In 1959, The Twilight Zone began airing on television screens across America. This show caused audiences to question the very nature of their existence and to contend with the weird, the wacky, the spooky, and the totally unbelievable.
Six decades later, The Twilight Zone was reborn, this time with a new host and some new takes on old stories. Keep reading to discover facts about both the original Twilight Zone series and Jordan Peele’s recent reboot.
The Origin Of The Title
Rod Serling thought he had come up with the term “The Twilight Zone” on his own. He just thought that the phrase sounded cool and that twilight was a sort of spooky time of night. He liked the sound of the words “twilight” and “zone” together.
After the show aired, Serling found out that “the twilight zone” is an actual term used by U.S. Air Force pilots when they fly over the boundary between day and night.
Sci-Fi Heavy Hitters Helped Create The Show
Serling asked legends in the sci-fi world like Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke to help contribute to The Twilight Zone. Unfortunately, Clarke wasn’t able to partake, but Bradbury wrote a couple scripts, and one lucky script made it to air. It was an adaptation of his short story called, “I Sing the Body Electric.”
Serling must have been unimpressed with the scripts because he said that Bradbury’s work “seems to lend itself to the printed page, rather than spoken language.”
The Most Mysterious Age
Almost all of the men in season one, introduced by Rod Serling’s opening narration, were described as being thirty-six years old. It’s right in the middle of life, and a lot of men experience mid-life crises around that age.
Also, the number 36 has special significance in Jewish folklore. The word “chai,” which means life in Hebrew, has a numerical value of 18. Thirty-six is known as “double chai,” because it’s double 18. This could mean that these people are living something of a “double life” in an alternate dimension.
If You Want Something Done Right, Do It Yourself
The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling wanted Richard Egan to do the narration on the show. Egan had a deep voice with rich undertones that Serling thought really captured the show’s spooky vibe. Unfortunately, Egan was unable to take on the role of the narrator because of scheduling conflicts. Serling said, “It’s Richard Egan or no one. It’s Richard Egan, or I’ll do the thing myself.”
Well, Richard Egan didn’t do it, which meant that Serling had to step in and do it himself.
A Twilight Zone All Star
Rod Sterling obviously appeared in the most episodes of the show, because he narrates every episode. Robert McCord was the only other actor to appear in all five seasons of the original Twilight Zone series.
There were other actors who appeared in four of the five seasons, including Jack Klugman, John Anderson, Jon Lormer, and Vaughn Taylor. Serling liked to reuse actors that did a good job. Also, using the same actors gave this anthology series a more cohesive feel.
The Origin Of The Fifth Dimension
Rod Serling’s iconic intro narration for the show always contains the phrase, “there’s a fifth dimension.” Originally, Serling used the phrase “a sixth dimension,” but William Self of CBS called him out on it. He asked him what the fifth dimension was given that the first three dimensions correspond to a line, a plane, and a cube. The fourth dimension is time.
Serling responded, “I don’t know. Aren’t there five?” After realizing his mistake, he changed the narration to “a fifth dimension.”
An Experimental Filming Situation
Some episodes of The Twilight Zone‘s second season were shot on videotape rather than film due to budget cuts. Film is more expensive than videotape, but back in the day, editing videotape was nearly impossible.
To combat this problem, each of the six videotaped episodes was “camera-cut”, as in live television, on a studio soundstage, using a total of four cameras. This ruled out shooting on location and actually limited the scope of the stories in the episodes. The result led the studio to let the show have more money so that they could produce better television.
Getting Literary Inspiration
The Twilight Zone episode titled, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” which was released in 1960, is very similar to the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding. There’s even a scene that appears in both the novel and the episode. It’s the scene where the townspeople kill their neighbor.
Literature was a great source of inspiration for Serling while he was creating The Twilight Zone. There are a bunch of literary and philosophical references in the show.
The Devil’s Head Wasn’t Originally In The “Nick Of Time” Script
The fortune teller with a devil’s head on it is one of the most famous items in all of the Twilight Zone episodes, but it never actually appears in Richard Matheson’s original script for the episode.
Matheson just penciled in a napkin holder that you needed to feed pennies into. Someone from the art department must have stuck on the devil’s head, which does seem like a very Twilight Zone thing to do.
A Star Trek Crossover
A lot of the actors who appeared in the original Star Trek series also appeared in The Twilight Zone. William Shatner plays a frantic airline passenger in the episode titled “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” Leonard Nimoy plays an infantryman in the episode “A Quality of Mercy,” and George Takei plays the son of a spy in the episode titled “The Encounter.”
Both Star Trek and The Twilight Zone deal with philosophical themes and science fiction tropes.
A Looney Twilight Zone
In 1997, the DC Looney Tunes comic book series published a parody of The Twilight Zone. In the issue, a number of different storylines play out. In one, Daffy Duck is mistaken for an alien, while in “The Dummy,” Daffy’s ventriloquism act comes to life.
“Le Hitchhiker” features Penelope the Cat as she drives around and sees Pepe Le Pew everywhere, while “Nightmare of 20,000 Tweets” sees Sylvester discovering a gremlin version of Tweety Bird on the wing of a plane.
A Famous Catchphrase
The Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man” shows aliens visiting Earth and offering to take them to their home planet. The aliens say that they’re friends of the humans and they even have a book titled To Serve Man. After linguists translate the text, they find out that it’s actually a cookbook.
That episode starred Lloyd Bochner as one of the translators, and he actually said his most famous line “it’s a cookbook!” from the episode when he later starred in The Naked Gun 2 1/2. The “To Serve Man” episode was parodied on a Treehouse of Horror Simpsons episode.
Rod Serling invited viewers from all over the country to submit their own The Twilight Zone scrips. If he liked the scripts, he said he would turn them into actual episodes of the show. Serling was sent over fourteen thousand scripts, which is way too many for anybody to read in one lifetime. Serling did actually get around to reading five hundred of them.
He decided that only two of those five hundred were interesting, but he couldn’t use them because they didn’t fit the format of the show.
Serling Only Said “Submitted For Your Approval” Three Times In Total
This phrase, that has become something of a tagline for The Twilight Zone, actually only pops up in the introductions of three episodes: “Cavender is Coming,” “In Praise of Pip,” and “A Kind of a Stopwatch.”
Serling did say “submitted for your perusal” in “To Serve Man,” but neither of those phrases shows up anywhere else in the remaining 152 original episodes. It’s just one of those lines that became attached to the series.
One Episode Won An Oscar
The Twilight Zone original series won three Emmy Awards for its writing and cinematography over the course of its run. It also won an Academy Award, even though the Oscars are only supposed to be for movies.
In 1964, Serling purchased a silent French short film titled An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. He broadcasted the film as an episode. This film actually won an Oscar for Best Short Subject the year before, so technically The Twilight Zone has an Oscar win under its belt.
The Twilight Zone Film Resulted In An Actual Death
In the early ’80s, Warner Brothers adapted The Twilight Zone into a movie. They brought in some heavy hitting directors like Steven Speilberg and George Miller to remake the most famous episodes of the show.
While they were making the film, a stunt helicopter crashed on set killing an actor and two child actors. John Landis, the director of that scene, was charged with involuntary manslaughter. Let that be a warning to everyone who tries to remake The Twilight Zone…
Only One Episode Has A Sequel
The Twilight Zone is, famously, an anthology series. Each episode can stand on its own. Only one episode in the entire original series ever got a part two. It was the season three episode titled “It’s A Good Life.” It got a sequel in the 2002 reboot of the series.
Cloris Leachman and Mill Mumy reprised their roles in the sequel in this episode about a boy who can control minds.
The Modern Reboot
In 2017, it was announced that former MadTV star Jordan Peele would be directing and producing the third revival of The Twilight Zone. The show premiered on April 1st, 2019. Jordan Peele had already proven that he could handle the horror genre with his film Get Out.
This Twilight Zone reboot seemed like a natural next step for this comedian turned director. Fans of both Peele and the original series were excited to see how it would pan out.
Peele Wasn’t Going To Narrate
Just like Serling, Peele wasn’t sure that he wanted to narrate the series himself. He said of following Serling, “These are pretty big shoes to fill.” He thought audiences would be confused about a comedian taking on this very serious and somber tone of voice.
Eventually, Peele’s co-executive producer, Simon Kinberg, was able to convince him that he was the perfect man for the job. Considering it’s a reboot, it’s fitting that Peele is following in Serling’s footsteps.
The New Series Isn’t A Replica Of The Old One
Peele and Kinberg didn’t want to create a show that was an exact replica of Serling’s original series. They wanted to pay homage to the original episodes without copying them entirely. This reboot is Peele and Kinberg’s own take on the themes that the original Twilight Zone series explored.
There are plenty of easter eggs in the show for fans of Serling’s original series. For example, Episode 2 pays homage to the 1960 episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
While working on the show, Jordan Peele and Simon Kinberg compiled a list of their favorite OG Twilight Zone episodes of all time. The list is as follows:
The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (1960), To Serve Man (1962), Time Enough at Last (1959), Mirror Image (1960), It’s a Good Life (1961), Living Doll (1963), Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (1963), A Kind of a Stopwatch (1963), Eye of the Beholder (1960), and The Invaders (1961).
There Was Even A Radio Adaptation
In 2002, episodes of the original The Twilight Zone were adapted for radio. Stacy Keach took on the narrator role and each episode featured a different Hollywood celebrity. The celebrities who were involved included Jason Alexander, Blair Underwood, Lou Gossett Jr., Michael York, Jim Caviezel, Jane Seymour, Don Johnson, Sean Astin, and Luke Perry, amongst others.
You can still find episodes of this radio show online, but the visual effects of the tv series are a huge part of why the show was so popular.
The Episodes Were Almost All A Half-Hour Long
The original Twilight Zone is an anthology series told in 30-minute segments, but Serling’s original vision for the show was for every episode to be an hour long. Serling thought that 60 minutes “provides the most prestige.”
In answer to a fan letter in September 1960, he wrote: “I share your feeling as to the length of The Twilight Zone. I, too, would prefer the hour format, but unfortunately, the network has only the half-hour available.”
Serling’s On-Camera Intros Didn’t Start Until Season 2
The narrator appearing on screen is a hallmark of both the original Twilight Zone series and Jordan Peele’s new series. However, we didn’t always get to see Rod Serling’s face on camera. Rod didn’t actually make his first on-camera appearance (during an actual episode, that is) until the final episode of the first season.
After that, Serling thought he should appear on camera for the rest of the episodes as well.
Only One Actor Ever Tried Their Hand At Directing
Only one episode of The Twilight Zone was directed by someone who had acted in the series. Nowadays, people in Hollywood wear many hats. It’s not uncommon for an actor to step behind the camera, especially on a long-running television show. In the ’60s, that didn’t happen as often.
Actress Ida Lupino starred in the Season 1 episode, “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine,” then she directed an episode “The Masks” in Season 5. She was also the only woman to direct an episode.
It Was The First Series To Depict A Nuclear Blast
In the 1960s, people were very concerned about an impending nuclear explosion. The Cold War lasted from 1953 to 1962, and the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” aired in 1959, smack dab in the middle of it. Many other Twilight Zone episodes would tackle the topic of nuclear war, but “Time Enough at Last” did it first.
In this episode, nuclear war gives Henry Bemis his greatest wish to finally have time to read his books, but not for very long.
It Was Also The First Show To Reference The War In Vietnam
The Vietnam War was unique in that it was the first war that Americans got to witness via television. After seeing the horrors of war on screen, many Americans opposed the excessive violence that was occurring overseas.
Before the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which was the first time many Americans even heard about the horrors of The Vietnam War, there was “In Praise of Pip” a Season 5 Twilight Zone episode about a father and son who try to reconnect even though the son was fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.
It Was One Of The First Shows To Feature A Black Actor
The Twilight Zone episode “The Big Tall Wish” features black actors, which was not unheard of in the 1960s, but it was certainly not common. Television wasn’t exactly a diverse form of media in the ’50s and ’60s.
Two years after this episode aired, CBS instituted a policy that required programs to hire more black actors. Again, Serling was ahead of his time. He knew that diversity could only make his show better.
The Twilight Zone Was Technically Canceled After Three Seasons
So many of the most memorable Twilight Zone episodes are from Seasons 4 and 5. What would The Twilight Zone be without Talky Tina? Or the gremlin on the wing of the plane? Or mysterious Mardi Gras masks?
Actually, those episodes were this close to not getting made at all. The show was late finding a sponsor for Season 4, and CBS had already scheduled another show in its place. It took some last minute scrambling, but eventually, the final two seasons of the original series made it to air.
Pay Attention To The Subtext
On the surface, The Twilight Zone seems like a sci-fi show that deals in the surreal, the mysterious, and the supernatural. While that’s true, these tropes and motifs serve to deliver some pretty real and earthly messages. Serling used sci-fi and fantasy to evade censors who wanted him to stop being so provocative when it came to topics like war, politics, and civil rights.
Serling used art to convey truths about the world around him. It’s all in the subtext if you pay close enough attention.