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. (First season-opening)
May 11th is the day we celebrate The Twilight Zone. Delightfully disquieting, entertainingly enigmatic, and unnerving, This TV series aired on CBS for five seasons starting in 1959 and ending in 1964. But how do you categorize it? Is it Science fiction? Mystery? Supernatural? Thriller? Fantasy? Horror? The answer is, you don’t. It defied categorization when it first aired and still does today.
The show’s creator, Rod Serling, was a hot property in 1950’s Hollywood, with a string of successful television plays like Requiem for a Heavyweight. But trying to write stories about anything the least bit controversial proved difficult, frustrating, and next to impossible. So, like many writers before him (and many since) he turned to the fantastic. By cloaking stories with fantasy and science fiction elements, he could tackle subjects he could never touch in “realistic” stories. Thus The Twilight Zone was born.
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. (Second Season Opening)
Serling served as Executive Producer and head writer; he wrote (or co-wrote) 92 of the show’s 156 episodes. He also served as the show’s host, first as an off-screen narrator, then appearing on-air starting in Season Two. The show was an “anthology” series; each episode was totally stand-alone, with no continuing characters from one story to the next. The casts included many established actors, as well as a lot of young up-and-comers who would attain stardom in years to come.
The famous Twilight Zone theme music actually didn’t make its debut until the second season. It was created by French avant-garde composer Marius Constant. (The first season intro music was the work of veteran film composer Bernard Hermann, who also wrote the scores for many of the show’s episodes.)
The production values of the shows stand up well even to this day. The black and white photography is so crisp and beautiful you can’t imagine this show in color. Serling had the resources of MGM studios to draw on; their enormous backlot and an extensive collection of props and costumes allowed him to get way more bang for the production buck. (Props and costumes from MGM’s 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet show up repeatedly.)
Even so, the series proved expensive to produce, and though the show was a critical hit, the ratings were never as high as the network hoped. The series came to an end in 1964.
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. Your next stop…the Twilight Zone. (Third Season Opening)
Following Twilight Zone, Rod Serling moved on to other things. He wrote the script for the very first Planet of the Apes movie, which premiered in 1968. Given its subject matter, and especially the shocking twist ending (If you haven’t seen it, I’m not giving it away for you) one could be forgiven for thinking of Planet of the Apes as the longest and most elaborate Twilight Zone episode in history.
From 1970 to 1973, Rod Serling did a show for NBC called Night Gallery. It was similar to The Twilight Zone, having Serling serve as the host (and writing many of the stories), but each episode had two or more stories, many of which were adaptations of already published works by other authors.
Rod Serling died in 1975. By then, Twilight Zone had attained Cult Classic status. In 1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie premiered, with remakes of stories from the series. Since then, the TV series has been revived three times, with varying degrees of success, in 1985, 2002, and most recently in 2019.
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. 4th Season Opening
In keeping with the spirit of the show, we bring you a surprise ending to this story — the Twilight Zone is real! (Cue Marius Constant’s theme music.) In the field of oceanography “twilight zone” is the greatest depth that sunlight can reach in the sea, before fading into the darkness of the abyss. It’s also been used as an aeronautical term, for that moment when an airplane is approaching the runway with the nose up, and the pilot is unable to see the horizon. (Come to think of it, there’s a Twilight Zone episode involving a biplane during World War I getting lost in the clouds and landing at a 1960’s Air Force base…)