July 01, 2023



(CBS, October 2, 1959-June 19, 1964)
Cayuga Productions Inc., CBS Productions


Rod Serling – Narrator


The Twilight Zone was an anthology series created, produced and written by Rod Serling that delivered morality lessons and delved into modern day issues with often fantastical and science-fiction elements to make the messages more palatable to the average viewer. Serling had gained prominence in American television during the 1950s, but dealt with the constant aggravation of his stories being altered on the whims of the networks and their sponsors. He figured that robots, aliens and the supernatural might significantly remove things from reality and give him more leeway to present thought-provoking controversial ideas. In 1957, he wrote the pitch pilot “The Time Element”, depicting a man sent back to 1941 Honolulu who tried to warn everyone about the eminent attack on Pearl Harbor unsuccessfully, but it was ultimately rejected and shelved. Bert Granet rediscovered it a year later and produced it as an episode of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, and its success allowed Serling an opportunity to do his series.

The Twilight Zone debuted on CBS on October 2, 1959, running for 5 seasons. While reviewers praised the series, it initially struggled in the ratings with audiences until close to the end of the first season. Serling wrote or co-wrote 92 of the show’s 156 episodes and served as the narrator, delivering monologues that set up the moment when the story’s characters “entered the Twilight Zone” and the story’s moral at the end. While he appeared in promos for the series, it wouldn’t be until the second season that he would appear on screen to deliver those monologues. Additional writers included Charles Beaumont (until complications from a developing brain disease reduced his involvement), Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, Montgomery Pittman, Earl Hamner Jr., Reginald Rose, Jerry Sohl, John Tomerlin (both of whom ghostwrote for Beaumont), and Richard De Roy. Bernard Hermann composed the series’ theme for the first season, but was replaced from the second season on by Marius Constant’s more-familiar composition. As it was an anthology series, it had no permanent characters and a rotating roster of actors; some well-known at the time, and others just beginning their careers. Several actors would make return appearances in various episodes as other characters, including William Shatner, Burgess Meredith, William Windom, Jack Klugman and Martin Landau, with Robert McCord having appeared in the most.

Difficulties in finding a sponsor for the 4th season resulted in the show being replaced by Fair Exchange, although it was ultimately renewed as a mid-season replacement for the replacement. To fill that timeslot, CBS demanded the series be expanded to an hour-long format, which didn’t sit well with Serling and the production crew. Serling’s involvement as an executive producer was reduced this season, and his monologues were filmed against a gray background back-to-back during his infrequent trips to Los Angeles. “The” was also dropped from the title. The 5th season returned to the half-hour format, but was plagued by a number of unpopular decisions by new producer William Froug; such as shelving a script for “The Doll” which was later made an episode of Amazing Stories (and won a Writer’s Guild Award nomination) and alienating Johnson by having De Roy rewrite and dilute his screenplay for what would become “Ninety Years Without Slumbering”. CBS head Jim Aubrey ultimately decided to cancel the series, having disliked it since his instatement during the 2nd season as it was an expensive series to produce and using the season’s middling ratings as further justification. Serling, severely burnt out by this time, sold CBS his 40% share of the series and left it behind until returning in 1969 with the similar series Night Gallery on NBC.

The Twilight Zone was nominated for 4 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning 2, and continued to be broadcast in syndicated reruns, initially less the episodes “Sounds and Silences”, “Miniature” and “A Short Drink From a Certain Fountain” due to copyright lawsuits, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” which was a French short film whose airing as part of the series as a limited-time agreement, and “The Encounter” due to racial overtones. Notably, the series airs on Syfy regularly in late-night slots and as part of marathons for New Year’s and the 4th of July, although they’re usually altered to allow for more commercials. Three revivals have been attempted—one in 1985 lasting two seasons, one in 2002 lasting one, and one in 2019 which concluded after two—as well as an infamous film version in 1983 that resulted in the deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children, and a 1994 made-for-television film comprised of two stories found by Serling’s widow, Carol.

No comments: