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Twilight Zone, The

Entry updated 10 July 2023. Tagged: TV.

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1. US tv series (1959-1964). A Coyuga Production/MGM. Created by Rod Serling, also executive producer. Producers were Buck Houghton, Herbert Hirschman, Bert Granet, William Froug. Writers included Serling (91 episodes), Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, Earl Hamner Jr, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson. Directors included Jack Smight, Stuart Rosenberg, John Brahm, Ralph Nelson, Buzz Kulik, Boris Sagal, Lamont Johnson, Elliot Silverstein, Don Siegel, William Friedkin, Richard Donner, Joseph Newman, Ted Post. 5 seasons, 156 episodes (138 each 25 minutes, plus 18 in season 4 each 50 minutes). Black and white.

The Twilight Zone, hosted by Serling with a rasping voice and a thin black tie, was an anthology series – perhaps the most famous ever on television. Most of the playlets were pure fantasy, but a number were sf. The very first episode, "Where is Everybody?" by Serling, has a young man waking in a small town to find it deserted, with signs that the inhabitants had left only moments before. The denouement reveals that the situation has been implanted in his mind as part of a study conducted by space scientists into human reactions to loneliness. Sting-in-the-tail plotting was standard on The Twilight Zone.

Overall the series was thoughtful and fairly original, though it certainly had its fair share of Clichés. Episodes varied in quality, many of the better sf ones being written by Richard Matheson: three of these were "Steel" (1963), in which Lee Marvin is the manager of a robot boxer who is forced to take his machine's place in the ring after it breaks down, "Little Girl Lost" (1962), about a child who falls into a dimensional warp under her bed, so that her parents can hear her crying but cannot reach her, and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (1963), with William Shatner as a man on an airliner who keeps seeing a mysterious creature – invisible to others – playing on the wing; as in most of Matheson's work, Paranoia is eventually vindicated and the creature is proved to exist. Two of these were based on Matheson's short stories "Steel" (May 1956 F&SF) and "Little Girl Lost" (October/November 1953 Amazing); the story version of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (in Alone By Night, anth 1962, ed Michael & Don Congdon, 1962) may or may not postdate the script. Another sf episode was Ray Bradbury's "I Sing the Body Electric!" (1962), about a Robot grandmother; the author's later story adaptation is "I Sing the Body Electric!" (August 1969 McCall's).

Short-story versions of some of Serling's The Twilight Zone scripts appeared in three books by (or ostensibly by) Serling: Stories from The Twilight Zone (coll 1960), More Stories from The Twilight Zone (coll 1961) and New Stories from The Twilight Zone (coll 1962) – the latter two possibly being by Walter B Gibson – with selections appearing in From The Twilight Zone (coll 1962) and all three being reprinted in a single volume as Stories from The Twilight Zone (omni 1986). Two collections ghosted by Walter B Gibson are Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (coll 1963) and Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Revisited (coll 1964), both assembled in Rod Serling's Twilight Zone (omni 1984). A book about the series is Twilight Zone Companion (1982; rev as The Twilight Zone Companion: Second Edition 1989) by Marc Scott Zicree. The Twilight Zone received three Hugos (1960-1962) as Best Dramatic Presentation.

The Twilight Zone was fondly remembered – indeed, it could hardly have been forgotten, the episodes being repeated endlessly in syndication for the next 20 years. This resulted in an anthology feature film produced and partly directed by Steven Spielberg, Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), mostly updatings of some of the old scripts. Then came a new The Twilight Zone television series (2). The title was used also for a horror/fantasy magazine, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine (1981-1989), whose editors included T E D Klein and Tappan King, and which published some weird fiction of high quality.

2. US tv series (1985-1989). CBS TV. Based on the above. Executive producer Philip DeGuere. Supervising producer James Crocker. Produced by Harvey Frand. Creative consultant Harlan Ellison. Story editor Rockne S O'Bannon. Writers included Ray Bradbury, Alan Brennert, Crocker, DeGuere, Ellison, David Gerrold, George R R Martin, Richard Matheson, O'Bannon, Michael Reaves, Carter Scholz, J Michael Straczynski. Directors included Wes Craven, Tommy Lee Wallace, Theodore Flicker, Joe Dante, Gerd Oswald, Martha Coolidge, Allan Arkush, Peter Medak, Jim McBride, Paul Lynch, Noel Black. Two seasons. Season 1: 24 50-minute episodes, each containing two to four stories. Season 2: twelve episodes, some 50-minute and some 25-minute. There were 80 stories in the 36 episodes. Colour.

In the mid-1980s US television turned back, for a while, to the anthology format, especially for series of fantastic stories – Amazing Stories was another. Few had any prolonged success. This new series of The Twilight Zone dramatized several well known sf stories, including "The Star" (November 1955 Infinity Science Fiction) by Arthur C Clarke and stories by Robert Silverberg and Theodore Sturgeon; Richard Matheson adapted his own story "Button, Button" (June 1970 Playboy), which later became the film The Box (2009). However, the majority of playlets were based on original scripts, some also by sf writers, though as with the original series the emphasis was on fantasy rather than sf. Good directors were used and the quality was quite high, but the series was axed after two seasons. The Twilight Zone was quickly re-edited into half-hour segments for syndication, when a further 30 stories were dramatized (executive producers Mark Shelmerdine and Michael MacMillan) in 1988-1989 with substantially lower budgets, and shown along with the 80 stories from the 1985-1987 series.

Novelizations include The Twilight Zone: Upgrade/Sensuous Cindy (coll 2004) by Pat Cadigan, based on the named episodes "Upgrade" (2002) and "Sensuous Cindy" (2002).

3. US/Canadian tv series (2002-2003). New Line Television/UPN. Based on the above. Executive producers Ira Steven Behr, Jim Rosenthal. Writers included David Weddle. One season of 22 one-hour segments each comprising two half-hour stories. Colour.

This revival series, including some remakes of past episodes and even a sequel to the classic 1961 Twilight Zone adaptation of Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life" (in Star Science Fiction Stories 2, anth 1953, ed Frederik Pohl), had a lukewarm reception and was cancelled after a single season. [PN/JB/DRL]

4. US tv series (2019-2020). CBS Television Studios / Genre Films / Monkeypaw Productions. Producers include Whit Anderson and John Forrest Niss. Executive producers include Carol Serling. Cast includes Jordan Peele (narrator). First season: ten episodes of varying lengths, 37-55 minutes. Second season: ten episodes of varying lengths, 31-46 minutes. Colour.

This further revival also looked back to the original in such episodes as "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet" (1 April 2019), echoing "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" not directly but through the general theme of increasing Paranoia on a commercial air flight, here resulting from podcast Precognition of Disaster. Other sf tropes in this series include Aliens, Identity Exchange, Psi Powers including Telepathy, Space Flight to Mars, Time Loops, Virtual Reality, and a virus infection triggering violent behaviour (see Medicine). The critical reception was mixed; there was a second season in 2020, but not a third. [DRL]

see also: Last Man.


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