The Twilight Zone is an American television anthology series created by Rod Serling. Each episode (156 in the original series) is a mixture of self-contained drama, psychological thriller, fantasy, science fiction, suspense, or horror, often concluding with a macabre or unexpected twist. A popular and critical success, it introduced many Americans to serious science fiction and abstract ideas through television and also through a wide variety of Twilight Zone literature.
The program followed in the tradition of earlier shows like Tales of Tomorrow (1951–1953)—which also dramatized the short story "What You Need"—and Science Fiction Theatre (1955–1957), as well as radio programs such as The Weird Circle and X Minus One, and the radio work of Serling's hero, dramatist Norman Corwin.The success of the original series led to the creation of two revival series: one series that ran for several seasons on CBS and in syndication in the 1980s, and another series that ran on UPN from 2002 to 2003. It also led to a feature film, a radio series, a comic book, a magazine, and various other spin-offs that spanned five decades.
Rod Serling was a fan of anthology pulp fiction stories as a little boy and as an adult, he wished to write of social commentary themes such as racism, government, war, society and human nature in general. He decided to combine the two so he could not only indulge both of these passions, but also to get away with talking about these on television at a time when television wasn't allowed to address such things.Throughout the 1950s, Rod Serling had established himself as one of the hottest names in television, equally famous for his success in writing televised drama as he was for criticizing the medium's limitations.
His most vocal complaints concerned the censorship frequently practiced by sponsors and networks. "I was not permitted to have my senators discuss any current or pressing problem," he said of his 1957 production The Arena, intended to be an involving look into contemporary politics. "To talk of tariff was to align oneself with the Republicans; to talk of labor was to suggest control by the Democrats. To say a single thing germane to the current political scene was absolutely prohibited."
The Time Element" (1958) - CBS purchased a teleplay in 1958 that writer Rod Serling hoped to produce as the pilot of a weekly anthology series. "The Time Element" marked Serling's first entry in the field of science fiction.
Original series (1959–1964) - The series was produced by Cayuga Productions, Inc. a production company owned and named by Serling. It reflects his background in upper New York State and is named after the local Lake Cayuga where Cornell University is located.Aside from Serling, who crafted nearly two-thirds of the series' total episodes, writers for The Twilight Zone included leading genre authors such as Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Earl Hamner, Jr., George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Reginald Rose, and Jerry Sohl. Many episodes also featured adaptations of classic stories by such writers as Ambrose Bierce, Jerome Bixby, Damon Knight, and Lewis Padgett.
Twilight Zone's writers frequently used science fiction as a vehicle for social comment; networks and sponsors who had censored all potentially "inflammatory" material from the then-predominant live dramas were ignorant of the methods developed by writers such as Ray Bradbury for dealing with important issues through seemingly innocuous fantasy. Frequent themes include nuclear war, mass hysteria, and McCarthyism, subjects that were strictly forbidden on more "serious" prime-time drama. Episodes such as "The Shelter" or "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" offered specific commentary on current events.
Other stories, such as "The Masks" or "The Howling Man", dealt with a central allegory, parable, or fable that reflected the characters' moral or philosophical choices.Despite his esteem in the writing community, Serling found The Twilight Zone difficult to sell. Few critics felt that science fiction could transcend empty escapism and enter the realm of adult drama. In a September 22, 1959, interview with Serling, Mike Wallace asked a question illustrative of the times: "...[Y]ou're going to be, obviously, working so hard on The Twilight Zone that, in essence, for the time being and for the foreseeable future, you've given up on writing anything important for television, right?"
While Serling's appearances on the show became one of its most distinctive features, with his clipped delivery still widely imitated today, he was reportedly nervous about it and had to be persuaded to appear on camera. Serling often steps into the middle of the action and the characters remain seemingly oblivious to him, but on one notable occasion they are aware he's there: In the episode "A World of His Own", a writer with the power to alter his reality objects to Serling's unflattering narration, and promptly erases Serling from the show.In season two, due to budgetary constraints, the network decided—against Serling's wishes—to cut costs by shooting some episodes on videotape rather than film.
The requisite multi-camera setup of the videotape experiment precluded location shooting, severely limiting the potential scope of the story-lines, and so, the short-lived experiment was ultimately abandoned. The six episodes are: Twenty-Two, Static, The Whole Truth, The Lateness of the Hour, Night of the Meek, and Long Distance Call.The original series contains 156 episodes. Unlike seasons one through three, season four (1962–1963) consists of one-hour episodes. Season five returned to the half-hour format.
First revival (1985–1989) - It was Serling's decision to sell his share of the series back to the network that eventually allowed for a Twilight Zone revival. As an in-house production, CBS stood to earn more money producing The Twilight Zone than it could by purchasing a new series produced by an outside company. Even so, the network was slow to consider a revival, turning down offers from the original production team of Rod Serling and Buck Houghton and later from American filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.
Despite lukewarm response to Twilight Zone: The Movie, John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller's theatrical homage to the original series, CBS gave the new Twilight Zone a greenlight in 1984 under the supervision of Carla Singer, then Vice President of Drama Development. While the show didn't come close to matching the enduring popularity of the original, some episodes — including the love story "Her Pilgrim Soul" and J. Michael Straczynski's "Dream Me A Life" — were critically acclaimed. In a tribute to the original series, the teaser at the beginning of the show has a brief wavy glimpse of Rod Serling.
Rod Serling's Lost Classics (1994) - In the early 1990s, Richard Matheson and Carol Serling produced an outline for a two-hour made-for-TV movie which would feature Matheson adaptations of three yet-unfilmed Rod Serling short stories. Outlines for such a production were rejected by CBS until early 1994, when Serling's widow discovered a complete shooting script ("Where the Dead Are") authored by her late husband, while rummaging through their garage.
Serling showed the forgotten script to producers Michael O'Hara and Laurence Horowitz, who were significantly impressed by it. "I had a pile of scripts, which I usually procrastinate about reading. But I read this one right away and, after 30 pages, called my partner and said, "I love it," recalled O'Hara. "This is pure imagination, a period piece, literate—some might say wordy. If Rod Serling's name weren't on it, it wouldn't have a chance at getting made."Eager to capitalize on Serling's celebrity status as a writer, CBS packaged "Where the Dead Are" with Matheson's adaptation of "The Theatre," debuting as a two-hour feature on the night of May 19, 1994, under the name Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics.
The title represents a misnomer, as both stories were conceived long after Twilight Zone's cancellation. Written just months before Serling's death, "Where the Dead Are" starred Patrick Bergin as a 19th century doctor who stumbles upon a mad scientist's medical experiments with immortality. "The Theatre" starred Amy Irving and Gary Cole as a couple who visit a cineplex, only to discover that the feature presentation is their own lives. James Earl Jones provided opening and closing narrations.Critical response was mixed. Gannett News Service described it as "taut and stylish, a reminder of what can happen when fine actors are given great words." USA Today was less impressed, even suggesting that Carol Serling "should have left these two unproduced mediocrities in the garage where she found them." Ultimately ratings proved insufficient to justify a proposed sequel featuring three Matheson-adapted scripts.
Second revival (2002–2003) - A second revival was attempted by UPN in 2002, with narration provided by Forest Whitaker and theme music by Jonathan Davis (of the rock group Korn). Two of Serling's own teleplays were recycled. Broadcast in an hour format with two half-hour stories, it was cancelled after one season, although reruns continue to air in syndication, and have aired on myNetwork TV since summer 2008.
The Movie (1983) - The Movie is a 1983 feature film produced by Steven Spielberg. It starred Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Vic Morrow, John Lithgow and Scatman Crothers.The film remade three classic episodes of the original series and included one original story. John Landis directed the prologue and the first segment, Steven Spielberg directed the second, Joe Dante the third, and George Miller directed the final segment.
The Landis-directed episode became notorious for the helicopter accident during filming, which caused the deaths of Morrow and two child actors.Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is planning to make a new movie with Warner Bros., as The Twilight Zone is his favorite TV series. However, unlike the first film, which was an anthology feature, it will be a big-budget, SFX-laden continuous story possibly based on classic episodes of the series such as "The Eye of the Beholder", "To Serve Man" or any of the 92 scripts written by Rod Serling, to which Warner Bros. owns the rights.