In the Limelight

When television was invented it opened vast new worlds of entertainment. By the 1950s, TVs were in many homes, with programs dominated by sitcoms centered around wholesome, nearly perfect families. But not all viewers loved Lucy, left it to Beaver, or thought father knew best. By the late ’50s some viewers wanted a bit of scariness.

Starting in 1959, The Twilight Zone was one of the earliest anthology television shows. The series was created by Rod Serling, who had already made a name for himself during the 1950s writing for both radio and television. Throughout his career he wrote 252 scripts, including co-writing Planet of the Apes, and won six Emmys. For The Twilight Zone, he wrote several episodes and as the narrator he would calm tense viewers while also pointing out the mysteries in the world and the need to solve them.

The Twilight Zone, which aired on CBS, merged science fiction and horror, telling stories about normal people who landed in extraordinary situations. Allegorical to its core, it dealt with social issues like war, government, societal tensions, racism, and human nature itself. Nestled within the traditional sci-fi elements, such as robots and mysterious beings, was social and political commentary.

The series began as a story pitch about a man traveling back to 1941 in Honolulu to warn of the upcoming attack on Pearl Harbor. That story was produced for Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, receiving positive attention from both viewers and critics, prompting CBS to pick up Serling’s show. Ratings on the first few episodes were not favorable, but they improved as word of mouth increased viewership. It ended up running for 156 episodes from October 2, 1959 until June 19, 1964.

The Twilight Zone could find the bizarre in the boring, and imagined the potential oddities at the edge of normalcy. Creative and intelligent, it meshed the surreal and metaphysical in an entertaining, frightening show.

Not only did viewers enjoy it, but the show attracted quite a few big names in Hollywood. Celebrities like Burgess Meredith, Jack Klugman, Carol Burnett, Burt Reynolds, Julie Newmar, and Gladys Cooper appeared on The Twilight Zone. William Shatner starred in one of the most famous episodes, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” about a man who is convinced that a gremlin is sabotaging the plane he is in.

The series very clearly influenced some of the modern giants in horror and science fiction from Steven Spielberg to Stephen King, X-Files to Lost. It also transitioned to movies based on the series in 1983 and 1994, plus revivals of the series in the ’80s and ’00s. An attraction based on the ride, “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror,” opened at Walt Disney World in 1994; in it, people can enter their own episode of the show as they board a mysterious elevator where five guests had disappeared during a storm. The queue for the ride contains dozens of references to various Twilight Zone episodes as well. In 2019, the series was rebooted as a web-series, hosted by Jordan Peele.

Appreciation for The Twilight Zone extended beyond viewing to games and collectibles which are still popular today. Much of the merchandise for The Twilight Zone comes in paper form. There are publicity photos, autographs from Rod Serling and guest stars, and From the Twilight Zone book. Plus, comic books, magazines, scripts, mini-comics, and original cover art and interior art pages from Gold Key comics. Movie posters, inserts, lobby cards, and other publicity imagery for the 1983 film are also sought by collectors. Additional memorabilia from the show includes props and costumes, The Twilight Zone Game, and Nick At Nite limited edition watch.

For more on scary TV shows of the 1960s, like The Addams Family, The Munsters, and Dark Shadows, order a copy of The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Horror on gemstonepub.com.