50 Years of The Twilight Zone

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?

4 Comments

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    “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 place is here- and the time is now. And the journey into the shadows that we’re about to watch…could be OUR journey.”
    - Serling’s opening narration from “Where Is Everybody?”

    The first episode was sponsored by General Foods [Sanka Coffee], with an “alternate sponsor’s” message for Kimberly-Clark’s “Kleenex”. By the end of the season, though, K-C was dissatisfied with the series enough to cancel their sponsorship…which Colgate-Palmolive quickly filled. On a whole, “THE TWILIGHT ZONE” wasn’t a “Top 10″ show, but it attracted enough viewers (including its earliest “cult”/fan base) for CBS to keep it on for at least three seasons {as one of their “prestiege” series, usually pairing it on Fridays with “PERSON TO PERSON” and, from 1960 through ’62, CBS News’ “EYEWITNESS”} before temporarily “shelving” it in 1962 due to their being unable to find a new “primary sponsor” for the following season.

    As for myself, I have several favorites, but the top of them all is “Walking Distance”, which was Serling at his best [hint: "Homewood" was actually "Binghamton, New York", HIS boyhood town].

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    ‘RGJ’, I envy you for having met Lois Nettleton in person. She was a very gracious and beautiful woman, and you DESERVED her autograph. She probably had more people praise and compliment her for her role in “The Midnight Sun” than anything else she did in her entire acting career…

  • Chuck Collins says:

    My favorite episode is “Night Of The Meek.” I enjoy both versions. It’s an outstanding touching fantasy story. It actually has a rare happy ending for an episode of The Twilight Zone.

    If you think about it, this whole show was nothing but one downer after another. It wasn’t too often that things turned out okay or positively. Most tragic of all was “Time Enough At Last.”

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Not necessarily, Chuck. I distinctly remember “happy endings” in “Mr. Denton On Doomsday”, “What You Need”, “A Passage For Trumpet”, “Mr. Bevis”, “A World Of His Own”, “The Trouble With Templeton”, “Night Of the Meek”, “Dust”, “The Whole Truth”, “A Penny For Your Thoughts”, “The Prime Mover”, “Long Distance Call”, “Static”, “The Mind and the Matter”….and several others. Although the circumstances may not have been exactly what the protagonists expected, things DID end on a positive note in those stories.

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