Simon, The Twilight Zone has become a legendary anthology, often regarded as one of the greatest and best written TV shows of all time. Tell us how did you get involved in the latest reboot and what were the main elements of the original show that inspired you?
I got involved through conversations with CBS and the Rod Serling estate, specifically Rod’s widow. We took a long time to try and figure out how to do a reboot of the show that could both honor the original series, but also bring something fresh and original to the brand. The balance of those two things was critical and complicated. Ultimately, we really felt like the answer was to define the core elements of the original series and stay true to those elements -- the anthology structure, the way Rod unfolded a story with reveals and twists, and the tone that was serious but also sly. And we wanted above all to tell fun entertaining genre stories with a social commentary -- that’s the defining combination of Twilight Zone, that pretty much nothing else has achieved in film or TV in the same sustained way.
CBS All Access’ series is the third revival of the original, following the reboots from 1985 and 2002, with Steven Spielberg directing a theatrical homage to the original series in 1983. Why do you think this show is still relevant?
I don’t think there’s been a time more in need of a new Twilight Zone than right now. We are basically living in the Twilight Zone, not just here in America but globally. The world stage in politics and entertainment has become so blurred and surreal, that the show can be a great commentary or mirror of that. And sadly, the world faces many of the same social injustices and prejudices that Rod was addressing with the original series so many decades ago. I think the show has attracted great talent because it’s a chance to tell fun stories while also addressing social, political, moral problems they don’t get to explore in their work most of the time.
The original Twilight Zone was socially relevant, using science fiction as a way to offer commentary on current events and social issues. Will you follow this line and what will be the main topics that you tackle in season 1?
We absolutely use genre storytelling as essentially a delivery mechanism for social parables. We explore the most relevant issues of today’s world, ranging from racism and police violence to sexism, a corrupt political system, the obsession with celebrity, and other contemporary but sadly timeless topics.
Rod Serling’s original offered episodes in different genres: fantasy, horror, science fiction, thriller, mystery; etc. Will CBS All Access viewers be treated to a similar multitude of genres as well?
One of the things we love about Rod’s original series, and the anthology format, is that we can explore different genres, so we absolutely take advantage of that, and cover all the big entertainment genres, and some more comedic ones too.
The new Twilight Zone debuted on April 1 on CBS All Access. How many episodes have been planned for season 1 and who are the actors involved in the revival of the series?
We will have 10 episodes in season one. Actors range from Seth Rogen, Jordan Peele, Zazie Beetz, Greg Kinnear, Adam Scott, Sanaa Lathan, Kumail Nanjiani, Jacob Tremblay, John Cho, the list is extraordinary.
Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up
The reboots of 1985 and 2002 featured both new stories and updates of original episodes. Have you also done remakes of original episodes or will you rely mostly on brand new stories?
We are open to whatever the best stories are. In the first season, we only do one episode that is really based on one of the classics, but we would be open to more. We feel like we want the new show to feel original, even when we’re riffing on old episodes.
Which are your favorite Twilight Zone episodes?
My favorite episodes are always from the original series, specially The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, and Time Enough at Last.
You have a very extensive career in both movie and TV. How has the industry changed in the past few years and are SVOD services changing the game?
I don’t think there has been a bigger shift in the entertainment landscape in my lifetime than the last few years, because of the explosion of new platforms for storytelling. The SVOD space has created a home for so much content, and so much innovation in storytelling, while the movie studios and major networks have focused more on traditional storytelling and big brands to hold onto larger bases. It’s an exciting time to be a storyteller because I feel as though there is a home for any kind of project.
What inspires you to write great stories? Which one of your scripts was easiest to write?
I get inspired by many things. Sometimes I’m inspired by other movies, and I’m always inspired by my favorites (mostly the science fiction movies of the 1980s and early 1990s when I was growing up). And sometimes I’m inspired by things in my personal life, that end up getting expressed in genre terms. So, a relationship issue for me ends up being a story about two married spies trying to kill each other (in my first film, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), or a personal struggle with hope becomes Professor Xavier’s story in Days of Future Past.
None of my scripts feel easy to write, because writing is such a lonely and difficult task for me. But I would say that Mr. and Mrs. Smith may have been my most fun script to write, perhaps because there was no real pressure on it, because it was my graduate school thesis script before I was worrying about real deadlines and bosses and notes and all the realities of being a professional writer.
Have you had The Shining-like moments where you have to write something, but you simply can’t? What do you do in such situations?
I have it every day that I write. We all live with writers block. As a strategy, if I’m stuck on a scene, I just write the bad version of it, and move on, knowing I’ll come back to it many times to revise anyway.
Which is your all-time favorite film?
Empire Strikes Back.