‘Twilight Zone’ turns 50

Published 12:37 am Sunday, October 4, 2009

Among notables in the news last week “The Twilight Zone” turned 50.

Many years have passed since Rod Serling walked across a set and introduced a segment. Ironically, Serling died in 1975 at age 50.

Sometimes in the introductions, we didn’t see Serling, but we heard his voice as the graphics eased across our black-and-white television screens. Serling would speak in his distinctive style: “You’re about to enter another dimension. A dimension of not only sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop: The Twilight Zone.”

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Then we’d launch into a half hour of science fiction or fantasy with scripts adapted from some of the best science fiction and fantasy writers, including Serling, who wrote nearly two-thirds of the series’ stories. But other writers, such as Earl Hamner Jr. and Ray Bradbury also contributed their stories to the series.

Most of the programs were simple. They were more like stage plays with good actors — Robert Redford, Telly Savalas, Burgess Meredith, Martin Balsam, Donna Douglas, Anne Francis, William Shatner and Dennis Hopper.

Just like science fiction and fantasy, the scripts for these programs often dealt metaphorically with social issues of the day, such as nuclear annihilation, race and red baiting.

The original series ran from 1959 to 1964.

The story goes that Serling went through two plots before CBS would allow him to air the first one.

The initial pilot was supposed to have been about a man who knows the bombing of Pearl Harbor is going to occur and keeps trying to warn people, but it happens anyway. It was called “The Time Element.” But CBS didn’t like it.

The other was called “The Happy Place,” about a town that sent its old folks off to an extermination camp. CBS didn’t like it, either. Ironically, this 30-minute segment would come out on the Desilu Playhouse in 1958, a decade before a full-length feature based on the same premise, “Wild in the Streets.”

Serling played with our fears as a nation. He ran up against censors all the time.

The value of Serling and “The Twilight Zone” rests in our social history.

Leesha Faulkner is editor of The Selma Times-Journal. Call her at 410-1730 or e-mail her at leesha.faulkner@selmatimesjournal.com