“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.“
Opening narration by Rod Serling to The Twilight Zone in its first season
The Twilight Zone is celebrating its 60th anniversary and is still regarded as one of the most influential sci-fi and fantasy TV series of all time. Its combination of surreal sci-fi and fantasy storytelling and eerie plots has made its many classic episodes quite memorable for genre fans of all types. Hosted and created by the late Rod Serling, his matter-of-fact introductions led viewers to witness many memorable stories that ranged from a gremlin trying to sabotage a passenger jet seen only by one hapless man ( played brilliantly by William Shatner) in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, to a bookworm (Burgess Meredith) who shuns society and yearns for solitude, and gets his wish after a nuclear war only to meet a cruel fate in “Time Enough At Last”.
The pilot episode “Where is Everybody?” started things off 60 years ago this month with an Air Force pilot in a seemingly abandoned town, who slowly succumbs to paranoia, as things are not what they seem. The plot twist at the end of “Where Is Everybody?” would set the tone for the whole series. Countless episodes had twist endings and examples of being careful what you wish for, as well as bizarre otherworldly happenings. Notable examples include: a woman chased by her double during a solitary road trip in “Mirror Image”, “The Howling Man”, which has a man chasing the Devil across the world using the staff of truth to keep him locked up in, a woman going to the top floor of a department store with creepy mannequins in “After Hours” or even seemingly benign aliens giving humans solution to world problems until their true sinister agenda is revealed in “To Serve Man”. These are just the tip of the iceberg with The Twilight Zone.
All of these many great moments have cemented the status of The Twilight Zone and led to many other anthology shows in its wake. Serling himself had a follow-up series Night Gallery starting in 1969 that was horror focused and not as well remembered. There have been two revivals in the 1980s (a film co-directed by Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante and George Miller, and a TV show on CBS), a TV film in the 1990s based on Serling’s unused stories, a 2002 revival on the defunct UPN network, and one streaming right now on CBS All Access. Even shows like Amazing Stories, which was more fantasy based, and Tales From The Crypt can all trace their origins back to The Twilight Zone, which had all kinds of genres in its pallet.
The fact that it debuted in 1959 is also quite interesting since there was nothing like it on TV at that time. Unlike today with sci-fi being a huge industry, the era in which it came about was pre-Star Wars and Star Trek. Nevertheless, the show captivated audiences and even today it still holds up with its timeless stories and issues that it tackled. “Eye of the Beholder” dealt with body image and conforming to society’s standards of beauty and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” showed how fear of an outside force can destroy a town. The fact that The Twilight Zone was a genre-based show allowed it to talk about issues such as these in an allegorical setting whereas a more realistic show could not, especially in the the late 1950s and early 60’s. It was one of the reasons why Serling created the show. He wanted to avoid censorship issues when crafting his imaginative and thought-provoking stories. This again, paved the way for later shows like Star Trek to do the same thing with its many takes on issues like civil rights and racism masked in the sci-fi setting of starships and aliens.
The Twilight Zone still gets accolades and is always included in listings of the top TV series of all time. TV Guide ranked it at #5 in their list of 60 greatest shows of all time in 2013 and in 2016 Rolling Stone ranked it at #7 for 100 greatest shows of all time. The Twilight Zone’s impact on pop culture also expands to other areas as well with a theme park ride in Disney’s Hollywood Studios park and numerous spoofs on The Simpsons. All of this for a show that was on the air when there were only three networks on TV and decades before the proliferation of science fiction, horror and fantasy in movies and television.
The power of these stories is still going strong after more than half a century and should continue to excite fans who have seen them countless times and gain new fans who will no doubt be drawn in by the iconic theme music that is still creepy to listen to even today, as well as Rod Serling’s famous words “Submitted for your approval…”
*The intro shown below for The Twilight Zone is based on its first season. It’s not as famous as the iconic theme we all know of, but IMO is much eerier and more effective.