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Entry into the “Forbidden Area”
The Discovery and Preservation of a Serling Rarity
by Tony Albarella

Rod Serling / Playhouse 90

Thanks to the combined efforts of volunteers from The Rod Serling Memorial Foundation and Ithaca College, a rare example of Rod Serling’s live television work has been recovered and preserved for future generations.

In late December of 2009, I happened upon the auction sale of a rare commodity: a film print of Playhouse 90’s “Forbidden Area,” struck on two sixteen-millimeter reels. This October 4, 1956, entry of the famed Golden Age of Television series was the show’s inaugural episode. Based on a novel by Pat Frank, the cold war thriller was written especially for Playhouse 90 by Rod Serling, directed by John Frankenheimer, and starred Charlton Heston, Vincent Price, Tab Hunter and Diana Lynn.

Since the acquisition and preservation of Serling-related media is a key goal of our organization, members of the RSMF Board quickly agreed that despite the inherent limitations of the film’s format, we would pursue the sale. The primary drawback was that two large sixteen-millimeter reels are, for all intents and purposes, obsolete in this era of digital media, and no Foundation member had access to a screen or projector on which to view this film. However, the opportunity to preserve this rare find was deemed of significant value and a maximum sale price was agreed upon. It was determined that we would investigate transfer options if and when we could acquire the film; for the time being, the goal was to add the film to our archive holdings. The RSMF entered the bidding and won the auction.

Commercial transfer of film to DVD is readily available, of course, but the cost to transfer two forty-five minute reels is prohibitive. Additional expense would also be necessary; this kinescope copy, which originally belonged to the U.S. Air Force, was already well over fifty years old, and while deterioration of the film stock wasn’t an issue, problems such as worn sprocket holes and separated splices would require restoration prior to transfer.

Luckily, RSMF member Gordon Webb, the recently-retired Assistant Professor of Radio and Television at Ithaca College, retained contacts within IC that were instrumental in preserving “Forbidden Area.” Emails were exchanged, call made, plans discussed, and eventually the film was sent over to Ithaca College, where repairs were made and digitizing of the media took place. The film was returned to the RSMF archive once copies of it were donated to Ithaca College’s Rod Serling Archive.

“Forbidden Area” is not one of Serling’s strongest scripts, but it features a wonderful cast and snippets of dialogue that are pure Serling. And as the premiere episode of television’s most prestigious live TV series, it represents an important entry in both Serling’s filmography and the recorded history of television. Access to this show is now available via the respective archives at Ithaca College and The Rod Serling Memorial Foundation. The RSMF is proud to have played a role in the rescue, restoration and preservation of this rarity.

Special thanks to Gordon Webb and Phillip Wacker-Hoeflin for their invaluable assistance with this project.