"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone."- The opening words of "The Twilight Zone", Season 1, 1959 - '60.
"The Twilight Zone", which had its premiere on today's date, October 2, in 1959. Within its confines, that of a science fiction/fantasy anthology series, Rod Serling, the show's creator and main writer found enormous freedom. He could comment on virtually any issue, any current event or public figure, any facet of the human condition, and basically get away with it at a time when sponsors were notoriously frightened of any controversial subject. The result was as the Times predicted it would be.. "most exciting."
Rod Serling: the Creator of "The Twilight Zone"
Entering "The Zone"....
Serling had found himself growing increasingly frustrated with the frequent changes and edits to his scripts which had been forced by the TV Networks and their sponsors for commercial reasons. And he was particularly upset by changes in content to his script for "Noon On Doomsday", which closely followed the events of the murder of Emmit Till in Mississippi. Even to mention such subjects as race relations, let alone deal with them seriously was poison in the minds of most TV exec.s and sponsors. He felt that writing a show, an anthology series using such science fiction staples as robots, space aliens, and various fantasy settings such as futuristic civilizations and time travel would give him the freedom to touch on more serious and controversial topics. As he would later say: "I found that it was alright to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say"
The Premiere on 10/2/59:
A Critical Success, But a Ratings Yawn at First
The critical reaction was very positive. Cecil Smith of the Los Angeles Times declared it to be "the finest weekly series on television." Jack Gould of the New York Times said that Serling had no peers in the writing of television drama. Later that year, Charles Beaumont was particularly effusive:
" Old stuff? Of course. I thought so at the time, and I think so now. But there was one element in the story which kept me from my customary bitterness. The element was quality. Quality shone on every page. It shone in the dialogue and in the scene set-ups. And because of this, the story seemed fresh and new and powerful."
"The Twilight Zone": A Classic of TV History
The show, of course went on to become a classic. It tackled a wide array of topics, such as nuclear war, racial intolerance, political terror, the savagery of war, corruption, plus a wide variety of social topics. The intolerance of "outsiders", the increasing mechanization of society, were just a sampling of scenarios that came under the microscope of TV drama. The show went on for five seasons and 157 episodes, 91 of which were written by Rod Serling himself. It had performances by some fo the finest actors of its and future days: Burgess Meredith, Robert Redford, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Agnes Moorehead, Joan Blondell, Mariette Hartley, Elizabeth Montogomery, and two future Star
Everyone has favorite episodes. Serling himself pointed out "Time Enough At Last" (Burgess Meredith as a bookworm who loses his glasses just when he has all the time he needs to read), and "The Invaders" (Agnes Moorehead as an old woman who finds herself beset by small invaders) as being two of his favorites. One of mine is the one where a town gathered to witness a hanging finds itself cloaked in darkness, and Ivan Dixon as the preacher steps forward to tell them the darkness is caused by all of their hate. Billy Mummy as the kid who get's all of his wishes fulfilled ("You're a BAD MAN! You're a VERY BAD man!!").
Do YOU have a favorite episode of "The Twilight Zone"?
Please write in to me at: email@example.com and tell me about it... if you don't recall the name of the episode, or who was in it just describe it as best you can remember it. I will certainly publish any answers I receive right here!! Tell us all your favorite trip into "The Zone"!
"Serling - the Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man," by Gordon F. Sander, Penguin Group, New York, 1992.