|The Twilight Zone|
The Twilight Zone logo (1959 version)
|Created by||Rod Serling|
|Presented by||Rod Serling|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||156|
|Cinematography||George T. Clemens|
|Running time||25 min. (seasons 1-3, 5)|
51 min. (season 4)
|Production||Cayuga Productions, Inc.|
|Distributor||CBS Television Distribution|
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)|
|Original release||October 2, 1959 -|
June 19, 1964
The Twilight Zone (marketed as Twilight Zone for its final two seasons) is an American anthology television series created and presented by Rod Serling, which ran for five seasons on CBS from 1959 to 1964. Each episode presents a stand-alone story in which characters find themselves dealing with often disturbing or unusual events, an experience described as entering "the Twilight Zone," often with a surprise ending and a moral. Although predominantly science-fiction, the show's paranormal and Kafkaesque events leaned the show towards fantasy and horror. The phrase "twilight zone," inspired by the series, is used to describe surreal experiences.
The series featured both established stars and younger actors who would become much better known later. Serling served as executive producer and head writer; he wrote or co-wrote 92 of the show's 156 episodes. He was also the show's host and narrator, delivering monologues at the beginning and end of each episode. Serling's opening and closing narrations usually summarize the episode's events encapsulating how and why the main character(s) had entered the Twilight Zone.
In 1997, the episodes "To Serve Man" (directed by Richard L. Bare) and "It's a Good Life" (directed by James Sheldon) were respectively ranked at 11 and 31 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. Serling himself stated that his favorite episodes of the series were "The Invaders" (directed by Douglas Heyes) and "Time Enough at Last" (directed by John Brahm).
In 2016, the series was ranked No. 7 on Rolling Stones list of the 100 greatest shows of all time. In 2002, The Twilight Zone was ranked No. 26 on TV Guides 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. In 2004, it was ranked No. 8 on TV Guide's Top Cult Shows Ever, moving to #9 three years later. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it as the third best-written TV series ever and TV Guide ranked it as the fourth greatest drama, the second greatest sci-fi show and the fifth greatest show of all time.
By the late 1950s, Rod Serling was a prominent name in American television. His successful television plays included Patterns (for Kraft Television Theater) and Requiem for a Heavyweight (for Playhouse 90), but constant changes and edits made by the networks and sponsors frustrated Serling. In Requiem for a Heavyweight, the line "Got a match?" had to be struck because the sponsor sold lighters; other programs had similar striking of words that might remind viewers of competitors to the sponsor, including one case in which the sponsor, Ford Motor Company, had the Chrysler Building removed from a picture of the New York City skyline.
According to comments in his 1957 anthology Patterns, Serling had been trying to delve into material more controversial than his works of the early 1950s. This led to Noon on Doomsday for the United States Steel Hour in 1956, a commentary by Serling on the defensiveness and total lack of repentance he saw in the Mississippi town where the murder of Emmett Till took place. His original script closely paralleled the Till case, then was moved out of the South and the victim changed to a Jewish pawnbroker, and eventually watered down to just a foreigner in an unnamed town. Despite bad reviews, activists sent numerous letters and wires protesting the production.
Serling thought that a science-fictional setting, with robots, aliens and other supernatural occurrences, would give him more freedom and less interference in expressing controversial ideas than more realistic settings. "The Time Element" was Serling's 1957 pilot pitch for his show, a time travel adventure about a man who travels back to Honolulu in 1941 and unsuccessfully tries to warn everyone about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor. The script, however, was rejected and shelved for a year until Bert Granet discovered and produced it as an episode of Desilu Playhouse in 1958. The show was a great success and enabled Serling to finally begin production on his anthology series, The Twilight Zone. Serling's editorial sense of ironic fate in the writing done for the series was identified as significant to its success by the BFI Film Classics library which stated that for Serling "the cruel indifference and implacability of fate and the irony of poetic justice" were recurrent themes in his plots.
|First aired||Last aired|
|Concept||November 24, 1958|
|1||36||October 2, 1959||July 1, 1960|
|2||29||September 30, 1960||June 2, 1961|
|3||37||September 15, 1961||June 1, 1962|
|4||18||January 3, 1963||May 23, 1963|
|5||36||September 27, 1963||June 19, 1964|
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.-- Rod Serling
The Twilight Zone premiered the night of October 2, 1959, to rave reviews. "Twilight Zone is about the only show on the air that I actually look forward to seeing. It's the one series that I will let interfere with other plans", said Terry Turner for the Chicago Daily News. Others agreed. Daily Variety ranked it with "the best that has ever been accomplished in half-hour filmed television" and the New York Herald Tribune found the show to be "certainly the best and most original anthology series of the year".
Even as the show proved popular to television's critics, it struggled to find a receptive audience of television viewers. CBS was banking on a rating of at least 21 or 22, but its initial numbers were much worse. The series' future was jeopardized when its third episode, "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" earned a 16.3 rating. Still, the show attracted a large enough audience to survive a brief hiatus in November, after which it finally surpassed its competition on ABC and NBC and convinced its sponsors (General Foods and Kimberly-Clark) to stay on until the end of the season.
With one exception ("The Chaser"), the first season featured scripts written only by Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont or Richard Matheson. These three were responsible for 127 of the 156 episodes in the series. Additionally, with one exception ("A World of His Own"), Serling never appeared on camera during any first-season episode (as he would in future seasons), and was present only as a voice-over narrator. Serling did appear on screen in Twilight Zone promotional spots plugging the following week's episode - just not in the episodes themselves. These promo spots were unseen for several decades after their initial airings; while many have been released in the DVD and Blu-ray releases of The Twilight Zone, a few are lost completely and some survive only as audio tracks. Most are available through CBS All Access when watching the full episodes.
Many of the season's episodes proved to be among the series' most celebrated, including "Time Enough at Last," "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," "Walking Distance," and "The After Hours." The first season won Serling an unprecedented fourth Emmy Award for dramatic writing, a Producers Guild Award for Serling's creative partner Buck Houghton, a Directors Guild Award for John Brahm and the Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation.
Bernard Herrmann's original opening theme music lasted throughout the first season. For the final four episodes of the season, the show's original surrealist "pit and summit" opening montage and narration was replaced by a piece featuring a blinking eye and shorter narration, and a truncated version of Herrmann's theme.
Some first-season episodes were available for decades only in a version with a pasted-on second-season opening. These "re-themed" episodes were prepared for airing in the summer of 1961 as summer repeats; the producers wanted to have a consistent opening for the show every week. During the original 1959/60 run, Herrmann's theme was used in every first-season episode. The first season openings for these episodes have since been restored to recent DVD and Blu-ray reissues.
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.-- Rod Serling
The second season premiered on September 30, 1960 with "King Nine Will Not Return," Serling's fresh take on the pilot episode "Where Is Everybody?" The familiarity of this first story stood in stark contrast to the novelty of the show's new packaging: Bernard Herrmann's stately original theme was replaced by Marius Constant's more jarring and dissonant (and now more-familiar) new guitar-and-bongo theme. The blinking eye was replaced by a more surreal introduction inspired by the new images in Serling's narration (such as "That's the signpost up ahead"), and Serling himself stepped in front of the cameras to present his opening narration, rather than being only a voice-over narrator (as in the first season).
A new sponsor, Colgate-Palmolive, replaced the previous year's Kimberly-Clark (as Liggett & Myers would succeed General Foods, in April 1961), and a new network executive, James Aubrey, took over CBS. "Jim Aubrey was a very, very difficult problem for the show," said associate producer Del Reisman. "He was particularly tough on The Twilight Zone because for its time it was a particularly costly half-hour show... Aubrey was real tough on [the show's budget] even when it was a small number of dollars." In a push to keep the show's expenses down, Aubrey ordered that seven fewer episodes be produced than last season and that six of those being produced would be shot on videotape rather than film, a move Serling disliked, calling it "neither fish nor fowl." Two additional episodes filmed in the second season ("The Grave" and "Nothing in the Dark") were held over to the third season.
Season two saw the production of many of the series' most acclaimed episodes, including "Eye of the Beholder," "Nick of Time," "The Invaders," and "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?." The trio of Serling, Matheson and Beaumont began to admit new writers, and this season saw the television debut of George Clayton Johnson. Emmys were won by Serling (his fifth) for dramatic writing and by director of photography George T. Clemens and, for the second year in a row, the series won the Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation. It also earned the Unity Award for "Outstanding Contributions to Better Race Relations" and an Emmy nomination for "Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama."
Five weeks into season two, the show's budget was showing a deficit. The total number of new episodes was projected at twenty-nine, more than half of which, sixteen, had already been filmed by November 1960. As a cost-cutting measure, six episodes (The Lateness of The Hour, The Night of The Meek, The Whole Truth, Twenty-Two, Static, and Long Distance Call) were produced in the cheaper videotape format, which also required fewer camera movements. In addition, videotape was a relatively primitive medium in the early 1960s; the editing of tape was next to impossible. Each of the episodes was therefore "camera-cut" as in live TV--on a studio sound stage, using a total of four cameras. The requisite multi-camera setup of the videotape experiment made location shooting difficult, severely limiting the potential scope of the story-lines. Even with those artistic sacrifices, the eventual savings amounted to only $6,000 per episode, far less than the cost of a single episode. The experiment was not attempted again. Kinescope versions of the video taped episodes were rerun in syndication.
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. Your next stop...the Twilight Zone.-- Rod Serling
In his third year as executive producer, host, narrator and primary writer for The Twilight Zone, Serling was beginning to feel exhausted. "I've never felt quite so drained of ideas as I do at this moment," said the 37-year-old playwright at the time. In the first two seasons he contributed 48 scripts, or 73% of the show's total output; he contributed 56% of this season's output. "The show now seems to be feeding off itself", said a Variety reviewer of the season's episode two. Sponsors for this season included Chesterfield, Bufferin tablets, and Pepsi-Cola.
Despite his avowed weariness, Serling again managed to produce several teleplays that are widely regarded as classics, including "It's a Good Life", "To Serve Man", "Little Girl Lost" and "Five Characters in Search of an Exit". Scripts by Montgomery Pittman and Earl Hamner, Jr. supplemented Matheson and Beaumont's output, and George Clayton Johnson submitted three teleplays that examined complex themes. The episode "I Sing the Body Electric" was contributed by sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury. By the end of the season, the series had reached over 100 episodes.
The Twilight Zone received two Emmy nominations (for cinematography and art design), but was awarded neither. It again received the Hugo Award for "Best Dramatic Presentation", making it the only three-time recipient until it was tied by Doctor Who in 2008.
In spring 1962, The Twilight Zone was late in finding a sponsor for its fourth season and was replaced on CBS's fall schedule with a new hour-long situation comedy called Fair Exchange. In the confusion that followed this apparent cancellation, producer Buck Houghton left the series for a position at Four Star Productions. Serling meanwhile accepted a teaching post at Antioch College, his alma mater. Though the series was eventually renewed, Serling's contribution as executive producer decreased in its final seasons.
You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.-- Rod Serling
In November 1962, CBS contracted Twilight Zone (now sans The) as a mid-season January replacement for Fair Exchange, the very show that replaced it in the September 1962 schedule. In order to fill the Fair Exchange time slot, each episode had to be expanded to an hour, an idea which did not sit well with Serling, nor the production crew. "Ours is the perfect half-hour show... If we went to an hour, we'd have to fleshen our stories, soap opera style. Viewers could watch fifteen minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse," Serling responded. Herbert Hirschman was hired to replace long-time producer Buck Houghton. One of Hirschman's first decisions was to direct a new opening sequence, this one illustrating a door, eye, window and other objects suspended in space. His second task was to find and produce quality scripts. Sponsors included Johnson & Johnson.
This season of Twilight Zone once again turned to the reliable trio of Serling, Matheson and Beaumont. However, Serling's input was limited this season; he still provided the lion's share of the teleplays, but as executive producer he was virtually absent and as host, his artful narrations had to be shot back-to-back against a gray background during his infrequent trips to Los Angeles. Due to complications from a developing brain disease, Beaumont's input also began to diminish significantly. Additional scripts were commissioned from Earl Hamner, Jr. and Reginald Rose to fill in the gap.
With five episodes left in the season, Hirschman received an offer to work on a new NBC series called Espionage and was replaced by Bert Granet, who had previously produced "The Time Element". Among Granet's first assignments was "On Thursday We Leave for Home," which Serling considered the season's most effective episode. There was an Emmy nomination for cinematography, and a nomination for the Hugo Award.
Serling later claimed, "I was writing so much, I felt I had begun to lose my perspective on what was good and what was bad". By the end of this final season, he had contributed 92 scripts in five years. This season, the new alternate sponsors were American Tobacco and Procter & Gamble. The show returned to its half-hour format.
Beaumont was now out of the picture almost entirely, contributing scripts only through the ghostwriters Jerry Sohl and John Tomerlin, and after producing only 13 episodes, Bert Granet left and was replaced by William Froug--with whom Serling had worked on Playhouse 90.
Froug made a number of unpopular decisions; first by shelving several scripts purchased under Granet's term (including Matheson's "The Doll," which was nominated for a Writer's Guild Award when finally produced in 1986 on Amazing Stories); secondly, Froug alienated George Clayton Johnson when he hired Richard deRoy to completely rewrite Johnson's teleplay Tick of Time, eventually produced as "Ninety Years Without Slumbering." "It makes the plot trivial," complained Johnson of the resulting script, insisting he be given screen credit for the final version of the episode as "Johnson Smith." Tick of Time became Johnson's final submission to The Twilight Zone.
Even under these conditions, several episodes were produced that are well remembered, including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," "A Kind of a Stopwatch", "The Masks" and "Living Doll." Although this season received no Emmy recognition, episode number 142, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"--a 1962 French-produced short film which was modified slightly for broadcast--received the Academy Award for best short film in 1963.
In late January 1964, CBS announced the show's cancellation. "For one reason or other, Jim Aubrey decided he was sick of the show... [H]e claimed that it was too far over budget and that the ratings weren't good enough", explained Froug. But Serling countered by telling the Daily Variety that he had "decided to cancel the network". ABC showed interest in bringing the show over to their network under the new name Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves, but Serling was not impressed. "The network executives seem to prefer weekly ghouls, and we have what appears to be a considerable difference in opinion. I don't mind my show being supernatural, but I don't want to be booked into a graveyard every week." Shortly afterwards Serling sold his 40% share in The Twilight Zone to CBS, leaving the show and all projects involving the supernatural behind him until 1969, when Night Gallery debuted.
Being an anthology series with no recurring characters, The Twilight Zone features a wide array of guest stars for each episode, some of whom appeared in multiple episodes. Many episodes feature early performances from actors who later became famous, such as Theodore Bikel, Bill Bixby, Lloyd Bochner, Morgan Brittany, Charles Bronson, Carol Burnett, Donna Douglas, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Constance Ford, Joan Hackett, Dennis Hopper, Ron Howard, Jim Hutton, Jack Klugman, Martin Landau, Cloris Leachman, Jean Marsh, Elizabeth Montgomery, Billy Mumy, Julie Newmar, Barbara Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Janice Rule, William Shatner, Dean Stockwell, George Takei, Joyce Van Patten, Jack Warden, Jonathan Winters, and Dick York. Other episodes feature performances by actors later in their careers, such as Dana Andrews, Joan Blondell, Ann Blyth, Art Carney, Jack Carson, Gladys Cooper, William Demarest, Andy Devine, Cedric Hardwicke, Josephine Hutchinson, Buster Keaton, Ida Lupino, Kevin McCarthy, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Alan Napier, Franchot Tone, Mickey Rooney, and Ed Wynn.
Character actors who appeared (some more than once) include John Anderson, John Dehner, Betty Garde, Sandra Gould, Nancy Kulp, Celia Lovsky, Eve McVeagh, Nehemiah Persoff, Albert Salmi, Vito Scotti, Olan Soule, Harold J. Stone, and Estelle Winwood. The actor who appears in the most episodes is Robert McCord.
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Besides Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith, other contributors to the music were Nathan Van Cleave, Leonard Rosenman, Fred Steiner, and Franz Waxman. The first season featured an orchestral title theme by Herrmann, who also wrote original scores for seven of the episodes, including the premiere, "Where Is Everybody?". The guitar theme most associated with the show was written by the French avant-garde composer Marius Constant as part of a series of short cues commissioned by CBS as "work made for hire" library music for the series. The guitar player was Howard Roberts. Used from season two onward, the theme as aired was a splicing together of two of these library cues: "Etrange 3 (Strange No. 3)" and "Milieu 2 (Middle No. 2)". Varèse Sarabande released several albums of music from the series, focusing on the episodes that received original scores.
Many of the above were included on a four-disc set released by Silva America. Varese also released a two-disc set of re-recordings of Herrmann's seven scores for the series ("Where Is Everybody?", "Walking Distance", "The Lonely", "Eye of the Beholder", "Little Girl Lost", "Living Doll", and "Ninety Years Without Slumbering"), conducted by Joel McNeely. Alongside this release, Bernard Herrmann's score for the episode "Walking Distance" received another re-recording accompanying a new recording of his score for François Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451" performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, conducted by William T. Stromberg and released by Tribute Film Classics.
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|1 (1959-1960)||Friday at 10:00-10:30 pm E.T.|
|4 (1963)||Thursday at 9:00-10:00 pm E.T.|
|5 (1963-1964)||Friday at 9:30-10:00 pm E.T.|
|1960||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama||Rod Serling||Won|
|1961||Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama||Nominated|
|Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama||Rod Serling||Won|
|1962||Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama||Rod Serling||Nominated|
|1963||Golden Globe Awards||Best TV Producer/Director||Rod Serling||Won|
Most episodes continue to be broadcast in syndication. After the cancellation of the series, Serling sold his rights to CBS, unaware of what the future would hold in syndication, and the royalties he would have gained.
Episodes are broadcast nationally on the Syfy channel in the United States. They are regularly shown in late-night slots, and in marathons aired typically every year on New Year's Eve and Day and the Fourth of July. Syfy broadcasts are often re-cut to feature more commercials during the time slot, in order to meet the 22 or 44-minute maximum episode runtime.
Originally, there were five episodes not included in the syndication package. Three of those ("Sounds and Silences," "Miniature," and "A Short Drink From a Certain Fountain") were involved in copyright infringement lawsuits. The other two, which have never been in syndication (both from season five), are "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (a French short film, aired twice per agreement with the filmmakers) and "The Encounter" (which was pulled after its initial showing, due to the racial overtones). Though "The Encounter" has since aired on Syfy for the first time in 2016.
The Twilight Zone was released on Region 1 DVD for the first time by Image Entertainment. All of the releases feature uncut episodes. The season releases (The Definitive Collection and Blu-rays) also include the radio dramas and the "Next Week" promos (some of the promos on the season DVDs are audio only). The various releases include:
Note: all of the Blu-ray releases are Region A
The 1958 Desilu Playhouse episode, "The Time Element," considered to be a "first" pilot for The Twilight Zone (see above) is included as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray release (with Season 1), but not on any of the earlier DVD releases.
Fremantle Media released a box set for each season of The Twilight Zone on both DVD and Blu-ray over 2011 and early 2012. These sets received high praise and won an award from The Guardian for Best Special Features of 2011. These Blu-rays and DVDs are multi-region and so can be played around the world.
In 2002, producer Carl Amari licensed the rights to turn the TV series into a weekly radio drama series from CBS Enterprises and the Rod Serling Estate. The series features Stacy Keach in Rod Serling's role as narrator and each 40-minute audio drama includes a Hollywood celebrity in the starring role. Some of the stars include Jim Caviezel, Blair Underwood, Jason Alexander, Jane Seymour, Lou Diamond Phillips, Luke Perry, Michael York, Sean Astin, and Ernie Hudson. The episodes air nationally on hundreds of radio stations and Sirius/XM, and are available for download.
The series has seen three revivals:
In particular, "The Comedian" feels like an entry from TZ's fourth season, when network executives pressured series creator Rod Serling into stretching the show into a 60-minute timeslot against his wishes.