The Twilight Zone Forever

On the 50th Anniversary of The Father of American Popular Culture, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone

By Arlen Schumer
Guest Contributor

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man.
It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.
It is the middle ground between light and shadow...between science...

...and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears
and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of
imagination. It is an area which we call...

—Rod Serling’s original voiceover to The Twilight Zone (October 2,1959) 

Fifty years ago, at 10:00 pm on Friday, October 2, 1959, CBS Television broadcast the pilot episode of a new series, Twilight Zone. Fifty years later, we can still ask the simplest of questions: what, exactly, was The Twilight Zone?

The answers were right there in the beginning. The copy in CBS’s newspaper ad for the debut episode “Where Is Everybody?” enigmatically declared, next to an extreme closeup of, atypically, not the episode’s star, but instead, for the first (and only?) time in the young medium’s history, its writer/creator (“one of television’s most famous playwrights”), Twilight Zone (without the “The,” though the article was prominently featured in the show’s distinctive on-air logo) was “...defined by the author as: ‘The land that lies between science and superstition, between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. You will find the bizarre, but the believable; the different, the shocking that is yet understandable.’” A fine definition, to this day, of good science fiction literature—but the ad’s next line can be read indirectly as a pre-post-modern justification of television itself as being on par with any literary genre or visual narrative, like film—while superceding the medium that preceded TV, radio: 
“Its tales must be shown; they cannot be told.”

The ad concludes, “And each carries with it its own special surprise,” a foreshadowing of the O. Henry–esque twist endings that are among The Twilight Zone’s most memorable trademarks—along with its eerie, eternal theme music (French composer Marius Constant), and the sound and vision of the series’ only true star in a who’s who of Hollywood actors, its multiple Emmy Award–winning creator, head writer, on-air host, and narrator, possessed with perhaps the most singular, dramatic broadcast voice of the twentieth century, Rod Serling (1925–75).

Serling firmly places in the twentieth century pantheon of great American-Jewish humanist liberal writers—from Arthur Miller to Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee, from Budd Schulberg to Mad Magazine’s Harvey Kurtzman—who, though toiling in commercial entertainment mediums from Broadway to Hollywood, nevertheless produced great and lasting art that has transcended its genre entertainment origins—like Serling’s The Twilight Zone.

"The Twilight Zone Forever" pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 

About the Author
Arlen Schumer wrote and designed Visions From The Twilight Zone, the only coffee-table art book about the series, and continues to present a multimedia show based on the book to universities and cultural institutions around the country, most recently the 2008 Rod Serling Conference at Ithaca University, and the 2009 New York Comic Convention, where he also presented his mini-marathon, “The Five Themes of The Twilight Zone.” He will present his new show, The Twilight Zone Forever (on which this web feature is based) at The New York Times’ TimesCenter in New York City on the exact 50th anniversary of The Twilight Zone’s debut, October 2, 2009.