As a boy, Rod Serling was a fan of pulp fiction stories. As an adult, he sought topics with themes such as racism, government, war, society, and human nature in general. Serling decided to combine these two interests as a way to broach these subjects on television at a time when such issues were not commonly addressed.
Throughout the 1950s, Serling established himself as one of the most popular names in television. He was as famous for writing televised drama as he was for criticizing the medium's limitations. His most vocal complaints concerned censorship, which was frequently practiced by sponsors and networks. "I was not permitted to have my senators discuss any current or pressing problem," he said of his 1957 production The Arena, intended to be an involving look into contemporary politics. "To talk of tariff was to align oneself with the Republicans; to talk of labor was to suggest control by the Democrats. To say a single thing germane to the current political scene was absolutely prohibited."
CBS purchased a teleplay in 1958 that writer Rod Serling hoped to produce as the pilot of a weekly anthology series. "The Time Element" marked Serling's first entry in the field of science fiction.
Several years after the end of World War II, a man named Peter Jenson (William Bendix) visits a psychoanalyst, Dr. Gillespie (Martin Balsam). Jenson tells him about a recurring dream in which he tries to warn people about the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor before it happens, but the warnings are disregarded. Jenson believes the events of the dream are real, and each night he travels back to 1941. Dr. Gillespie insists that time travel is impossible given the nature of temporal paradoxes. While on the couch, Jenson falls asleep once again and dreams that the Japanese planes shoot and kill him. In Dr. Gillespie's office, the couch Jenson was lying on is now empty. Dr. Gillespie goes to a bar where he finds Jenson's picture on the wall. The bartender tells him that Jenson had tended there, but he was killed during the Pearl Harbor attack.
With the "Time Element" script, Serling drafted the fundamental elements that would distinguish the series still to come: a science-fiction/fantasy theme, opening and closing narration, and an ending with a twist. "The Time Element" was purchased immediately, but shelved indefinitely.
This is where things stood when Bert Granet, the new producer for Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, discovered "The Time Element" in CBS' vaults while searching for an original Serling script to add prestige to his show. "The Time Element" (introduced by Desi Arnaz) debuted on November 24, 1958, to an overwhelmingly delighted audience of television viewers and critics alike. "The humor and sincerity of Mr. Serling's dialogue made 'The Time Element' consistently entertaining," offered Jack Gould of The New York Times. Over 6000 letters of praise flooded Granet's offices. Convinced that a series based on such stories could succeed, CBS again began talks with Serling about the possibilities of producing The Twilight Zone. "Where Is Everybody?" was accepted as the pilot episode and the project was officially announced to the public in early 1959. "The Time Element" was not aired on television again until it was shown as part of a 1996 all-night sneak preview of the new cable channel TVLand. It is available in an Italian DVD boxed set titled Ai confini della realtà – I tesori perduti. The Twilight Zone Season 1 Blu-ray boxed set released on September 14, 2010, offers a remastered high-definition version of the original Desilu Playhouse production as a special feature.
The series was produced by Cayuga Productions, Inc., a production company owned and named by Serling. It reflects his background in Central New York State and is named after Cayuga Lake, on which Ithaca College is located.
Aside from Serling, who wrote or adapted nearly two-thirds of the series' total episodes, writers for The Twilight Zone included leading authors such as Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, Earl Hamner, Jr., George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Reginald Rose, and Jerry Sohl. Many episodes also featured new adaptations of classic stories by such writers as Ambrose Bierce, Jerome Bixby, Damon Knight, John Collier, and Lewis Padgett.
Twilight Zone's writers frequently used science fiction as a vehicle for social comment, as networks and sponsors who censored controversial material from live dramas were less concerned with seemingly innocuous fantasy and sci-fi stories. Frequent themes on The Twilight Zone included nuclear war, McCarthyism, and mass hysteria, subjects that were avoided on less serious primetime television. Episodes such as "He's Alive" or "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" offered specific commentary on current events and social issues. Other stories, such as "The Masks", "I Dream of Genie", or "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" were allegories, parables, or fables that reflected the moral and philosophical choices of the characters.
Despite his esteem in the writing community, Serling found the series difficult to sell. Few critics felt that science fiction could transcend empty escapism and enter the realm of adult drama. In a September 22, 1959, interview with Serling, Mike Wallace asked a question illustrative of the times: "...[Y]ou're going to be, obviously, working so hard on The Twilight Zone that, in essence, for the time being and for the foreseeable future, you've given up on writing anything important for television, right?" While Serling's appearances on the show became one of its most distinctive features, with his clipped delivery still widely imitated today, he was reportedly nervous about it and had to be persuaded to appear on camera. Serling often steps into the middle of the action while the characters remain oblivious to him, but on one notable occasion, they are aware of his presence: In the episode "A World of His Own", a writer (Keenan Wynn) with the power to alter his reality objects to Serling's narration, and promptly erases Serling from the show.
In season two, due to budgetary constraints, the network decided – against Serling's wishes – to cut costs by shooting some episodes on videotape rather than film. The requisite multicamera setup of the videotape format precluded location shooting, severely limiting the potential scope of the storylines, and the experiment was abandoned after just six episodes ("Twenty Two", "Static", "The Whole Truth", "The Lateness of the Hour", "The Night of the Meek", and "Long Distance Call").
The original series contains 156 episodes. The episodes in seasons one through three are 30 minutes long. Season four (1962–63) consists of one-hour episodes. Season five returned to the half-hour format.
It was Serling's decision to sell his share of the series back to the network that eventually allowed for a Twilight Zone revival. As an in-house production, CBS stood to earn more money producing The Twilight Zone than it could by purchasing a new series produced by an outside company. Even so, the network was slow to consider a revival, turning down offers from the original production team of Rod Serling and Buck Houghton and later from American filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.
CBS gave the new Twilight Zone a greenlight in 1984 under the supervision of Carla Singer, then Vice President of Drama Development. While the show did not come close to matching the enduring popularity of the original, some episodes – particularly Allan Brennert's love story "Her Pilgrim Soul" – were critically acclaimed. In a tribute to the original series, the opening credits include a brief image of Rod Serling.
Four episodes are remakes of those from the original series: "Night of the Meek", "Shadow Play", "The After Hours" and "A Game of Pool", while "Dead Woman's Shoes" is an adaptation of "Dead Man's Shoes".
Unlike the original series and the second revival, this series does not include the opening monologue during the title sequence. As well, the narration is all strictly voice-over and the narrator never appears on-screen.
In the early 1990s, Richard Matheson and Carol Serling produced an outline for a two-hour made-for-TV movie which would feature Matheson adaptations of three yet-unfilmed Rod Serling short stories. Outlines for such a production were rejected by CBS until early 1994, when Serling's widow discovered a complete shooting script ("Where the Dead Are") authored by her late husband, while rummaging through their garage. Serling showed the forgotten script to producers Michael O'Hara and Laurence Horowitz, who were significantly impressed by it. "I had a pile of scripts, which I usually procrastinate about reading. But I read this one right away and, after 30 pages, called my partner and said, "I love it," recalled O'Hara. "This is pure imagination, a period piece, literate – some might say wordy. If Rod Serling's name weren't on it, it wouldn't have a chance at getting made."
Eager to capitalize on Serling's celebrity status as a writer, CBS packaged "Where the Dead Are" with Matheson's adaptation of "The Theatre", debuting as a two-hour feature on the night of May 19, 1994, under the name Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics. The title represents a misnomer, as both stories were conceived long after Twilight Zone's cancellation. Written just months before Serling's death, "Where the Dead Are" starred Patrick Bergin as a 19th-century doctor who stumbles upon a mad scientist's medical experiments with immortality. "The Theatre" starred Amy Irving and Gary Cole as a couple who visits a cineplex where they discover the feature presentation depicts their own lives. James Earl Jones provided opening and closing narrations.
Critical response was mixed. Gannett News Service described it as "taut and stylish, a reminder of what can happen when fine actors are given great words." USA Today was less impressed, even suggesting that Carol Serling "should have left these two unproduced mediocrities in the garage where she found them." Ultimately, ratings proved insufficient to justify a proposed sequel featuring three scripts adapted by Matheson.
A second revival was attempted by UPN in 2002, hosted by Forest Whitaker. Broadcast in a one-hour format with two half-hour stories, it was canceled after one season.
"It's Still a Good Life" is a sequel to "It's a Good Life", "The Monsters Are on Maple Street" is an adaptation of "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" and "Eye of the Beholder" is a remake of an episode from the original series, with Serling still credited as writer.
In December 2012, it was reported that Bryan Singer is developing and executive producing a third revival television series for CBS Television Studios. A writer for the series has not yet been chosen and the program has not yet been pitched to any networks. CBS, which broadcast the original series and first revival, is reportedly interested. In February 2013, Singer told TG Daily that the project was still in development and that he hoped to direct the pilot and have A-list actors appear on the revival. The following month, he told IGN that a writer with whom he had previously worked was in negotiations to join the revival and that he felt "passionate" towards the original series and the planned revival.
In February 2016, it was reported that Ken Levine will write and direct the pilot episode of the revival series. It was also reported that the series will be interactive. As of December 2016, a release date has yet to be confirmed.
Twilight Zone: The Movie is a 1983 feature film produced by Steven Spielberg. It starred Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, and the late Vic Morrow and Scatman Crothers.
The film remade three classic episodes of the original series and included one original story. John Landis directed the prologue and the first segment, Steven Spielberg directed the second, Joe Dante the third, and George Miller directed the final segment. Landis's episode became notorious for a helicopter accident during filming that caused the deaths of Morrow and two child actors.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is planning to make a new movie with Warner Bros., citing The Twilight Zone as his favorite TV series. Unlike the first film, which was an anthology feature, it will be a big-budget, SFX-laden continuous story possibly based on classic episodes of the series such as "The Eye of the Beholder", "To Serve Man", or any of the 92 scripts written by Rod Serling, to which Warner Bros. owns the rights. One plot leaked from the script tells about a pilot who time-travels 96 years into the future. Cloverfield director Matt Reeves was signed in 2011 to direct the movie, but left in 2012 to direct Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. On August 16, 2013, Joseph Kosinski was announced to direct. The studio hired Aron Eli Coleite to pen the screenplay for the film and will not be an anthology but use various elements from the Twilight Zone universe.
In 1964, Ideal released a board game, The Twilight Zone Game, at the height of the show's popularity. The game consisted of a cardboard playing surface, four colored playing pieces, a colored spinning wheel, and 12 "door" playing cards.
In 1988, Gigabit Systems, Inc. published a text adventure video game for Amiga and the PC. The game had various problems, for which players panned it.
In March 1992, Midway Games released a wide-body pinball game, Twilight Zone, based on the original TV series, as a Bally title. After his Addams Family pinball became the best-selling pinball machine of all time, Midway gave designer Pat Lawlor creative control over the game, which uses Golden Earring's hit song "Twilight Zone" (1982) as its theme song. The game sold 15,235 units.
On September 17, 2014, Legacy Interactive and Spark Plug Games released a casual adventure game based on The Twilight Zone.
Serling novelized several of his original scripts, which were published in the anthologies Stories from the Twilight Zone (1960), More Stories from the Twilight Zone (1961) and New Stories from the Twilight Zone (1962); these have all been reprinted several times, including in an omnibus, The Twilight Zone: Complete Stories (1980).
In 1995, DAW Books published the anthology books Journeys to the Twilight Zone (16 stories edited by Carol Serling including Rod Serling's "Suggestion"), Return to the Twilight Zone (18 stories edited by Carol Serling including Rod Serling's "The Sole Survivor"), and Adventures in the Twilight Zone (24 stories edited by Carol Serling including Rod Serling's "Lindemann's Catch").
In September 2009, Tor Books published Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary, to mark the 50th anniversary of the series. It contains stories by 20 authors such as R. L. Stine and Timothy Zahn, and an introduction by Carol Serling.
Western Publishing published a Twilight Zone comic book, first under their Dell Comics imprint for four issues, one in 1961 and three further issues in 1962, with the first two published as part of their long-running Four Color anthology series as issue numbers 1173 and 1288, and then two further one-shots numbered separately in Dell's unique fashion as 01-860-207 and 12-860-210 (numbered as 01-860-210 on the inside) respectively. Western then restarted the series under their Gold Key imprint with a formal issue No. 1, which ran 92 issues from 1962 to 1979, with the final issue being published in 1982.
Several of the stories were reprinted in their Mystery Comics Digest, which mentioned the title on the covers. A wide range of artists worked on the title, including Jack Sparling, Reed Crandall, Lee Elias, George Evans, Russ Jones, Joe Orlando, Jerry Robinson, Mike Sekowsky, Dan Spiegle, Frank Thorne, and Alex Toth.
In 1990, NOW Comics published a new comic series with using the title logo from the 1985 revival. The publisher made great efforts to sign established sci-fi/fantasy writers, including Harlan Ellison, adapting his story "Crazy as a Soup Sandwich".
In 2008, students at the Savannah College of Art and Design partnered with Walker & Co. to create graphic novels based on eight episodes of the series through 2009. The first four, "Walking Distance", "The After Hours", "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street", and "The Odyssey of Flight 33", were released in December 2011. The other four were "The Midnight Sun", "Deaths-Head Revisited", "The Big Tall Wish" and "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"
Comics publisher Dynamite Entertainment ran a multiple-issue series, written by J. Michael Straczynski and with art by Guiu Vilanova, beginning in December 2013.Bernard Herrmann composed season one's moody title theme. Other music contributors for the original television show are Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Rosenman, Nathan Scott, Fred Steiner, Nathan Van Cleave, and Franz Waxman.
CBS television CBS session musicians Howard Roberts
Avant garde composer Marius Constant wrote the well-known theme introduced in the second season.
The Grateful Dead performed the theme for the 1985 revival series.
Jonathan Davis of Korn composed the theme music for the 2002 revival series.
Jerry Goldsmith composed the music for Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).
Many musicians have written and performed music based on the Twilight Zone, including: 2 Unlimited, Anthrax, Average White Band, John Cale, Dr. John, David Dubowski ("To Serve Man"), John Fahey, Golden Earring, Michael Hurley, Iron Maiden, Mekong Delta, Van Morrison, Rush ("The Twilight Zone"), Raymond Scott, Sly & Robbie, The Manhattan Transfer, The Residents, The Ventures, Panic! at the Disco and John Williams.
Beginning in 2002, episodes of the original The Twilight Zone were adapted for radio, with Stacy Keach taking Serling's role as narrator and produced by Carl Amari of Falcon Picture Group. Each episode features a current Hollywood celebrity, including Jason Alexander, Blair Underwood, Lou Gossett, Jr., Michael York, Jim Caviezel, Jane Seymour, Don Johnson, Sean Astin, Luke Perry and others in the title roles. The series is broadcast on hundreds of radio stations from coast-to-coast and over Sirius/XM. The station list and episodes for download, including 3 Free episodes are available at the official website at www.twilightzoneradio.com
Beginning in 2001, Gauntlet Press began publishing collections of original scripts from The Twilight Zone by Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and Rod Serling. A ten-volume signed, limited edition series of all 92 of Rod Serling's scripts, authorized by his wife, Carol Serling, began yearly publication in 2004. Many of the scripts contain handwritten edits by Serling himself and differ in significant ways from the aired versions; most volumes contain an alternate version of a selected script. The script for "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" has been published into 7th grade reading books in the form of a play.
Live theatre productions of the original episodes can be seen in Los Angeles and Seattle, where Theater Schmeater has continuously produced a late night series, "The Twilight Zone – Live" with permission of the Serling estate, since 1996.
In 2009, Masquerade, A Chennai based theater group produced 'Dystopia', loosely based on the episodes "The Obsolete Man" and "Five Characters in Search of an Exit".
In 2011, the Penn State University theatre group, No Refund Theatre, produced a stage adaptation of The Twilight Zone. It included the episodes "The Eye of the Beholder", "The Midnight Sun", and "Nothing in the Dark". It was directed by Anthony Arbaiza.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a theme park attraction based on the original Twilight Zone series. Designed by Walt Disney Imagineering, the attraction is a fixture at three Disney parks: Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida and Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris. The attraction at Disney California Adventure previously carried the same theme, but is being altered to adopt a theme from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Tokyo DisneySea in Japan has a different variation of the ride that does not carry the Twilight Zone name, due to cultural differences and constraints in licensing for the Oriental Land Company, owner and operator of the Tokyo parks. The ride also served as the inspiration for a 1997 ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney original movie simply titled "Tower of Terror".
The Twilight Zone original series is currently in syndication on MeTV Network and Syfy, and the 2002 revival is syndicated on the El Rey Network.