CBS’s announcement that Get Out director and actor Jordan Peele will produce a new modern-day version of The Twilight Zone is reviving memories of the revered original series created by Rod Serling. The 1960s show was—and still is—the most critically acclaimed anthology series to ever air on television, producing a slew of unforgettable moments, including these:
1. The writer who became an on-screen star
Rod Serling was a star screenwriter from TV’s first “Golden Age” of the 1950s, who became an otherworldly presence on The Twilight Zone. Starting with the words “submitted for your approval,” the square-jawed Serling would suddenly appear on-screen in a trim suit and tie, and often smoking a cigarette, to invite viewers to join him in a place that had various descriptions but was always located “in The Twilight Zone.” His intro for a 1963 episode called “He’s Alive,” about an American neo-Nazi (played by Dennis Hopper) who idolizes Adolf Hitler, is a prime example of the Serling style.
VIDEO: Twilight Zone – He’s Alive Opening Monologue
2. Name that genre: Sci-fi or horror or both?
Filmed in black and white and written principally by Serling, the original Twilight Zone aired on CBS from 1959 to 1964. With its stories about ordinary people placed in unusual circumstances, the show was not easy to categorize. It comprised elements of science fiction, horror and the paranormal. One well-remembered episode combining sci-fi and horror—“Eye of the Beholder” from 1960—turns society’s notions about beauty on its head as a young woman prepares to undergo plastic surgery. The episode is famous for its surprise ending: a type of ending that became a hallmark of the show.
VIDEO: The Twilight Zone – Eye of the Beholder
3. What’s cookin’? ‘To Serve Man’ serves up surprise answer
Another Twilight Zone episode with a famous ending was the one titled “To Serve Man” from 1962 in which a strange and powerful race of superbeings from outer space comes to Earth with promises to end the strife that afflicts mankind. They even bring with them a book titled “To Serve Man.” But how was Man to be served? The surprise answer was provided in the episode’s shocking ending.
VIDEO: “It’s a Cookbook!” Ahah… I get it!
4. ‘Twilight Zone’ scripts were commentaries on contemporary subjects
Serling, considered to be one of the finest writers to ever work in television, won five Emmy awards for writing, including one for The Twilight Zone in 1961. His scripts for the show were often thinly veiled commentaries on the era in which they were written. It was the era of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. As a result, The Twilight Zone dealt with people who found themselves alone in the aftermath of some sort of cataclysm. Burgess Meredith starred in 1959’s “Time Enough at Last,” playing a mild-mannered bank teller who wakes up one day to find himself the sole survivor of a nuclear attack. An avowed bookworm, the character realizes he will now have more than enough time to devote to his favorite pastime—reading the world’s great books—until something unfortunate happens to derail his plan.
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VIDEO: Time Enough at Last
5. William Shatner’s most famous role before ‘Star Trek’
One of the series’ most famous episodes dealt with a man who believes he sees a gremlin perched atop an airliner’s wing outside his window in mid-flight. The episode, from 1963, is titled “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and the actor playing the frightened passenger is William Shatner in his most famous role before Star Trek. Watch him in action here:
VIDEO: Twilight Zone Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
6. Fears of all kinds were recurring subjects for ‘The Twilight Zone’
Fear was a recurring theme and subject for The Twilight Zone In another episode that ranks as one of the best-remembered of all of the original episodes, the adult residents of an isolated Ohio town are in constant fear for their very lives because a little boy lives among them who possesses the power of life and death over them. The episode – “It’s a Good Life” from 1961 – features one of the most electrifying performances by a child actor in the history of television. The actor is Billy Mumy, four years before he gained fame as Will Robinson in Lost in Space. When the little boy points to one male resident of the town and tells him he’s “a very bad man,” the phrase became unforgettable.
VIDEO: You’re A Bad Man! (Twilight Zone)
7. Fears of all kinds were recurring subjects for ‘The Twilight Zone’
One of the show’s earliest episodes – No. 8 in the series, “The Hitch-Hiker” from January 1960 – provides a keen illustration of what The Twilight Zone was often about—literally a “zone” between life and death. “Nan Adams, age 27,” says Serling to introduce this episode. “She was driving to California to Los Angeles. She didn’t make it. There was a detour … through ‘The Twilight Zone’.” In the episode, the woman keeps driving, but she repeatedly encounters the same hitchhiker. Is she alive or dead?
VIDEO: The Twilight Zone The Hitchhiker Short Clip