How the original Twilight Zone began, plus see the TV show’s iconic opening (1959-1965)

Rod Serling - Twlight Zone classic

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Widely regarded as one of the best and most innovative television shows of all time, The Twilight Zone premiered on October 2, 1959, and would go on to dazzle, delight — and sometimes frighten — audiences for the next five seasons.

“‘The Twilight Zone’ is about people — human beings involved in extraordinary circumstances, in strange problems of their own or fate’s making,” said series creator Rod Sterling in 1960.

Serling saw the science fiction and supernatural setting of his show as the perfect way to tell controversial stories and touch on hot topics under the veil of fiction… and so without the interference of networks and sponsors.

The show was notable for featuring many established stars of the day, like Buster Keaton and Burgess Meredith, as well as up-and-coming actors whose names you might recognize — William Shatner, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and Robert Redford, to name but a few.

In addition, the show would go on to influence and inspire television and movie makers for years to come. Shows like The Outer Limits, The X-Files and Black Mirror owe much to Serling’s early spin on the speculative and the supernatural. – AJW

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet - 1963 Twilight Zone episode with William Shatner
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” Twilight Zone episode with William Shatner (1963)

The Twilight Zone: A world of unreality (1961)

By Charles Witbeck, in The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey) May 13, 1961

In a recent poll of Los Angeles schoolchildren, the favorite show of all age groups turned out to be “The Twilight Zone.”

This seems strange, because the imaginative series comes on at 10 PM Friday nights, on the CBS TV network, and it would appear to be too late for most youngsters. Maybe, simply because “Twilight Zone” is a good show, parents let their kids stay up for it.

Though the series won critical approval, and Rod Serling walked off with an Emmy last year, the series just shuffled along with the pack in the ratings race. Sponsors hesitated to renew, and then did at the last minute, and creator Serling would, from time to time, say he was tired and would be happy to quit.

The series has been renewed for next season, sponsors are happy, and writer Serling will continue to write more scripts. Said lean, white-haired producer Buck Houghton, “Rod says he wants to quit and enjoy himself, but he can’t. He’ll have a new idea for a story, and shortly we’ll have a completed script. He just has to write.”

Newspaper clips of scenes from classic Twilight Zone episodes

Rod and Buck began “The Twilight Zone” with the format: one miracle to a customer. In 30 minutes, a story could be told, but explanations were out. As Rod told Buck, “If we’ve got to explain things we’re in deep trouble, and have been for a long time.”

Buck does get letters complaining that an important segment hadn’t been sufficiently clear. “I believe in playing fair,” he says. “We generally make our point by telling it twice. I do admit that a viewer has to pay attention, and he can miss something by going to the refrigerator for a beer.”

If Houghton isn’t sure a point is clear enough, he seeks Serling’s advice, and Serling’s answers are good enough for him.

The rule of holding the explanations down is probably the main reason for the show’s success. “The fact a man is on Mars is enough for a 30-minute show,” says Buck. “Then comes the point of drama.

Twilight Zone Season 1
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“If we had to explain and explain, we couldn’t hold the audience. Now, I’m not a writer,” Buck continued, “but I have a feeling the writing is easier on this series because we have fewer restrictions. We say, ‘Here’s a man who can change his face at will,’ and then we move into the story. My suspicion is that doing a story in this vein takes the wraps off a writer’s imagination.”

Apparently “Twilight Zone” works two ways. It’s more fun for the writer and the audience. Both get to use their brains. An oil man once said to producer Houghton, “What I like about the series is that I find myself thinking about what goes on after the story is over.” The incident may be closed, but the people still live on in the oil man’s mind. If a show can do that. who cares what the ratings are?

There was a rumor “The Twilight Zone” would stretch out to an hour next season, but this has been dispelled. “I was very anxious when I first heard it,” said Houghton. “I think we and the public are better off with our present limit.”

While “Twilight Zone” appears to be limitless in science-fiction stories, in truth the number of plots is limited, and boils down to time transference. man on a different planet or vice versa, and communication with the dead, among a few other standards in the field.

Robert Redford in the original Twilight Zone episode Nothing in the Dark 1962
Robert Redford in the original Twilight Zone episode “Nothing in the Dark” (1962)

Buck Houghton naturally has delved into the bulk of science-fiction material and he feels, in the main, that “Twilight Zone” is superior because the show doesn’t just deal in gimmicks. It takes a simple gimmick like a man going back in time, and handles the idea in many different ways, like the recent story of a wagonmaster who despairs of ever crossing the country, and suddenly moves over a mountain to discover a new country a hundred years ahead of its time. Or, another tale of a man who listened to a radio broadcasting music and news of 20 years back.

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“Our plots are limited,” says Buck. “It’s according to how you use them.”

Another source of pleasure for producer Houghton and the staff is imagining how life in space or 100 years from now would appear and proceed to build the needed sets. “For instance, we may talk about a room in outer space,” said Buck. ‘What would the door be like? A tunnel?’ It could be almost any shape. I may have one idea, the art director another.

“We may agree, and then later I’ll get calls from him because he has better ideas. This keeps us thinking, and I feel it pays off in a better-produced show. The restrictions are our imaginations, cost, and time.”

All in all, Rod Serling, Buck Houghton and crew are ready for another year in the world of unreality.

Rod Serling: “You’re traveling through another dimension…”


Twilight Zone Season 4/5 opening credits/intro & theme video

YouTube video

The Twilight Zone opening credits narratives

Season 1 intro (main)
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 which we call the Twilight Zone.

Season 2 intro (episodes 1, 2 & 3)
You’re traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

Season 2 intro (main)
You’re traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Twilight Zone!

Season 3 intro
You are traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop, the Twilight Zone!

Seasons 4 & 5 intro
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.

The original Twilight Zone title logo

Emmy-award-winning “Twilight Zone” showrunner & host Rod Serling discusses his creative process (1961)

By Anne J Conboy – Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, NY) September 1, 1961

Rod Serling is half owner of the “Twilight Zone” series with CBS, and as such is its executive producer as well as its writer. This means that he’s on the set every shooting day anywhere from “three to six hours.”

“Writing is the most bleeding, grueling, ulcer laden and frustrating job in the world, and its the most satisfying labor known to man,” says this man who admits to climbing the ladder laboriously from the bottom.

He began writing professionally before he graduated from Antioch College in Ohio, where his older brother, Robert, had graduated before him. Robert is aviation editor for UPI and an author published by Doubleday. Rod’s ascent to writing success began with radio serials.

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“First thing you have to learn is discipline of writing time. I write from 8 am until 2:30 pm, then go over to the production department when I’m in Hollywood.” At first a typewriter producer of scripts, Serling now prefers to use a dictaphone and secretary.

His writing studio next to the pool is off-limits for every. one when he’s writing.

Which is the more difficult, plotting or writing? he was asked. “Both are. Neither one comes easily. It’s as hard as trying to pour butter into a wildcat’s ears.”

But for 37-year-old Rod Serling, who “writes every day,” it’s the life. He admits that there are moments when he wonders if he shouldn’t have stayed in the army (he was a World War II paratrooper for three years in the South Pacific).

But he winds up saying, rather happily, “I’m a very fortunate man. Tam contented. I’ve climbed the ladder. I’ll keep climbing it as long as I can.”

Eye of the Beholder original Twilight Zone episode - Pig faces 1960

(Excerpted from an article originally titled “Summer home of Rod Serling becoming known in area”)

Rod Serling is key man in Twilight Zone TV structure (1963)

By Cynthia Lowry, in the Fort Lauderdale Sun (Florida) December 15, 1963

NEW YORK — The logistics of television are something like those of a fighting army. But instead of 14 behind-the-lines men supporting one on the front lines, it takes anywhere from five to ten men behind the cameras to support one performer before it.

Most of them are unknown and unsung, except for a passing mention among the credits. That includes the key man in the whole television structure: the writer.

Television over the years has developed some fine and famous writers: Paddy Chayevsky, Tad Mosel, Stirling Silliphant, Reginald Rose among them. Any of them could walk down almost any street, enter almost any restaurant and rarely be identified.

There is one exception to this rule of anonymity: Rod Serling, certainly one of television’s top writers (he has five Emmys to prove it). And Serling is recognizable because he has been serving as host for the past four seasons on CBS “Twilight Zone,” which he created and for which he has written most scripts.

“It’s been a funny little show,” said Serling in an offhand manner. “It’s never had terribly big audiences — if you believe the ratings, and I don’t. But it has a_ loyal coterie of fans and it just seems to stay around.”

The long-playing series sticks close to off-beat and fantastic themes, often built around extrasensory perception.

Last year, to fill a mid-season hole in CBS’ schedule, Serling was asked to stretch the half-hour program to an hour’s length. It fared not too well and this season was returned to its old length.

But long or short Serling has become as he says, “kind of tired of the show now” and would like to do something new for a change.

“New” means a new television series and he’s busily making plans for an action-adventure series called “Jeopardy Run’ which he wants to film on location in glamorous, exciting spots like Hong Kong, the Philippines — all over the Far East.

A couple of seasons back, Serling also felt he needed a change. So he accepted a teaching fellowship at his alma mater, Antioch, in Ohio, and abandoned Madison Avenue and Hollywood for a year.

Twilight Zone classic TV show collage 86

Students hated TV

“I found out a lot of things during that year,” he admitted. “In the first place, I learned that I didn’t know how to teach. And that most of the students hated television.

“But most important, I learned during that year away from it that I didn’t have to be defensive about television anymore. I saw them working for 11 weeks on a college play — and it wasn’t as good as the things you can see at a rate of six an hour on the television networks and turned out in a few days.

“I found that television acting, by and large, is darned good. I also discovered that if I’d been fed a steady diet of entertainment, there came a point where I’d say, ‘What pap.’ But it usually just meant that I — me, personally — had been surfeited.”

Serling, who will be 39 on Christmas Day, is a handsome, dark-haired man. Short in stature, he is a compact muscular fellow who spent three years in the Pacific as an Army paratrooper.

Studying at Antioch under the GI bill, Serling went to New York as part of the college’s unique work-and-study system, and got a job as a radio writer.

He was steadily employed from that time on, moving into television writing in 1951. His scripts were used by all the great dramatic shows of the period, and his “Patterns” in 1955 won him his first Emmy. other winners were “Requiem For a Heavyweight” and “The Comedian” — both TV classics.

He tackles his writing in a professional way — pounding a typewriter from 8 a.m. until noon seven days a week.

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“‘Twilight Zone’ in the half hour form are quite simply plot stories with kicker endings,” he explained. “You just can’t do an hour show with a kicker ending. When they changed the Hitchcock show to an hour, they had to change their style, completely, too.

“With the shorter show, you have a single line plot. You tell the story and get off. You must have a point to make, and if you don’t make it within the first minute of the show, you’re dead.

“With the hour show there are more people, parallel conflicts, and the big emphasis is on relationships of characters. It’s completely different.”

Serling’s own estimate of last season’s 18 “Twilight Zones,” the hour version, is “four good, four medium, and 10 bad.” This year, he says, he thinks he’s batting about .500, and adds that he thinks one 30-minute episode is unique “Adam and Eve in space terms.”

Serling, his wife (a fellow student he married before graduation from college) and their two children live in a Los Angeles suburb.

Rod Serling Twilight Zone

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