Playwright Rod Serling, who in the mid-1950s had been a prolific contributor of fine dramas for almost all of the prestigious live anthology series (his most famous being “Requiem for a Heavyweight” for Playhouse 90), turned to the world of science fiction with this series. In addition to serving as series host, he wrote many of the teleplays that were presented on ‘The Twilight Zone’. The stories were unusual and offbeat, often with ironic twists. For example, there was ‘Escape Clause’, starring David Wayne as a hypochondriac who, in an effort to escape his dependence on pills and fear of his environment, made a pact with the Devil. In exchange for his soul he won immortality. Filled with self-assurance, he killed his intolerable shrew of a wife (expecting to be sentenced to die and knowing that was now impossible). Instead of the death penalty he got life imprisonment – an awfully long time for someone who was immortal. Another episode, ‘Time Enough at Last’, starred Burgess Meredith as a bank teller who could never find enough time to read. One day at lunchtime, while he was squirreled away in the bank’s vault reading a good book, there was a nuclear attack that killed everybody outside. Now he had all the time in the world to read - a happy ending – until he tripped and broke his glasses. In ‘The Eye of the Beholder’, a young woman who had been born with a horrible facial deformity had just undergone the last possible operation to try and make her less hideous. Her head was swathed in bandages and all the doctors and nurses were dimly seen standing in the shadows around her bed. Then the bandages were finally removed and there she was, beautiful – at least to us. Only then were the faces of the doctors and nurses revealed to be grotesque, for she lived in a world where our beauty was considered a horrible deformity. At the end of the telecast she was led away to her society’s equivalent of a leper colony.
Some well-known actors appeared on the show but it was the stories rather than the performers that made the show work. Serling’s original opening narration to the show set the scene appropriately. The opening: “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 we call The Twilight Zone”.
After three successful seasons in a half-hour format, ‘The TwilightZone’ expanded to a full hour in January 1963. The longer format was abandoned the following fall, but some of the longer episodes were re-run during the summer of 1965.
In the fall of 1985, following the release of a 1983 theatrical feature of the same title, ‘The Twilight Zone’ returned to TV. It had been two decades since the original had left the air and a decade since the passing of its driving creative force, Rod Serling. The new version ran in an hour-long format, with two of three stories of varying length in each episode. It still had the same mix of straight science fiction, whimsy, fantasy and the occult, but it was definitely a different show. It was now in color, the special effects were more elaborate and although some of the original episodes were redone, most of the stories were new. The new theme music was by none other than The Grateful Dead. There was a minor furor when, late in 1985, science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, who had been serving as creative consultant, left the series in a dispute with the network over the content of the Christmas episode.
When the new color version of ‘The Twilight Zone’ went into syndication in the fall of 1987, as a half-hour series, thirty first-run episodes were added to the ones that had aired on CBS. Robin Ward replaced Charles Aidman as the off-camera narrator of the syndicated episodes.
UPN revived ‘The Twilight Zone’ in the fall of 2002, with actor / director / producer Forest Whitaker serving as host. Each hour-long telecast featured two self-contained stories.
Rod Serling invited any viewers to submit a script. He was flooded with over 14,000 scripts, and he actually got around to reading 500 of them. But only two were any good, and he couldn't use them because they didn't fit the format of the show.
Rod Serling thought he had come up with the term "Twilight Zone" on his own (he liked the sound of it), but after the show aired he found out that it is an actual term used by Air Force pilots when crossing the day / night sides above the world.
Narrator: You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.