Back To 'The Twilight Zone,' Where Rod Serling Made TV Into An Art Form

By | December 26, 2017

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Left: American writer and actor Rod Serling introduces an episode of 'The Twilight Zone' entitled 'Cavender is Coming' in Culver City, California, January 23, 1962. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images). Right: A scene from the episode 'The Masks.' So

Few TV shows from the old days hold the enduring appeal of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone. Its legacy is clear: Black Mirror. The Outer Limits. Tales From The Crypt. Tales From The Darkside. Amazing Stories. And now, 60 years since its debut, The Twilight Zone reboot by Jordan Peele -- all of these owe a debt to Rod Serling's original Twilight Zone, which aired from 1959-64. Lots of television shows of the era created worlds and characters we liked, take your pick -- maybe Dobie Gillis was the best friend you never had, or Andy Griffith was your imaginary surrogate father, or Rob and Laura Petrie's flat was your dream urban pad. We watched them because they were comfortable, not discomforting. But The Twilight Zone started almost from scratch every week -- just a familiar introduction from Rod Serling, and you were into the story, with characters you didn't know, headed down a narrative road toward a destination that was bound to be challenging or unpleasant. An anthology series is difficult to pull off, with a new cast and plot every week -- that's why, until Black Mirror, the format was all but dead.

Week to week, the only thing holding an anthology series together is the writing; if the writing maintains a level of quality then the show can go on. And few TV series before, or in the 60 years since, have been written anywhere near as well as The Twilight Zone.

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The Twilight Zone, like the best episodes of Star Trek, told us something about the world we live in by isolating that thing in a world alien to us. In the late '50s and early '60s, the nation was wrestling with equality and Civil Rights, the Cold War gave us a simmering paranoia, and a differing attitudes of the young and old showed the beginnings of the Generation Gap. And those timeless old forces were always there: vanity, weakness, greed, and assorted vices and Deadly Sins.

The Twilight Zone mined all this territory, these dark corners of the mind and of society, to bring us some of the most perfectly-crafted television we've ever watched.