The Twilight Zone is an American television anthology series created by Rod Serling. It is a series of unrelated stories containing drama, psychological thriller, fantasy, science fiction, suspense, and/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, X Minus One, and the radio work of Serling’s hero, dramatist Norman Corwin.
The success of the series led to a feature film, a radio series, a comic book, a magazine, and various other spin-offs that spanned five decades, including two “revival” television series. The first ran onCBS and in syndication in the 1980s, the second ran on UPN from 2002 to 2003. In 2013 TV Guide ranked it #4 in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.
The series was produced by Cayuga Productions, Inc. a production company owned and named by Serling. It reflects his background in Central New York State and is named after Cayuga Lake, on which Cornell University is located.
Aside from Serling, who wrote or adapted nearly two-thirds of the series’ total episodes, writers for The Twilight Zone included leading authors such as Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, Earl Hamner, Jr., George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Reginald Rose, and Jerry Sohl. Many episodes also featured new adaptations of classic stories by such writers as Ambrose Bierce, Jerome Bixby, Damon Knight, John Collier, and Lewis Padgett.
Twilight Zone’s writers frequently used science fiction as a vehicle for social comment, as networks and sponsors who censored controversial material from live dramas were less concerned with seemingly innocuous fantasy and sci-fi stories. Frequent themes on The Twilight Zone included nuclear war, McCarthyism, and mass hysteria, subjects that were strictly forbidden on more “serious” primetime television. Episodes such as “He’s Alive” or “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” offered specific commentary on current events and social issues. Other stories, such as “The Masks”, “I Dream of Genie”, or “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” were allegories, parables, or fables that reflected the moral and philosophical choices of the characters.
Despite his esteem in the writing community, Serling found the series 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 while the characters remain oblivious to him, but on one notable occasion they are aware of his presence: In the episode “A World of His Own”, a writer (Keenan Wynn) with the power to alter his reality objects to Serling’s 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 format precluded location shooting, severely limiting the potential scope of the storylines, and the experiment was abandoned after just six episodes (“Twenty Two”, “Static”, “The Whole Truth”, “The Lateness of the Hour”, “The Night of the Meek”, and “Long Distance Call”).
The original series contains 156 episodes. Unlike seasons one through three, season four (1962–63) consists of one-hour episodes. Season five returned to the half-hour format.
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