"Forbidden Area" was a carefully plotted Russian sneak attack on the United States, with its initial step the grounding of Strategic Air Command bombers. The suspenseful build-up to the detection of the plot was at times harrowing. Rod Sterling's script, in maintaining, suspense and pace, was as faithful a dramatization as television possibly could offer of the Pat Frank novel.
The significant aspect of "Forbidden Area" however, is the fact that it could not have been dramatized as convincingly in 60 minutes of TV time as in the 90 minutes it received on "Playhouse 90." The TV drama maintained two parallel storylines: Of the Russian spy posing as an Air Force enlisted man at a bomber base and of the high level Washington Intelligence group which was supposed to spark command decisions.
Two storylines are not necessarily better than one. But before the advent of 90 minute TV drama the stories have generally been confined to one line of development and often a truncated line at that. "Playhouse 90" also freely and judiciously interspliced film into its "Forbidden Area" production to give, both depth and width to the story. Many first-rate live TV drama producers shun filmed sequences, as if it's a form of cheating. Last Thursday's production indicated it was not, at least in the case of a drama involving the air and the sea.
The play was performed in five acts. Commercial breaks between the acts provided the only opportunity for viewers to catch their breath. Each act ended on a peak of suspense, leaving the audience hanging on the ropes.
The resolution of the story was later (intentionally?) picked up by Adam Hall (d.i. Elleston Trevor) in his third Quiller novel, THE STRIKER PORTFOLIO (1969), albeit as a minor revelation in the overall plot.
It was Playhouse 90´s stated intention to present the best television had to offer, regarding actors, stories and production values. Its debut show did little to fulfill this ambitious claim. Pat Frank´s cold war novel made for a less than brillant adaptation by Rod Serling.