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The Twilight Zone is an Americamarker anthology television series created by Rod Serling, which ran for five seasons on CBS from 1959 to 1964 and remains syndicated to this day. The show consisted of unrelated vignettes depicting paranormal, futuristic, dystopian, or simply disturbing events, usually brought to closure with some sort of moral. Rod Serling served as executive producer and head writer, having written 92 of the show's 156 episodes. He was also the show's host, delivering on-or-off-screen monologues at the beginning and end of each episode. During the first season, except for the season's final episode, Serling's narrations were off-camera voiceovers; he only appeared on-camera at the end of each show to promote the next episode (footage that was removed from syndicated versions but restored for DVD release, although some of these promotions exist today only in audio format).

The "twilight zone" itself is not presented as being a tangible plane, but rather a metaphor for the strange circumstances befalling the protagonists. Serling's opening and closing narrations usually summarized the episode's events in a cryptic, dramatized manner, thus demonstrating how the episode's main character had "entered the Twilight Zone."

Series history


By the late 1950s, Rod Serling was a regular name in television. His successful teleplays 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, who decided that creating his own show was the best way to get around these obstacles. He thought that behind a television series with robots, aliens and other supernatural occurrences, he could also express his political views in a more subtle fashion."The Time Element" was Serling's 1957 pilot pitch for his show, a time travel adventure about a man who travels back to Honolulumarker in 1941 and unsuccessfully tries to warn everyone about the impending attack on Pearl Harbormarker. 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 huge success and enabled Serling to finally begin production on his anthology series, The Twilight Zone.

Season 1 (1959-1960)

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, the Daily Variety ranking it with "the best that has ever been accomplished in half-hour filmed television" and the New York Herald Tribune finding it 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 an abysmal 16.3 rating. The show attracted a large enough audience to survive a brief hiatus in November, during 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 only scripts written by Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, a team that was eventually responsible for 127 of the show's 156 episodes. Additionally, with one exception ("A World of His Own"), Serling never appeared on camera except to announce the next episode, instead doing voice-over narrations. Many of the first 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 for dramatic writing, a Producers Guild Award for Serling's creative partner Buck Houghton and the Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation.

Season 2 (1960-1961)

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 original theme had been replaced by Marius Constant's guitar-and-bongo riff, the Daliesque landscapes of the original opening were replaced by an even more surreal introduction inspired by the new images in Serling's narration ("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 Twilight Zone'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.

The second season saw the production of many of the series' most acclaimed episodes, including "The Eye of the Beholder" and "The Invaders". 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".

Season 3 (1961-1962)

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 only 56% of the third season's. "The show now seems to be feeding off itself", said a Variety reviewer of the season's second episode, who couldn't understand Serling's endless and exhaustive treatment of themes, "Twilight Zone seems to be running dry of inspiration."

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", 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" could boast: "Written by Ray Bradbury." By the end of the third 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' 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 Collegemarker, his alma mater. Though the series was eventually renewed, Serling's contribution as executive producer decreased in its final seasons.

Season 4 (1963)

In November 1962 CBS contracted Twilight Zone (now sans the 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 Fair Exchange's timeslot each episode had to be expanded to an hour, an idea which did not sit well with the production crew. “Ours is the perfect half-hour show”, said Serling just a few years earlier. “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."

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 Magritte-like in space. His second task was to find and produce quality scripts.

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 Angelesmarker. 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. The show returned to its half-hour format for the fall schedule.

Season 5 (1963-1964)

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 Tobaccomarker and Procter & Gamble.

Beaumont was now out of the picture entirely, contributing scripts only through the ghostwriters Jerry Sohl and John Tomerlin, and after producing only thirteen 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 generally remembered, including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", "A Kind of a Stopwatch" and "Living Doll". Although this season received no Emmy recognition, episode number 142, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" — a French-produced short film — received the Academy Award for best short film, making Twilight Zone one of only two television series in history (the other being the Canadian news/documentary series, The Fifth Estate) to win both an Emmy and an Oscar.

In late January 1964, CBS announced Twilight Zone's cancellation. "For one reason or other, Jim Aubrey decided he was sick of the show", explained Froug. "He claimed that it was too far over budget and that the ratings weren't good enough." 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 wasn't 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 percent share in The Twilight Zone to CBS, leaving the show and indeed all projects involving the supernatural behind him until 1969 and the debut of Night Gallery.


Besides the legendary Bernard Herrmann, other contributors to the music were Jerry Goldsmith, 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 7 of the episodes including the premier "Where Is Everybody". The iconic atonal 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 library music for the series. 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)".

Guest stars

Being an anthology series, with no recurring characters, The Twilight Zone featured a wide array of guest stars for each episode. Among others, Jack Klugman, Martin Milner, Burgess Meredith, James Best, Cliff Robertson, Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, and William Shatner appeared in multiple episodes. Several episodes feature early career performances of actors who later became quite famous, such as Peter Falk, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, Carol Burnett, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York, Telly Savalas, Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds, and Charles Bronson. Other episodes feature late career performances by such stars as Franchot Tone, Dana Andrews, Mickey Rooney, Andy Devine, Agnes Moorehead, Cedric Hardwicke, Buster Keaton, Ida Lupino, Gladys Cooper, and Ed Wynn. Many talented character actors who made successful careers out of guest roles on television programs also were featured on the show, like Albert Salmi, Harold J. Stone, Vito Scotti, Nehemiah Persoff, Nancy Kulp and John Anderson.

Current availability

The Twilight Zone episodes continue to be broadcast in syndication, are available on DVD, and can be streamed online.

Syfy channel

Episodes are broadcast most weeknights on the SyFy in the United States. On every Fourth of July and New Year's Eve, SyFy airs a marathon of the The Twilight Zone.

DVD releases

The Twilight Zone was released on Region 1 DVD for the first time by Image Entertainment. The various releases include:

  • 43 volumes of 3 to 4 episodes each (released December 29, 1998 - June 12, 2001)
  • Five 9-disc Collection DVD sets (released December 3, 2002 - February 25, 2003)
  • Season sets: The Twilight Zone: The Definitive Collection (Seasons One through Five) (released December 28, 2004 - December 26, 2005)
  • The Twilight Zone: The Complete Definitive Collection (released October 3, 2006)

  • Treasures of The Twilight Zone (3 episode compilation released November 24, 1997)
  • More Treasures of The Twilight Zone (3 episode compilation released November 24, 1998)
  • The Twilight Zone: 40th Anniversary Gift Pack (19 episode compilation released September 21, 1999)

Limited set
  • The Twilight Zone: Gold Collection, a 49 disc set of the entire series, released by V3 Media on December 2, 2002. Only 2,500 sets were made.

Online distribution

Some episodes of The Twilight Zone can be seen free of charge on the official CBS website, but only in the US.

Effects On Popular Culture

In 1983, the Dutch rock group "Golden Earring" released a hit single called "Twilight Zone". It spent 15 weeks in the U.S. top 40, peaking at #10.

In 1993, Midway Games released a popular pinball machine based on the Twilight Zone.

In July 1994, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terrormarker, an accelerated free-fall ride, opened in Disney's Hollywood Studiosmarker park. A replica was built in the California Adventuremarker park in 2004. And one opened at Disneyland Paris in 2008.

In September 2009, Hallmark Cards Inc. released a holiday tree ornament commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Twilight Zone debut on CBS. The ornament features a 60's era television with the Twilight Zone 5th season opening elements on the screen. Upon pushing a button, the ornament plays the 5th season closing theme minus Rod Serling's voice over. The ornament is fully licensed by Hallmark and CBS-Paramount.


  • Sander, Gordon F. Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
  • Zicree, Marc Scott. The Twilight Zone Companion. Sillman-James Press, 1982 (second edition).
  • Stanyard, Stewart T. Dimensions Behind The Twilight Zone. ECW Press, [2007].
  • DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1593931360
  • Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0970331090

External links

See also

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