Friday, October 2, 2009


It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the first broadcast of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. I was happy that Morning Edition (NPR) made mention of it this morning, in a short segment which pointed out—accurately, I think—that the show was a timely and even prophetic thing during the transition from the 1950s into the next decade when so many assumptions and norms were challenged and toppled. Serling was in some ways a renegade and a writer of deep convictions who used his show subversively to make statements and observations about society and current affairs, couching them in speculative fiction so as to slip his messages past clueless TV censors in much the same way that Gene Roddenberry would with Star Trek a few years later.

Serling personally wrote the teleplays of most of the Twilight Zone’s episodes. On camera as the show’s host, usually with a smoldering cigarette in hand, he was the first writer who also a TV star and the creative master of a whole show. The result of this total creative control, and of Serling’s singular vision for television, was one of the most remarkable bodies of work in the history of the medium.

As a kid, I loved Twilight Zone. I will still turn it on when it shows up in re-runs. When Syfy has its occasional marathons of it, I will turn it on even if I have no plan of really watching it. It soothes me as ambient noise. I have to admit, objectively, that many of the episodes really don’t seem as great anymore as they did when I was kid. But there were a lot of episodes of this show, and any TV series has its weaker entries. When the show is at its best, however, it is really good. Twilight Zone’s best episodes are and always will be among the all-time classics of TV drama. The first episode, “Where is Everybody?” is indelibly imprinted in my memory. Everyone remembers Agnes Moorehead in the strange, dialogue-free “The Invaders,” battling a diminutive alien invasion. Unforgettable are the revelations at the end of “A Stop at Willoughby” and “To Serve Man.”  I was very young when I first saw “Time Enough at Last.” I cried when Burgess Meredith’s bookworm character broke his glasses at the end of the story.

The CBS website has a lot of episodes available to watch online, so take a few minutes to return to The Twilight Zone.

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