The Twilight Zone first debuted on CBS in October 2, 1959, and ended on June 19, 1964, with 156 episodes in all. Not every episode was a winner, and there were varying degrees of greatness for many Twilight Zone installments, but the show’s lasting impact after half a century is still remarkable.
The show is remembered for its many great elements: the strong moral lessons of the show, the skillful storytelling, the zappers at the end, the wonderful, moody cinematography, Rod Serling’s speeches that bookended every episode, and so much more. Today, let's go in depth into why we still love The Twilight Zone and which of those elements resonated strongest with us as truly effective storytelling.
Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling first got into the entertainment business writing for radio, breaking into television in the early fifties. Serling came into prominence for writing the drama “Patterns,” which aired on the Kraft Television Theater, and “Requiem For a Heavyweight,” which aired on Playhouse 90 and swept the Emmys. Serling came up in the golden age of television, when the medium featured incredible writers and directors like Paddy Chayefsky (Network), and John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate).
But soon television started appealing more and more to the lowest common denominator, earning the nickname “the idiot box.” Serling kept writing stories with a social conscience, but they were routinely shredded by the censors. He finally realized that sci-fi and fantasy could be the Trojan horse to get his messages through.
“Rod was forever getting into trouble because he wanted to call a spade a spade,” says George Clayton Johnson, who wrote the Twilight Zone episodes Nothing in the Dark and Kick the Can. “They were forever stopping him for the pettiest of reasons, which made him even more of a little David against a bunch of Goliaths.”
As Anne Serling, Rod’s daughter, tells us, “My father did an interview with Mike Wallace right before The Twilight Zone came out, and he was apprehensive about revealing too much about the show. He knew he was using it as a vehicle to get these messages out, and slip it under the radar. They never knew what hit them! Another one of my father’s quotes was the writer’s job was to menace the public’s conscience.”