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This week, we got a new look at Jordan Peele's take on the classic TV series The Twilight Zone. The only place the Twilight Zone name has been regularly seen over the last several years has been at Disney theme parks attached to the popular Tower of Terror attraction, like the first one built at Walt Disney World for Disney's Hollywood Studios. One might think that renewed interest in the TV series would be nothing but good news for the nearly 25-year-old attraction, but the truth is it could actually spell the end of the ride by making The Twilight Zone too popular and too expensive for Disney.
The first version of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 1994. Three other Tower of Terror attractions were built at Disney parks in California, Paris and Tokyo, and two of those used the Twilight Zone brand.
The thrill ride itself is fairly simple: it's a drop ride that pushes a car full of guests into the air, before dropping them in free fall (it actually pulls the car down, so you fall faster than you actually would if only gravity was acting on the ride vehicle). Then the car slows, goes back up, and does it again, causing several thrilling drops per ride.
While simple, the ride certainly built its share of fans. The popularity of the attraction was made clear when it was announced that the version of the attraction at Disney's California Adventure would be replaced by Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout. While the attraction's thrill would remain essentially the same, everything would be re-themed to match the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes. As popular as Marvel is, many were unhappy to see the Tower of Terror go.
This led various people to wonder what the future of the other Towers was, especially the original one at Walt Disney World. While nothing has ever been officially announced by Disney to imply the attractions are going anywhere, the impending brand-new Twilight Zone series could actually spell the end of the existing attraction.
The buzz surrounding this latest iteration of The Twilight Zone is strong. Jordan Peele is acting as producer and host of the show, and that association alone has people excited. What was Get Out, if not the best feature length episode of the Twilight Zone ever conceived? The Twilight Zone name is poised to be bigger than it's been in decades, and that has to be good news for a theme park attraction that holds the name, right?
But that's exactly the problem. The Twilight Zone is owned by CBS and Disney pays the company a licensing fee for use of the name and the elements of the classic series. Now, I don't pretend to know how much Disney is currently paying to license the name, but it stands to reason that if the brand new series is a hit, the next time the deal comes up for renewal, the price tag to Disney could be a lot higher than it has been in the past. It could be so much higher that Disney isn't interested in paying for it.
Disney has all the money in the world, especially these days, but that doesn't mean it's always interested in spending it. Next door to the Tower of Terror at Walt Disney World is the Rock N' Roller Coaster, featuring Aerosmith. Originally, Disney wanted it to feature the Rolling Stones, but the group wanted too much money to license its music.
The only reason I can conceive that the Twilight Zone licensing deal won't get a lot more expensive is if the new show somehow doesn't succeed. If the show bombs, then CBS won't be in a great bargaining position. However, that causes its own problem, as a bad show would damage the brand as a whole and potentially make Disney less interested in continuing with it.
I don't think the show will fail. I think it looks amazing.
Of course, if the new show is a massive new hit, there could be problems in the other direction. If the show becomes really successful there could be a call to see elements of it incorporated into the attraction. While Walt Disney World purists as well as classic Twilight Zone fans would probably lose their minds at the idea of Rod Serling being replaced by Jordan Peele, the average tourist may not care so much.
Of course, this would increase the cost of Disney that much more, as the park would need to not only pay for the new licensing deal, but also pay to re-skin the attraction.
Even if I'm right, it doesn't mean the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror will be gone tomorrow. Details on exactly what the licensing deal between CBS and Disney looks like are hard to come by; these sorts of deals usually aren't made public. It's barely possible that the deal between the two has no expiration date or set plan for renewal. Maybe Disney was able to get CBS to agree to a fixed renewal price for as long as Disney wants to continue with the attraction. It's unlikely CBS would have agreed to that.
What's more likely is that every few years CBS and Disney meet to renegotiate the deal. If the last renewal took place a couple of years ago, then the Tower of Terror might be safe for quite some time. If the deal is coming up for reconsideration soon, however, things could be changing a lot faster.
Of course, the loss of the Twilight Zone name doesn't mean that the Tower of Terror is doomed. If a re-theming is required, the general concept can be kept while simply removing the Twilight Zone related elements. The version of the attraction at Tokyo DisneySea has existed for over a decade with no ties to the Twilight Zone at all. Still, those elements are part of what give the Walt Disney World attraction its unique mood and feel. Losing them would still be a major blow.
Walt Disney World's Tower of Terror likely won't be transformed into Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout, if only because a Guardians of the Galaxy themed roller coaster is currently under construction at Epcot. But as popular as the Tower is, it seems that the deck is stacking against the attraction's future.