Twilight Zone – Personal Demons (02/14/86)

TZ goes mega-meta with an episode where the main character is TZ Story Editor and segment writer Rockne S. O’Bannon.  Strangely, however, they cast Martin Balsam who is 36 years older than the real O’Bannon.  The camera pans over the covers of several scripts written by the fictional O’Bannon:  Gunsmoke, The Mod Squad, SWAT, Dukes of Hazzard.

He is pecking away at a new script on a manual typewriter when his pal Harry bursts in.  It is rough going because he is determined to come up with an original idea.  He says for the last 20 years, or since everyone else stopped using manual typewriters, he has been doing rehashes of plots and recycled characters.  He is determined to come up with one fresh idea before he retires.

That day on the street, he sees a group of kids and standing behind them is a black-robed demon.  It begins to laugh and run at him.  Rockne gets into his car.  The demon claws at the window, leaving some serious scratches.

At a screening for one of his episodes, he tells Harry about the demon, but Harry is understandably skeptical.  Fortuitously, Rockne looks out the window and sees 3 of the little demons tearing up his car.  He calls Harry over, but Harry can’t see them.  The rest of the guests gather around the window, but they also do not see the creatures  The party follows Rockne outside.  The creatures are gone, however, the guests are able to see the damage done to his car.

That night he hears noises in the living room.  When he investigates, there is a whole gang of the demons tearing up his furniture.  When they spot him, he retreats to the bedroom.

The next day, Rockne has a business lunch with his agent.  he sees the demons flock into the restaurant and swirl around the other patrons who take no notice.  When they spot him, he runs out of the restaurant.

We next see Rockne in his house.  He has boarded up the windows, but took no time to clean up the debris from the demon’s shenanigans.  The phone rings, and he hears one of their cackles.  Then they start tearing through the boards to get in.  Rockne asks what they want.  One of the demons tells him, “to write about us and you’ll never see us again.”  As he types, the demons begin disappearing.

I’m not sure what to make of this.  I guess the most literal interpretation is that you can slay your personal demons by confronting them; for a writer, that means writing about them.  But we were never shown any of Rockne’s personal demons.  The desire to be a better writer is laudable not a character flaw, although that would explain a lot of TV.

This also seems a strange segment for a writer to write himself into.  As mentioned, his namesake is old enough to be his father.  He also pretty much describes himself as a hack.  Maybe having the character not resemble him was intentional, just to get some distance from Rockne Prime.

Ultimately, though, I was very entertained.  The demons ranged from truly menacing to amusing. The first one sighted actually gave me a bit of a chill and reminded me of Kim Darby spotting a li’l monster in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.  When they start marauding through his house, though, it is just a hoot.  Amazingly, within the same segment, both representations work.

Fun stuff.


  • Classic TZ Legacy:  Martin Balsam was in The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine and The New Exhibit.  There was also a man on the wing of the plane vibe.
  • Skipped segment:  Cold Reading is actually a better, more ambitious segment than Personal Demons.  First, the insufferable Dick Shawn drags it down for me. Second, it is just one damn thing after another.  While that was great for the episode, not so much for writing about it.  Events in a radio script begin physically manifesting in the studio.  Very enjoyable — more fun stuff.

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