|The Mad Doctor|
During the 1950’s, Rod Serling had made a career for himself as a prominent screenwriter in Hollywood, with successes such as Patterns for Kraft Television Theater and Requiem For a Heavyweight for Playhouse 90. But Serling was becoming increasingly frustrated with corporate censorship and sponsors who altered his scripts either to promote themselves or to avoid controversy. The most glaring example of this was the line “Got a match?” having to be struck from Requiem because its sponsor sold lighters.
|Your next stop...|
Deciding that a science-fiction setting with supernatural occurrences would give him less interference in exploring controversial subjects, he wrote a pilot pitch for his show, “The Time Element,” which was the story of a man who travels through time to 1941 Honolulu and tries to warn everyone of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor. The script was eventually produced as an episode of Desilu Playhouse, and the critical acclaim gave Serling the freedom to begin producing The Twilight Zone, which premiered on October 2, 1959, with “Where Is Everybody?”
“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.”
Although it is often classed as science fiction, The Twilight Zone is very definitely a supernatural series, often utilizing elements of horror and the paranormal. Each episode presented a stand-alone story in which characters found themselves dealing with unusual events, which was described as ‘entering the Twilight Zone.” Often, the show had a surprise ending and a moral. Many critics of the day wondered why Serling had given up writing scripts for more prestigious programs to write a sci-fi-horror series, but Serling knew exactly what he was doing. By couching his stories in a supernatural or science-fiction setting, Serling was free to-examine political and social mores of the day, knowing that they would be observed as metaphorical and therefore would escape censorship.
Many episodes of The Twilight Zone are now deemed as classic television, such as “Time Enough At Last,” “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street,” “Eye Of The Beholder,” “The Invaders,” and “To Serve Man.” Acclaimed writers Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont also contributed scripts, and famed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury wrote the now-classic episode “I Sing The Body Electric” which became the basis for his short story of the same name. A wide variety of now-famous actors such as Burgess Meredith, Charles Bronson, William Shatner, Elizabeth Montgomery, Carol Burnett, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Jack Klugman, Robert Redford and Burt Reynolds all made appearances in episodes of The Twilight Zone.
Serling himself contributed most of the scripts, submitting a herculean 92 episodes over five years, and also began to appear at the opening and closing of each show. Though it was his idea to do this, Serling was very nervous in front of the camera, and reported of his appearances that “Only my laundress knows how frightened I really am.”
|He's terrified--no, really...|
|In the Night Gallery|
The original Twilight Zone series lasted for five seasons, and was an immediate hit in syndication, which introduced it to future generations. In 1969, Serling had moved on to serve as on-air host and major script contributor to Night Gallery, another anthology series set in a macabre art gallery which contained a larger focus on the supernatural. Though Night Gallery is fondly remembered and commands a fan base of its own, Serling, who died on June 28, 1975 of a heart attack, is best remembered for The Twilight Zone.
The show has been in continuous reruns, and was made into a feature film in 1983. Twilight Zone: The Movie starred such luminaries as Albert Brooks, Dan Aykroyd (both Akyroyd and Brooks appear in a wrap-around segment that begins the movie), Vic Morrow, Burgess Meredith (who narrated the film), Scatman Crothers, Kathleen Quinlan, Kevin McCarthy (who appeared in the 1956 version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers) and John Lithgow.
Due to the popularity of the TZ film, The Twilight Zone was revived in 1985 in a new series narrated by Charles Aidman, himself the star of two original TZ episodes. It was revived again in 2002 for one season, narrated by Forest Whittaker. Both series and the film are available on DVD. The series also inspired a popular dark ride at Disney theme parks, “The Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror,” which takes place in a fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel that is the site of several unexplained disappearances.
|Peele crosses over|
In 2019, Jordan Peele, who co-wrote and performed in the comedy series Key And Peele with Keegan-Michael Key and directed the Academy-Award-winning horror film Get Out, announced a new series of Twilight Zone for CBS All Access. In addition to executive-producing the new TZ series, Peele hosts the show and introduces the episodes. The series has received critical acclaim and been renewed for a second season.
The continued survival and popularity of The Twilight Zone can be considered a hallmark of what a commitment to exceptional writing and singular vision can do for television. Though the special effects in TZ have not always been successful, the true emphasis in TZ has been on using strange and unsettling tales to explore the human condition. It continues even today to influence and inspire other filmmakers and writers with an interest in the supernatural.
Don’t forget to return soon for our next installment of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween! You might just find a gateway into another dimension...