Programming Difficulties


They don't show movies that feature plane crashes as the in-flight movies on airplanes. This makes sense. Lots of people are already on edge about flying, no need to exacerbate the problem by showing them the worst-case scenario. Jet Blue has in-flight movies available, but they also have a selection of regular cable television channels. Regular cable television channels are not screened for airplane suitability. Perhaps you know where I'm going with this.

Last night/this morning I took a Jet Blue flight from San Diego to New York. It was pretty uneventful. We got off the ground without incident and the televisions switched on. I flicked around the channels, because Jet Blue flights are pretty much my only exposure to cable television (I don't get cable, both because it is too expensive and because I really don't need any more time-gulping distractions in my life). I reached the Sci-Fi Channel just as an episode of The Twilight Zone was starting. I watched a lot of Twilight Zone in my formative years, but haven't seen an episode in a while, so I decided I'd settle in and watch this one.

The episode was Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

For those who don't know, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (written by Richard Matheson) is the famous (within Twilight Zone circles) episode in which William Shatner (before he got tubby and his acting got hammy) plays a travelling salesman on a long flight. He's returning home after a stay in a sanitarium following a nervous breakdown, and is flying with his wife. He's extraordinarily nervous about the flight, but he manages, with the help of his wife, to keep calm through take-off. The plane flies through a storm, and Bob cautiously glances out the window. There, on the wing, he sees the outline of a man. He tries to tell his wife and the stewardess, but every time someone else looks out the window the man is gone. Eventually, as he looks on in horror, the man opens up a panel on the engine and begins tearing out wires. Bob, needless to say, goes apeshit. The captain tries to trick him into taking sedatives. Bob does so and then pretends to go to sleep. He then gets up, sneaks over to the air marshall and steals his gun. Returning to this seat, he steels his courage and opens the emergency exit, causing himself to get sucked out as his wife tries to hold him in by his legs. He aims his gun and fires at the gremlin on the wing, causing it to fall off the plane. The episode ends on the ground with Bob being carted off in a straight jacket.

I enjoyed it, but needless to say it possibly wasn't the sort of show that would show up on the in-flight entertainment if there were planning involved. I also watched an episode of Quantum Leap, and I learned, through the person sitting next to me, that The Tao of Steve is an amazingly long movie for a film in which, essentially, nothing happens.


The gremlin on the wing always looks a little like Miss Piggy to me.

Twilight Zone episodes in general don't seem like good programming for an airplane flight. The problem is that they're from an era which made much more cautious use of violence, gore, and shock moments; that means that what's left for scaring people is suspense, the supernatural, chilling insights about human nature, and technological horror. Those categories of scary things are very good at working gradually on minds that are not otherwise occupied, and the whole reason for in-flight TV and movies is that airplanes are generally lacking in normal mental stimuli.

Actually, I take that back. In-flight TV was practically made for Twilight Zone episodes, by the Twilight Zone's intentions if not by the airlines'.

Once again, when setting out to correct you, I discovered something.

Straightjacket is an accepted alternate spelling of straitjacket. I never knew; I always thought it was a misuse.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on November 14, 2005 1:46 PM.

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