Television shows have been trying to be their generation's Twilight Zone ever since Rod Serling's trippy anthology first scrambled its viewers brains. Pulpy, one-off episodes featuring celebrity actors are at least a half-century old, but they're new (and popular) again thanks to a Jordan Peele-led reboot of The Twilight Zone, Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror, and, now, a second coming of Steven Spielberg's 1980s Twilight Zone wannabe Amazing Stories.
The original incarnation spanned 45 episodes over two seasons and saw Spielberg delivering an anthology series that was more concerned with adventure than twists. Thirty-five years later, Apple TV+ is now streaming a 10-episode revival meant to thrill and amaze.
Here are 10 astounding facts about the original '80s show.
1. Rod Serling gave Steven Spielberg his start.
It may have been a surprise for viewers to see Steve Spielberg go from Indiana Jones and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to a series of small screen stories, but it was a return to his roots. The now-legendary director got his start making the Joan Crawford-starring segment of the first episode of Serling's Night Gallery. Crawford was initially horrified that a 21-year-old would be directing her, but changed her mind quickly upon meeting him. Spielberg also produced and directed a segment for 1983's The Twilight Zone: The Movie before trying to make his own, original anthology concept.
2. The Amazing Stories name came from the first magazine dedicated to science fiction.
Bursting onto the scene in April 1926 with stories from H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe, Amazing Stories was the brainchild of Hugo Gernsback. He decided that the world was ready for a magazine focused on sci-fi, and he was right. Universal Studios secured the rights for the name and some of the stories before launching the anthology show with Spielberg.
3. One of the Amazing Stories stories was made into a movie instead.
Originally called "Gramps and Grammie and Company," Spielberg idea for an Amazing Stories episode just kept growing until it became the feature film *batteries not included. The movie sees a group of building tenants threatened by a real estate developer who are rescued by robotic aliens, so, yes, it feels very, very Amblin. E.T. meets Johnny Five with a dash of Spielberg's obsession with real estate developers tearing things down.
4. In Italy, three episodes were strung together and released as a movie.
Sometimes you've got to pivot to sell something to a non-American audience. The producers behind Amazing Stories packaged The Mission (about a turret gunner stuck inside a WWII bomber), Mummy Daddy (about an actor in a horror costume attacked by a small town), and Go to the Head of the Class (where students curse their English teacher played by Christopher Lloyd) into a single film called Storie Incredibili in order to win over Italian fans.
5. Four of Amazing Stories's episode directors went on to win Best Director Oscars.
Amazing Stories was a cattle call of impressive talent, from Joe Dante and Irvin Kershner to Mick Garris and Lesli Linka Glatter (hello, The Walking Dead fans). Spielberg attracted top names, and four of them would go on to win Best Director Oscars: Clint Eastwood directed an episode about a grieving artist, Martin Scorsese directed an episode about a haunted horror writer, and Robert Zemeckis directed the episode where the students use magic against Christopher Lloyd. The fourth director on the list is Spielberg himself, of course, who directed the pilot episode about a man building a house on the location of a tragic train accident and the WWII bomber episode (as well as writing the stories for dozens of episodes).
6. Amazing Stories also launched a young director's career
Just as Spielberg got his start under Rod Serling's wing, Spielberg repaid the favor by hiring the young Phil Joanou right out of USC film school after seeing his short film/student project The Last Chance Dance. In addition to directing several music videos for U2 and Tom Petty, Joanou went on to direct Three O'Clock High (1987), Final Analysis (1992), and Gridiron Gang (2006).
7. One Amazing Stories episode was based on something that happened to Boris Karloff.
The episode Mummy Daddy features Tom Harrison as an actor on a horror movie set stuffed into a mummy costume who gets word that his wife is in labor. Like a toilet paper-wrapped Daniel Day-Lewis, he stays in costume while racing to the hospital. Things get terrifyingly absurd when the townsfolk think he's the real deal and try to kill him. Presumably no one tried to kill Boris Karloff when he got word of his daughter's birth while filming Son of Frankenstein and went to the hospital, bolts and all. It's ... a little difficult to verify that story, but at the very least it's the kind of apocryphal tale that Spielberg and company were aware of and built a story around.
8. Another Amazing Stories episode was based on the real-life murder of a man who was hard to kill.
In One For the Road, a handful of scummy speakeasy patrons try to kill a fellow alcohol-enthusiast as part of an insurance scheme. The episode was based on the 1933 murder of Mike Malloy, whose killing was far more complicated than his tormentors had planned on. Rasputin-esque, Malloy drank for an entire day without dying; ingested turpentine, rat poison, and antifreeze without dying; and spent a night drunk-sleeping in the snow with several gallons of water poured on his chest without dying. He also ate a sandwich with rotten sardines and carpet tacks and was hit by a car—neither of which fully stopped him from dropping by the bar for more drinks.
9. June Cleaver made a cameo
Remote Control Man follows the familiar trope of the put-upon husband with a horrid wife ("There was time now!") whose only joy is escaping into the TV. His new, amazing set delivers characters right into his living room, including June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver. Barbara Billingsley reprised her iconic role two decades after the wholesome sitcom had gone off the air in order to make a cameo appearance in Spielberg's sci-fi show.
10. It's only animated episode got a spin-off show.
From Brad Bird no less. The director behind The Iron Giant and several of Pixar's best pictures made an offbeat animated episode of Amazing Stories about the life of a dog, where we got to see the family's escapades from canine-level. In another weird turn of events, the episode spun-off into its own show eight years later on a different network, starring Martin Mull. It only lasted 10 episodes, which makes sense considering its pedigree. Despite having so many episodes and big name directors and stars, Amazing Stories wasn't a hit either, which is why it was canceled after its second season.