Story by Rod Serling
Teleplay by Rockne S. O'Bannon
Directed by Martha Coolidge
Original Airdate - December 20, 1985
Richard Mulligan - Henry Corwin
William Atherton - Mr. Dundee
Bill Henderson - Older Cop
Teddy Wilson - Henderson
Shelby Leverington - Mother of Little Boy
Joanne Barron - Mrs. Beacham
Thomas F. Duffy - Businessman
Hugo Stanger - Dobson
Charles Swiegart - Bruno the Bartender
Wayne Morton - Manager
Monty Ash - Old Man
Jeff Kober - Younger Cop
Patricia Wilson - Woman Caroler
Wilson Camp - Man
Benjie Gregory - Boy
Paul Stout - Baseball Boy
Georgia Schmidt - Wife
Muriel Minot - Mother of Little Girl
Enid Rodgers - Spinster
Brian Muehl - Father
Toria Crosby - Little Girl
Larenz Tate - Older Brother
Harry Governick - Man on Road
Phyllis Erlich - Woman on Phone



Henry Corwin, a man with nothing much in his life, looks forward to playing a department store Santa every year. He finally gets his wish when he finds a magical bag that gives people the present they most ardently desire. His boss, Mr. Dundee, finds him giving away expensive presents and thinks he stole them from the store. He has Corwin arrested, but when they look in his bag all they find is garbage. Corwin is released, and while sitting with his boss on the police departement steps, Mr. Dundee tells him that he didn't have the chance to get his wife the coat he wanted to this year. Corwin pulls a mink coat out of his bag for Mr. Dundee. Corwin goes home, feeling good that he finally could be a real Santa. He hears bells, and puts his finger to his nose, and goes up the chimney. Corwin had become the real Santa.



It seems to be that every TV series has to have a Christmas episode, whether it needs one or not.  This "Night of the Meek" is based on the original Twilight Zone story of the same name, written by Rod Serling; it was adapted for the NTZ by Rockne S. O'Bannon.  I, personally, don't feel that this story should have been adapted for the 80's, or any other time.  I think the original is one of the best of the original Twilight Zone, and it can't be bested.  Rod is said to have written it because he wanted to see Art Carney play Santa, and I agree with his reasoning.  It's a wonderful episode, and while the new adaptation is okay it isn't very good.  The original had well-known character actors in it, which was just as much of its appeal as seeing Carney play Santa.  Serling named his character Henry Corwin, in honor of the legendary Norman Corwin, a writer/producer/essayist/teacher who also produced many great radio dramas of the 1930's and 1940's; Serling was greatly influenced by Norman Corwin. Roger Zelazny, one of the best scifi writers ever, named his main character in the "Nine Princes in Amber" series Corwin, for the same reason. Norman Corwin had an influence on a huge number of people, and we can all say thank goodness, because they wrote the television shows we grew up watching, and the stories we grew up reading.

But character actors were a dying breed in the 1980's and sometimes that kind of background is what you need to project a sense of heart in a production.  Just seeing the faces of these character actors told you what kind of story it was going to be…you just sensed this because you'd seen them in many of the same productions before.

Richard Mulligan has the role of Henry Corwin, the department store Santa in this updated version.  He was hilarious in "Soap," where he excelled at his brand of physical comedy, and I loved him in "S.O.B."  But he's just not right for this role, and the entire episode suffers for it. Mulligan would go on to play another role in the second season of the NTZ, in "The Toys of Caliban," where he was absolutely marvelous in a completely different type of character.

Part of the reason this "Night of the Meek" is so off can be assigned to the store manager part being played by William Atherton, another great actor who is miscast.  John Fiedler had the part in the original, and while he could be strict, he was not vicious, and his acting showed this; you knew he really didn't want to have Carney arrested.  Atherton is much more convincing at being vicious, and it mars the entire production.  You really believe he wants to see Mulligan in jail to do hard time, and with this kind of story, that kind of conviction just doesn't reverse well.  At the end we're supposed to believe that Atherton has relented, but we can't believe he has, or at least I can't.  Also, the present that Atherton gets from Santa's bag is a mink coat for his wife, which is completely wrong for this kind of story.  In the original it was a bottle of brandy, which allowed Mr. Dundee to invite the policeman for a drink around the fire so they could toast the season.  A mink coat denotes exactly the wrong kind of Christmas, based on money and status, and not on family and friends. 

I will mention a Christmas story done in the middle of these two "Night of the Meek's," another script done by Rod Serling (Rod did Christmas very well).  "Night Gallery" (NG) was an attempt to get Rod back on TV, and he did come back in fine style.  NG was one of my favorite shows growing up, and one of the best of the episodes was "The Messiah on Mott Street," which should have won Rod an Emmy but did not.  It's filled with character actors as well, who were still plentiful in 1972.  Edward G. Robinson plays the main character, an indigent old man of the Jewish faith who is not well but knows he has to keep going because he is raising his grandson.  Robinson is the anchor of the episode.  He rails at Death, telling him he's not ready to go yet, that he must stay alive to take care of his grandson.  The old man's doctor, who is the son of his original doctor, makes house calls because he knows the old man can't get to the office.  The doctor is played by Tony Roberts, not quite a character actor but for this role it doesn't matter.  He was raised Jewish but had become a fashionable doctor who doesn't practice his religion now.  What happens on Mott Street causes him to rethink his apparent lack of faith.  The best part is given to Yaphet Kotto, a marvelous actor severely underused, then and now.  I would watch him read the phone book. Kotto brings a bit of heaven to the story, playing a dual role that may or may not be messianic; it's up to the viewer to decide.  Myself, I do believe he was playing the Messiah on Mott Street.  

My point is that all this, the writing, the casting, the period of time in which it was made, and the setting, make "The Messian on Mott Street" unique, and to remake it would be to diminish the story.  The NTZ's version of "Night of the Meek" diminishes the story.  They would have done better to craft their own Christmas episode that could have been uniquely theirs.  It's easy for me to be the armchair quarterback now, since I wasn't a part of the show, and I'm sure they faced myriad challenges on every production. But, I also thank god that they didn't try to remake "The Changing of the Guard," another original Twilight Zone with a Christmas theme, that was on the verge of maudlin in 1962, but would have been catastrophic redone in 1985.  What rescued the original from being maudlin was the litany of the ghostly students, which forces the viewer to see the old schoolteacher in another light, as a leader of mankind.  That, and Donald Pleasance in the lead role.  He elevated anything he ever did to a higher plane.