“You’re traveling through another dimension,
A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind,
A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.
That’s the signpost up ahead,
Your next stop: The Twilight Zone…”
Television took a turn towards the surreal in 1959, with the debut of a new anthology series called The Twilight Zone. Each 30-minute episode might delve into the areas of science fiction, drama, comedy, horror, or political commentary, but the only thing one could truly expect from each episode was the unexpected. Famous for its last minute twists, the success of the show is attributed to the genius of its creator, writer and host, Rod Serling, who imagined some of the most engaging stories to ever hit the airwaves. Today, just about everyone can cite a favorite episode of this classic series, over 50 years after its debut.
Rod Serling was a fan of pulp fiction in his youth and a paratrooper who saw plenty of action in WWII, eventually earning a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. His experiences haunted him for the rest of his life and he turned to writing to help him cope. He got his start in radio, but immediately recognized the potential of television. His writing was praised, but due to the corporate censorship of the day, Serling became increasingly frustrated due to his social commentary being deemed too controversial. The only way to retain any control of his work was to develop his own series. He created a pilot which received such a positive reaction, he was given the green light to go forth with a series he dubbed The Twilight Zone.
To avoid some of the controversy that had plagued his early career, he used the medium of science fiction to camouflage his moral beliefs about war, racism, gender roles, and other unspeakable topics of that particular television era. Settings ranged from the battlefield to the Wild West to hospitals to small town America, where things were never quite as they seemed. Along the way, he created some of the most memorable storylines ever devised during the five-year run of The Twilight Zone.
One episode featured a man (Burgess Meredith) who could never seem to find enough time to read, at least until a devastating nuclear attack. Finally, with all the solitude he could ever want and an endless supply of reading material, the man is overjoyed … until he breaks his only pair of glasses. Another episode featured a stressed-out ad executive who falls asleep on a train and wakes up in the 1800s on a train headed to the quaint town of Willoughby. Still another featured a man seeking shelter from a storm in a monastery, only to find that they are holding a man prisoner who they claim is the devil. And who could forget the little obnoxious boy who wished anyone he didn’t like into a cornfield.
This, of course, only scratches the surface. All told, 156 episodes were produced, each captivating in their own way. The series ran for 5 years, with the fourth season consisting of expanded one-hour episodes, and won two Emmy Awards along the way. A moderate success at the time, it was in later years of syndication that The Twilight Zone truly won the hearts of millions, partly due to various Twilight Zone marathons that would be shown on various holidays.
The series was revived twice, in 1985 and 2002, but neither reboot managed to capture the charm or popularity of the original. Also, in 1983, The Twilight Zone Movie was released. An homage to the original series produced by Stephen Spielberg, the film remade three classic episodes and included one new episode. Unfortunately, the film wasn’t very well received and achieved considerable negative press due to the death of one of its stars, Vic Morrow, and two child actors during filming.
Over fifty years after its television debut, the popularity of The Twilight Zone has never really diminished, with the thought-provoking series luring in new fans every year. If you count it as one of your favorite television shows, we’d love to hear your recollections, about the series in general, or perhaps your favorite episode, in our comments section. Otherwise, we may just have to wish you into the cornfield.