The Twilight Zone is one of the longest running and most popular franchises in media. Originally the show was produced for TV in the late 1950s. However the franchise has been rebooted over the decades and produced for TV, film, radio, and even in graphic novels. The enduring appeal of Twilight Zone is something that many other writers and producers have tried to capture but nothing can match the success of The Twilight Zone. Twilight Zone is a permanent part of the media fabric of popular culture in the US. Despite the modern updates to the original premise the shows from the late 1950s and 60s remain popular. The themes explored in Twilight Zone are still relevant to modern audiences because they touch on universal themes of morality, the search for knowledge, and acceptance.
Rod Serline, the man who developed Twilight Zone, was a well-known media figure in the 50s. He wrote many of the most popular teleplays, what modern audiences would call miniseries, for TV at the time. But at the time these shows were sponsored by corporate sponsors who could force writers to make changes to the show that would fit into their corporate image and brand. So, for example, in a show sponsored by Ford Motor Company no other type of car could be mentioned or shown on film. Serling was frustrated by the rules associated with writing shows that were essentially long versions of ad copy. He wanted to write about bigger issues and current events.
Serling took his first step into controversy by writing a teleplay called Noon on Doomsday in 1956. The show was really about the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi. At the time racial violence was common and Serling was so upset by the murder and the complete lack of empathy shown in the South over the horrific murder that he wanted to write a show about it.
The networks would not allow the show to move forward because it was too controversial. Eventually Serling changed the story so that it was about the murder of a Jewish pawnbroker in New York City but that was not considered appropriate either. Frustrated at not being able to find a way to tell the stories that he wanted to tell Serling thought of moving his stories to a setting in outer space. Science fiction was just beginning at the time because of the nation’s obsession with space travel, aliens, and technology. Serling thought that if he set his stories in outer space or in another dimension that he might finally be able to tell the stories he wanted to tell without interference. He was right.
He wrote a pilot episode for a show called The Twilight Zone. The pilot was about a man who traveled back in time to Hawaii in 1941 and tried to warn the people there about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor. The pilot script was produced for a popular show at the time, the Desilu Playhouse, and audiences loved it. The show was given a green light to go forward, and it ran for five years.
One of the biggest strengths of the show was that it featured great plot twists that were unheard of at the time. It also plays on universal human fears that everyone can relate to. The show used psychological drama and insightful writing to scare audiences. It was the first horror TV show and it paved the way for all the psychological thrillers on TV and films that would come after it.
The Twilight Zone was also the first TV show take on current events at the time. Serling used the show to write about topics he had always wanted to write about. Throughout the show the themes of isolation, acceptance, the search for knowledge and moral responsibility are addressed through the lens of bizarre situations and unusual places. The characters almost always have some soul searching to do in the episodes and must decide if they are going to act in a moral or immoral way. Immoral choices are often punished while moral ones are rewarded.
The importance of The Twilight Zone to science fiction can’t be overstated. The Twilight Zone was the first science fiction show that was ever produced. It paved the way for shows like Star Trek and Lost in Space which were the foundations of science fiction programming. The Twilight Zone is still relevant today as culture struggles to find ways to live with the massive amounts of new technology that are constantly evolving. Even though modern society far surpasses anything that people in the 50s were able to conceive of the issues about cultural morality, bioethics and other issues raised by Serling through the show are still very culturally relevant. The latest reboot of The Twilight Zone TV show was in the early 2000s and fans were just as entranced by that reboot as they were by the original show.
Science fiction writers and fans have created a cult following around the original show, which is still available on DVD and on digital media. In the science fiction canon the original writings of Rod Serling and the original Twilight Zone TV shows are the holy canon. Even though the Twilight Zone movie in the 80s relied more on campy stories and shock effects to provide a mix of humor and fear the original shows were very seriously done and fans still take them very seriously.
The Twilight Show was the first time that the power of television and media was used to hold a lens up to the popular culture and show all its flaws, its strangeness and its complexity. People watching the show could relate to the protagonists in the episodes and it made them examine their own lives a little more closely as the main character in the story examined his or her own life. The Twilight Zone was a milestone in the cultural development of the country and remains a cultural touchstone that is still necessary today.