You are about to enter a dimension of pure imagination, belonging to Hollywood’s last angry young man. Inspired by pulp comics and sci-fi radio programs, it is Rod Serling.
Having battled TV executives over censorship and commercialism, Rod Serling ushered in a defining series to science fiction television. Each of the original Twilight Zone episodes delivered a sermon or morality through clenched teeth, a unique view into another reality.
It was The Twilight Zone, a noir anthology of fantasy and horror that spanned 5 decades with 2 movies and 3 revivals.
Vast as Space and Timeless as Infinity
Rod Serling had a successful television career by the late 50s but wanted to delve into more controversial subjects. Viewing writing as a form of therapy, he found a realm of freedom within the science fiction genre. Able to make social commentaries with more ease and spotlight the horrors of modern reality. Most episodes of The Twilight Zone offered everyday characters in surreal circumstances. Turning desperate when faced with their deepest fears and implacable fates befalling innocent and guilty alike. Portrayed by beloved actors, the series featured performances from veterans like Buster Keaton and Burgess Meredith. Also young up-and-comers like William Shatner, Dennis Hopper, and Robert Redford.
Beyond That Which is Known to Man
Even though The Twilight Zone was primarily science fiction, many episodes served up paranormal elements. Existential beliefs of an indifferent universe would overlap with the horror genre. The most prominent trope throughout the series was that of adult fears. A product of the time, episodes echoed post-war trauma and nuclear anxiety. On the fantastical end of the spectrum, tropes of alien invasion, time travel, and existential cosmic horror were repeated. On the more realistic side, are the hard truth Aesops that took a swing at modern society. Challenging systemic prejudices and anti-war sentiments with post apocalyptic tropes like after the end and earth all along.
The Original Twilight Zone: Contributions to Genre
Though Rod Serling would write on 92 of the 156 episodes of original Twilight Zone episodes, he would also bring other science fiction authors to the screen.
Ray Bradbury’s short story “I Sing the Body Electric” was adapted for the 100th episode. His works would also influence the episodes “Walking Distance” and the pilot, “The Silent Towns”.
Richard Matheson, best known as the author of I Am Legend, would contribute 16 episodes. Charles Beaumont would be credited with 22 episodes, most notably, “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You”. Jerry Sohl would ghostwrite “The New Exhibit”, “Queen of the Nile” and “Living Doll” for Beaumont, later writing for The Outer Limits, and Star Trek.
These prominent pulp roots would shape the weaving lines of science fiction and horror for television. They are reminding the audience to look beyond the screen and into themselves for the true thrills of horror… within our own personal Twilight Zone of everyday life.