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CBS pulls the rights for Twilight Zone stage show, but says don’t blame Jordan Peele

CBS pulls the rights for Twilight Zone stage show, but says don’t blame Jordan Peele
From the set of upcoming revival of The Twilight Zone [Photo: Robert Falconer/CBS]

Seattle has changed a lot over the last 25 years, but one tiny corner of its theater scene always seemed to offer a comforting sense of familiarity.

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Twilight Zone: Live!, produced by the small theater group Theater Schmeater, is a series of hilarious stage versions of the classic 1950s TV series, adapted directly from the original teleplays and performed for people looking for a dose of zany camp—and maybe a shot of moral irony to boot. The sometimes-rowdy performances have been a Seattle fixture since the 1990s.

But now they’re going away. CBS, which owns the rights to the sci-fi classic, is not renewing its long-standing arrangement with Theater Schmeater, meaning Seattle theatergoers can no longer travel to that other dimension created by Rod Serling six decades ago. In a Facebook post on Monday, the theater said CBS’s decision was prompted by an upcoming Twilight Zone reboot, in which Jordan Peele will assume the omniscient narrator role played by Serling. “While we’re saddened by this change in programming, we wish CBS, Mr. Peele and the remake the very best,” the theater said.

CBS tells a different story. Reached for comment, the network blamed a London stage version of the series, which recently transferred to the West End, and said Peele’s reboot had nothing to do with it.

“CBS has previously granted Seattle’s Theater Schmeater the right to produce live performance versions of certain episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” When asked to renew this year, we were unable to continue our arrangement because we entered into an exclusive rights deal with the producers of “The Twilight Zone” stage play that has launched in London’s West End.

We greatly appreciated Theater Schmeater’s professionalism and understanding in response to this change, and we wish them much success with their future productions.”

I asked Theater Schmeater about the discrepancy between the two stories. Rachel Sorrels, a representative for the group, declined to comment further.

If we take CBS at its word, it’s plausible that it would choose a lucrative West End stage show over a fringe theater group in Seattle, which likely paid little to nothing for the right to perform these episodes.

Still, it’s a shame these two things can’t peacefully coexist, especially because Theater Schmeater got there first, and its shows added a modicum of cultural value to a city whose arts scene is undergoing deep transformations. I saw Twilight Zone: Live! in a late-night performance years ago and found the adaptations to be a blast. It’s hard to imagine they posed any kind of a threat to the West End version or Peele’s reboot. If anything, they might create an appetite for more polished incarnations.

What’s worse is that this all-or-nothing attitude among producing entities is part of a disquieting trend. Just last month we heard about small theaters having to cancel productions of To Kill a Mockingbird after legal saber-rattling from Scott Rudin, who produces the current Broadway version.

If nothing else, it’s fodder for an apt cautionary tale: greedy producers, blinded by success and refusing to share the stage with less established players. One imagines Rod Serling would have a field day with this.

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