Fifty years ago today, on another Friday evening in early October, a new half-hour television program had its debut on CBS at 10:00PM. It was called The Twilight Zone and was created, hosted and written (in large part) by one man: Rod Serling. Already famous for penning several award-winning television dramas, The Twilight Zone would make Serling a television icon, both for his work in front of and behind the camera. The distinct vocal inflection, the twist endings, the ever-present cigarette. Serling and The Twilight Zone are forever intertwined.
The premiere episode was titled “Where is Everybody?” and starred Earl Holliman as a man who awakens to find himself alone in an abandoned town. It was the first of 156 episodes, 92 of which were written by Serling. Following the 1961-1962 season (its third) The Twilight Zone was expanded to an hour and held until mid-season. It returned to its original length in the fall of 1963; the final first-run episode aired on June 19th, 1964.
I’m not going to even try to somehow connect The Twilight Zone to obscure television. There’s nothing remotely obscure about it. A feature film version was released in 1983, it’s been revived on television twice, and it continues to air regularly on television. It even has its own postage stamp. And the third Rod Serling Conference at Ithaca College, “Celebrating 50 Years of The Twilight Zone,” is being held this weekend.
My personal favorite episode is Season Three’s “The Midnight Sun” starring the late Lois Nettleton. I was fortunate enough to meet Ms. Nettleton at the 2006 Twilight Zone Convention and spoke briefly with her about the episode (I also got her autograph, one of the few I own). I’ve probably seen the episode seven or eight times. What’s your favorite episode?