“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, 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.”
With those words began a program which was it’s own unique piece of television. Not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, it wandered everywhere fiction wanders. And really, the fantasy was just a smokescreen for the things Rod Serling really wanted to say.
Censorship, mob mentality, civil rights, war…these were a few of the issues he raised in The Twilight Zone. Raised and dealt with in ways that would have been nearly impossible to get past television censors at the time. But “hidden” under the guise of fantasy he was able to voice his displeasure at various policies and ideologies without the television producers looking too closely. They just saw the robots (or ro-bits as they pronounce it on the show), the spaceships, the aliens, the strange and unknown. They didn’t bother looking any further into the stories themselves so Serling was (somewhat free) to choose the topics.
He fought hard to get it on the air, fought harder to maintain creative control and fought the show getting cancelled at least twice. By the fifth season he had given up but would reappear on television a few years later with Night Gallery. But we’re not here to talk about Night Gallery. Yet. Maybe later.
Some of the episodes were adapted from short stories, others were written by Serling and a cast of other writers, including Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Earl Hamner Jr. and many others.
I wasn’t old enough to watch it when it ran on television (heck, my parents were barely old enough to watch it). My first encounter with The Twilight Zone came when I bought a hardcover book called The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories. I had heard of The Twilight Zone of course but had never seen it. I hadn’t even watched the movie, I just liked the cover of the book. The first story was One for the Angels by the time I got to What You Need and Third from the Sun I was enthralled. To Serve Man ensured that I was hooked for life.
Back in the pre-streaming days of the dark ages (aka the 90’s) we didn’t have cable so I didn’t end up watching it until the advent of Netflix. I was a little afraid to watch it, afraid that it wouldn’t live up to the stories in the book. But I was wrong…they were better.
Serling’s narration adds so much to the show. His very clipped, unique voice would tell you right away what kind of show you were in for. I read that he almost didn’t do the narration and I sincerely believe that the show would have lost a lot of it’s charm and staying power if he hadn’t. He could put so much emotion and wryness in a sentence that it makes you pay closer attention. Also, in the language of the times, he’s very easy on the eyes. But that’s just my opinion.
For Twilight Zone Tuesdays I’ll be doing recaps of the episodes along with my thoughts on them and some trivia thrown in here and there. I wanted to do this because so many of the lessons and issues raised in the episodes are still so applicable today.
I’ve heard it called “cliché” and trite. Even “smarmy” (by Stephen King in Danse Macabre) but for the few here and there that might be overly sweet there are plenty of others that hit close to the bone with razor sharp precision.
It’s also noteworthy that every revival of The Twilight Zone since has failed after just a season or two. Without the crisp writing, excellent acting and Rod Serling it’s not surprising they didn’t have the staying power that The Twilight Zone should have had. I say should because it only ran 5 seasons but that was mostly due to the studio executives finally waking up
In a last interview with Linda Brevelle in the 1976 Writer’s Yearbook he’s quoted as saying:
“When I look back over thirty years of professional writing, I’m hard pressed to come up with anything that’s important. Some things are literate, some things are interesting, some things are classy, but very damn little that’s important.” *
– Rod Serling
I would have to disagree with you, Rod. Strongly. You had a lot to say and you said it well. I hope you guys agree with me and enjoy our journey through the uncharted, vast territory of The Twilight Zone.
*Excerpt from Rod Serling’s Final Interview. You can read the whole thing here –