quiet" by James Crocker, supervising producer of the series. Even though their efforts are only moderately distinguished, it would be the height of folly not to wish this series well.
Alfred Hitchcock stopped presenting in 1965. He directed only 20 episodes of the long-running anthology series, but his imprimatur was inescapable, in part, of course, because he was the weekly host. Universal has put Mr. Hitchcock through the computer colorizer for NBC's revival of his series, and so Hitch himself appears at the start of Sunday's premiere, at 8:30 p.m. on Channel 4 (the program follows Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories," but Spielberg has refused requests for advance screenings).
"Revenge," the first of the new batch of would-be Hitchcocks, is a reworking of a less than classic episode. An unstable woman, recently married, is attacked and raped in her home. Her husband finds her at a women's crisis center (a detail added for the '80s, obviously) and drives her home. During the trip, she spots a man she identifies as the rapist. And then . . .
David Stenn's script, directed by Roger Young, is lopsided in construction and self-defeating. It would help if we had more background on the victim, but Stenn and Young prefer to waste time instead on a long, tedious dance class sequence -- yet another choreographer chanting "5-6-7-8" to a slew of nimble souls in their workout togs. Phil Collins' "Su-Su-Sudio" blares on the sound track, suggesting that even "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" is going to be contaminated with what might be called "Miami Virus."
Linda Purl does what she can with the under-written lead character; David Clennon plays her husband. Not to be too cute about it, the premiere of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" is pseu-pseu-pseudio and insufficiently presentable. Except, that is, for Hitchcock, who in his vintage introduction criticizes the other Hitch he sees on a television screen for a deliciously funny few minutes. Computerized color improves this sequence not a whit, but then, like much of what Hitchcock did, it was probably unimprovable.