As one of the first shows of its kind, The Twilight Zone featured a new cast of actors experiencing new and bizarre situations ranging from drama, horror, and sci-fi to fall-off-your-chair suspense. This “ahead-of-its-time” show was an extremely popular and influential series that remains well-watched to this day. Networks and movie studios have even tried to recapture the magic on several occasions, including a reboot in 2019 created and narrated by Jordan Peele.
Here are cool things you may not have known about the popular and often creepy TV series.
It Was a Platform for the Stars
With influential names like Leonard Nimoy, Burgess Meredith, Robert Redford, William Shatner, George Takei, Burt Reynolds, and more, The Twilight Zone became a platform for famous actors that went on to do great things within the industry.
Most famously, Shatner became Captain James Kirk on Star Trek. The beloved science fiction series ran on television from 1966 until 1969 and has spawned several sequel series and over ten films. His episode of The Twilight Zone is considered a modern day classic.
The Introduction of the Fantastical
Prior to the airing of The Twilight Zone, audiences were not used to seeing such original and fantastical content. The most popular shows at the time were half-hour comedies and hour-long westerns.
This was truly one of the first shows to introduce the genres of science fiction, drama and fantasy to the general public, which eventually became three of the most popular offerings in the industry. Without The Twilight Zone changing the television landscape, who knows if the science fiction renaissance of the ’60s and ’70s ever would have happened!
Not Rod Serling?
Even though the recognizable voice and face of Rod Serling that we all know and love embodied the show’s potent presence on the screen, originally Serling was not the first choice for the signature vocals. Orson Welles, who was an influential Broadway actor at the time was the producers’ number one suitor.
Serling agreed so much with them that he even supported their idea and tried to lure the actor in himself, but Orson continued his refusal.
Among the First with African American Actors
It’s no secret that the ’50s were a time of racism and struggle. Seeing African Americans on TV was unheard of, so it was a major deal when The Twilight Zone decided to often implement characters of color on the series.
One famous episode, I Am The Night — Color Me Black, dealt with the themes of racism head on. The progressiveness of this act significantly pushed the program ahead of its time and displayed a public tolerance for integration that affected and influenced the entire world.
First To Depict Effects of a Nuclear Blast
Another first for the show was its representation of Nuclear War, which was unheard of at the time. After World War II, audiences were terrified and fascinated by the possibilities. The onset of the Cold War only made matters worse.
Displaying rubble and disastrous scenery, The Twilight Zone gave potential and physical insight into the world’s greatest fear during the airing of the show. Luckily, nothing like what was displayed in the show has happened. Yet…
Appeal To Paranoia
Playing off of the sweep of paranoia that filled the minds of the nation in the ’60s and ’70s, Serling used the program to capture the fear of a pending Nuclear Attack.
Revealing scenes with actors hiding in a fallout shelter following a radio warning of a bomb attack, Serling was the first to play out this fear that everyone was experiencing. Viewers couldn’t get enough of the show’s daring social commentary. We wonder what issues the new version will choose to tackle.
Serling Helped Legitimize TV Drama
In addition to the series paving the road for sci-fi films and shows, it was also one of the first dramas in history to air. Comedies controlled the airwaves as families wanted wholesome shows to watch together.
Serling, the voice of The Twilight Zone introduction and creator of the show, was one of the first writers to specifically script a drama at the time. It was a huge risk at the time, but proved that audiences weren’t only interested in “safe for the whole family” viewing.
It Only Ran for Five Years
Despite the strides the show made at the time, its welcome in the industry was far more short-lived than anticipated running from only 1959 to 1964. That’s just another thing it has in common with Star Trek, a show whose “five year mission” only lasted three.
The Twilight Zone may have only aired for five years, but a glorious and rewarding five years they were. Sometimes the best television shows are short-lived because they don’t have the chance to “jump the shark” and lose their magic.
First Show Ever To Mention Vietnam
A year prior to the first televised announcement on the Vietnam War, the makers of The Twilight Zone aired an episode showing footage of a soldier fighting in the Vietnamese jungles.
Playing off of the physical disconnection that the war brought millions of families at the time, the scene portrayed a sad father wishing to reconnect with his son, the previously-mentioned soldier. Looking back on the foreshadowing sequence of events, it was quite interesting that the producers of the series seemingly predicted the future of the War.
Star Trek Stars
The Twilight Zone was established as a “launching pad” for several famous actors, among them were some of the biggest names in the classic Star Trek series. Of course, as a hit anthology series with a new cast every episode, this was bound to happen.
These include William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei; the sci-fi tie in this program fits with the fantastical ideals behind the indescribable genius of the Star Trek films and television show.
It Spawned Three Revivals
As such a massive piece of TV history, the series has developed three separate revivals since the original airing. The first sequel came in the mid-to-late ’80s, with the second following in 2002-2003, and the third in 2019.
In the industry, it is quite rare that a series is carried into sequenced terms following the initial airing, especially five seasons long. With any luck, the new season can recapture the magic that made the original so wildly popular.
Looney Tunes Wanted In
Popular children’s’ cartoon The Looney Tunes even jumped on board in 1997, publishing the comic book series The Looney Zone. Branching out from the ground-breaking ideals of the series, the characters from the show were cartooned into the Looney Tunes cast.
The ’90s were an experimental time for The Looney Tunes. Hot off the success of Space Jam, Warner Brother tried to attach Bugs Bunny and crew to any profitable property it could. The Twilight Zone was no exception.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Favorite Series
With such a major name like Leonardo DiCaprio understanding and valuing the genius behind The Twilight Zone as his favorite TV series of all time, it justifies the relatability and progression of the program that much more.
The actor, who wasn’t born when the series premiered, discovered it in re-runs and fell in love. The power of the show to capture a new audience years after it aired its finale is proof of its brilliant legacy.
Spinning Off Success
Regardless of the anticipation, the accumulated success of the program led to so much more than a television show. With films, radio series, children’s toys and collectibles, comic books and clothing, The Twilight Zone was not just a show, it was a brand.
And still is, for that matter. In 2019, CBS All Access is releasing a rebooted version of the series created and narrated by Jordan Peele. The network hired him after seeing Get Out, his directorial debut.
Leo’s Twilight Zone Movie Was Put On Hold Because Of Jordan Peele
To prove the extent to which Leo enjoys the show, he is currently in cahoots with Warner Bros to recreate another Twilight Zone movie! After viewing perfected films of his like The Revenant, Inception, Shutter Island and more, this has a chance to be good!
It might be years before his version hits the big screen, though, as the focus right now is on Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated reboot. The new show, like Star Trek Discovery, is a CBS All Access exclusive.
Twilight Zone Literature
One of the greatest outcomes of the show was the literature it inspired. As popularity grew, CBS needed to find new ways to cash in on their cash cow. The logical next step was the literary tie-ins. Books either adapting episodes of the television show or telling brand new stories in the same style as the program.
Breathing life into written scripts, beautifully-illustrated comics, and intriguing novels based off of the historical series, fans were able to relive the brilliance of The Twilight Zone and still are to this day.
The Original and Remake Are Syndicated
Through the process of syndication, TV shows are able to air on their own station without the hassle of going through the original network. As a reflection of the quality of the show, this allows the programs to be viewed significantly more often and for a longer period of time.
In other words, The Twilight Zone will go on forever! (We hope so, at least). Another show that chose to blaze its own path in syndication was Star Trek: The Next Generation, which became one of the most watched shows of the ’80s and ’90s.
Serling Had a Vision
The genius, producer, director, and writer behind the series, Serling, had a reputation for butting heads with Hollywood executives over the direction of the show. They wanted safer programming at the time that stayed away from hot button issues.
Serling refused to give in, partially explaining why such a successful show was pulled off the air after only five years. As mentioned previously, it was unheard of to display scenes of war, African Americans, and the mental paranoia sweeping the nation, but Serling had a vision and it paid off.
Serling’s dedication to the quality of the series even went as far as implementing an Oscar-winning short film titled An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge onto the show. The short was another controversial move by Serling that he needed to fight the network on.
As a major contribution to the epic displays of war and racism that Serling insisted on integrating into the show, this French film told the story of a man about to be hanged during the American Civil War.
Tower of Twilight
Everyone knows and loves the 1930s Tower of Terror at the Disney theme parks, but what most people do not know is that the ride was directly inspired by The Twilight Zone series.
In the late 1980s, Disney licensed the rights to use The Twilight Zone “property” from CBS Inc and even incorporated Serling’s voice into it. Does “You are the passengers on a most uncommon elevator about to ascend into your very own episode of The Twilight Zone” ring any bells?
One of the Best Dramas of All Time
Even years after the original airing of the series, it’s still receiving the praise it deserves and was ranked fifth best TV Drama of all time by TV Guide. The show that took the top spot was The Sopranos, which currently has its own reboot in the works at HBO.
Having paved the road to the common acceptance of war, racism, science fiction and humanism all once, The Twilight Zone is still one of the greatest shows of all time. It is also still one of the most socially relevant.
Most do not know that Serling himself was a part of the War, enlisting right out of high school. Being the inspirational, influential and innovative thinker and writer that he was, he used many personal experiences and accounts from the war to fuel his vision for the series.
Episodes like “The Obsolete Man“ were actually created from his first-hand experiences fighting World War II. All that experience helped lead to Serlings world view that drove the themes of The Twilight Zone.
The Show Still Influences Our Culture
Experiences and scenes from The Twilight Zone are even being tied to relevant celebrities today like presidential candidate Donald Trump. As a huge fan of the series, Trump told People Magazine that he could relate to the experiences of Rocky Valentine when asked what he wants when he reaches the afterlife.
With the response, “I want to win, win, win. Everything I want, I want to get. I want to get the most beautiful women, I want to get the beautiful this and that. I want to never lose again,” Trump apparently connects with the thief’s yearnings. Which isn’t really all that surprising.
A Psychological Side
With a successful attempt to open up the minds of viewers, especially in such an unknown and uneasy period like the ’60s and ’70s, Serling sought to create thought-provoking scenes and experiences that resonated with audiences to pay attention to the world around them.
Utilizing the common mentality of paranoia, Serling bridged gaps between what was publicly acceptable at the time with how the world was truly feeling and what it’s viewers wanted to see expressed.
As a common fear in the human mind, Serling sought to play off of the inevitable emotion of loneliness often during the series.
Portraying some of the world’s greatest fears in the episode “Where Is Everybody?” the character wanders the town in search of companionship only to find that he is the only man left living. It was clear that Serling was intrigued by the concept and used it to invoke the minds of those watching.
Everyone Knows It
For those that have never actually seen an episode of the series, somehow they still know what it is and most likely have heard the iconic theme song. The series is unavoidable, and it’s success is undeniable.
The fame and reach of the show has almost seeped to a subconscious level in the human race as the series and its content will withstand the hands of time. Hopefully, that also means we can learn from the series about how to build a better future for ourselves, as well.
Serling’s Untimely Death
Prone to heart issues like his father, Serling experienced two heart attacks within two weeks of each other and unfortunately passed away due to a heart attack he experienced during open heart surgery.
Serling was only 50 years old at the time of his passing; what a travesty. The show carries on his legacy, and we’re sure Jordan Peele is planning some crazy way to honor Serling’s unquestioned genius on his version of the show.
A World of His Own
The final episode of season one of the series, A World of His Own, included one of the most humorous moments in the show’s history. In it, main character Gregory was the owner of a dictation machine that could create or destroy people as he chose.
As the episode drew to a close, Rod Serling began his usual closing narration, but was interrupted by Gregory. Can you guess what happened next? Read on for a transcript of the conversation.
All in Good Fun
Serling’s narration to the end of Season 1 with episode “A World of His Own” played on humor rather than intrigue, “We hope you enjoyed tonight’s romantic story on The Twilight Zone. At the same time, we want you to realize that it was, of course, purely fictional. In real life, such ridiculous nonsense could never—”
“Rod, you shouldn’t!” Gregory cuts in and pulls a tape labeled “Rod Serling” from his safe. “I mean, you shouldn’t say such things as ‘nonsense’ and ‘ridiculous’!” Gregory throws the tape into the fire. As he fades away, Serling quietly says “Well, that’s the way it goes.”
As previously mentioned, face of Captain James Kirk of the USS Enterprise got his start in The Twilight Zone. He also made appearances in other television and B-movies leading up to his big break.
Famous actor William Shatner appeared in two separate episodes of the show before his Star Trek fame ignited. He may be synonymous with Kirk, but he proved his chops in black and white. The episodes that featured the talented actor were “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet“ and “Nick of Time.”
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Shatner’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” became one of the most popular and well-known episodes of the series and first aired in 1963. Shatner, at 32, plays a man with mental health problems returning home with his wife from a sanitarium, convinced he sees a gremlin on the wing of the plane.
In an attempt to rid the airplane of the creature, Shatner’s character steals a police man’s revolver and nearly flies out of the craft trying to shoot the “imaginary” being. Ending as he started, in a straight jacket, this episode plays on and teases the idea of anxiety and mental breakdowns.
Gremlin on the Wing
The Gremlin, in this case, is meant to symbolize fear. As a common theme in the series, Serling used different scenarios to capture flawed human emotion and reaction to said fears.
Utilizing something as harrowing as a gremlin to portray fear of flight, Serling displayed how our emotions and mental weaknesses can sometimes get the best of us. The episode became so famous it was even parodied on an episode of Simpsons where Bart sees a gremlin dismantle his school bus.
The Truth Shall Be Revealed
Although Shatner makes a mess of himself as a madman that needs help, once the plane has landed the camera reveals actual physical damage to the wing of the plane.
Serling’s voice then comes in saying, “The flight of Mr. Robert Wilson has ended now, a flight not only from point A to point B, but also from the fear of recurring mental breakdown. Mr. Wilson has that fear no longer… though, for the moment, he is, as he has said, alone in this assurance. Happily, his conviction will not remain isolated too much longer, for happily, tangible manifestation is very often left as evidence of trespass, even from so intangible a quarter as the Twilight Zone.”
Nick of Time
The second famous episode headlining the brilliant actor was “Nick of Time,“ in which a vulnerable honeymooning couple gets swept away by the mystery and accuracy of a diner’s mystic sheer.
After stopping in the town of Ridgeview, Ohio due to car trouble, the couple decides to get lunch at a nearby diner but ends up getting so much more than just a meal. Entranced and entrapped by the fortune tellers seemingly accurate predicted answers, Shatner’s superstitions get the best of him, causing him to second- guess every move he and his new wife make.
Travesty After The Twilight Zone
Years after appearing on The Twilight Zone, Shatner came home one day to find his wife dead in the swimming pool as a result of her addiction to alcohol. As much as he might wanted it to just be a bad episode of the show, it wasn’t.
The actor was quoted some time after the tragic incident saying “there is a special agony for somebody who wants to give up the addiction and can’t. The shame that they must feel. The self-degradation.”
Shatner’s Star Trek costar Leonard Nimoy apparently had struggled with addiction himself but became a huge supporter of the actor after tragically losing his wife. They formed a friendship that felt more like a brotherhood if you were to ask them.
As a cold, shut out half- Vulcan being, Nimoy admitted to falling to the dark depths of alcoholism due to his character, yet claims that he was sober for the role in his later years. Leonard passed away just last year due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A Break in the Bond
The two remained close friends until 5 years before Nimoy’s passing, and sadly, Shatner did not attend the lost actor’s funeral. We’re not sure what happened between the two, and perhaps we never will.
However, despite the bad blood brewing from their tiff, Shatner still described his friend as “intelligent, insightful and a precious gem.” Before his passing, Nimoy appeared in two Star Trek movie reboots; Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, the latter of which was a retelling of The Wrath of Khan.
A Quality of Mercy
Nimoy was featured in the eightieth episode of The Twilight Zone titled “A Quality of Mercy,” as a soldier in the fleet named Hansen. Known for being the episode that focused on the A-bomb and WWII, lt. Katell (actor Dean Stockwell) orders an attempt a suicide mission on a group of wounded Japanese soldiers hiding out in a cave.
As the episode progresses, Lt. Katell changes into Lt. Yamuri of the Japanese fleet with the tables turned on the Americans. It is in within The Twilight Zone that Lt. Katell learns the meaning of mercy and alters his attempts to attack the stranded Japanese soldiers.
During the filming of The Twilight Zone: The Movie, a helicopter crash claiming the lives of actor Vic Morrow and two adolescent actors occurred, marking this one of the most awful instances in movie-making history.
The day, July 23, 1982, ignited a significant discussion in the quality of safety procedures on movie sets and will never be forgotten. Today, sets are closely monitored for all possible emergencies. That doesn’t mean bad things still don’t happen, but they happen far less than they used to.
As mentioned before, Star Trek actor George Takai was among the lucky to be featured in the series. Playing a Japanese gardener in the “The Encounter,” Takai engages in intense conversation with a World War II vet.
As Serling sets the ominous tone for a “reenactment” of the war, the two enemies face off in the attic with verbal swords-until one becomes real. This season five episode was withheld from syndication until this very year due to its racial theme.
Takei’s Social Activism
As a happy, out, political activist, George Takai now serves as the spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign Coming Out Project. He’s also one of the best people to follow on social media!
Proudly stating his sexuality and relationship with his partner for 18 years in 2005, George has taken his fame and utilized it to affect change in the minds of public toward the gay community. Along with Shatner, he is one of the last surviving Star Trek original series cast members.
Ivan Dixon Played Two Important Roles
Actor Ivan Nathaniel Dixon III of Hogan’s Heroes played two separate roles in The Twilight Zone episodes: “The Big Tall Wish“ and “I Am the Night—Color Me Black.”
He later turned to directing and then owned and operated a Maui radio station until he had to stop for health reasons that ultimately led to his death in 2008. He will always be remembered for his memorable roles on both Hogan’s Heroes and The Twilight Zone.
Hogan’s Heroes Zone
Major Hogan’s Heroes actor, Bob Crane, also appeared in a Twilight Zone episode. Is there anyone that wasn’t on this show? It’s basically a who’s who of incredible television talent.
Bob played a radio announcer in an episode called Static, which was appropriate since he had been a real-life disc jockey before he became an actor. Although Crane’s voice can be heard several times in the episode, he was not seen and his role was uncredited.
Penguin on Batman, played by Burgess Meredith, had four major roles on the series. Meredith was known as one of the greatest actors of his era, and even won an Oscar. He will always be most remembered, however, for his role in the Adam West led Batman television series.
As the amount of appearances ties with Jack Klugman for the highest on the show, Meredith truly made a name for himself on the show and later narrated Twilight Zone: The Movie.
In one of the most famous episodes of the series,“The Obsolete Man,” a librarian is put on trial and sentenced to death for being obsolete. As a God-loving, faithful librarian, the character is considered for and sentenced to death but is able to choose his method of impalement.
With ending words “The chancellor, the late chancellor, was only partly correct. He was obsolete. But so is the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for Mankind—in The Twilight Zone” the message of the episode is clear.
Another classic, fan-favorite episode of The Twilight Zone is “Time Enough At Last” that displays the nuclear apocalypse. Burgess Meredith plays an avid reader suddenly finding himself all alone… the lone survivor of the disaster.
He actually likes being the only person left on Earth because it gives him time to catch up on his reading. His joy ends, however when his glasses fall off and break, leaving him as the only man left in the world, and also unable to enjoy his own pleasure.
A Book-Lover’s Paradise
As the bookworm emerges from the rubble of the disaster, he contemplates suicide for not wanting to live alone the rest of his life until he comes upon a gaze in the distance of the library. As he steadily approaches the wreckage of the institution, he sees books all across his path, books he had always longed to read.
Coming to the realization that he had all the time in the world to read these, Serling comes in with the final line of “The best-laid plans of mice and men… and Henry Bemis… the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis… in the Twilight Zone.
A Serling Favorite
Years later, Rod Serling confessed that “Time Enough at Last” was one of his favorite episodes of the series. The movie that came out featured some big hitters, including Steven Spielberg showing his respect to Serling as a producer.
In Twilight Zone: The Movie, actor Albert Brooks tells Dan Aykroyd, “This thing freaked me out when I was 7 years old. I bought another pair of glasses just in case that would happen.” The movie, like the show, has achieved cult status.
The Real Twilight Zone
A real dimension of time and space known as “the twilight zone” actually exists in our world, in the ocean. Scientifically referred to as the “disphotic zone,” this layer of the sea is the only part that only sees faint light during daylight.
As the theme of the show is eerie, yet real, this type of zone fits perfectly along with everything that the series set out to deliver. At the end of the day, it’s really not such a bad thing to be stuck in The Twilight Zone.