The Twilight Zone had a hard time gaining the respect of TV networks

The Twilight Zone gets mad respect today, but it didn't start that way.

Many consider The Twilight Zone to be a masterpiece, even inspiring the 2019 remake by Jordan Peele under the same name. The original series, which ran from 1959 to 1964, offered viewers the chance to escape reality and enter a new dimension.

The Twilight Zone terrified many, offered unique insight, and sometimes even had a heartwarming touch — depending on the episode.

In the early 1950s, pitching the concept of The Twilight Zone was a bit more challenging. Before The Twilight Zone, there were only a few forms of media that followed a similar concept: Lights Out (1934), Suspense (1942), and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955).

Most television networks weren't sure if a concept like The Twilight Zone would work for the average viewer. But Serling had faith.

According to a 1959 interview with Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Serling tried to sell his idea for The Twilight Zone three years before it was on-air, but it was booted by multiple networks. Television just wasn't ready to enter The Twilight Zone yet. 

"Fantasy used to be a dirty word in TV," Serling said.

The Twilight Zone was described as Serling's "baby" in the interview. He oversaw the production of the series, did the weekly hosting and narrative duties, and did most of the writing. 

When The Twilight Zone was first pitched to networks, Serling didn't have three Emmy Awards sitting on his shelf, or hardly any recognition to his name for that matter. Selling a script was a bit harder to do when not many knew his name.

In 1958, Serling pitched a pilot for The Twilight Zone which was titled "Time Element." It was produced by Desilu Playhouse and starred William Bendix. The pilot had good reviews. Television networks took another look at the idea because of the success and decided to give The Twilight Zone a chance.

Thanks to Serling, fantasy is no longer a dirty word in television. In fact, there are now tons of new shows that delve into different worlds and explore the fantasy genre.

When The Twilight Zone hit TV screens nationwide, Serling believed that people would either hate it or love it with no middle ground.

"It's a carefully planned series," Serling said. "And the quality we're after is a kind of marriage between film and live TV. We're going to use the pace and flexibility of film and hope to get some spontaneous feeling of the live medium."

According to another 1959 interview with Asbury Park Press, Serling said he was always worried about the final product. He wanted to push the idea of "Thinking TV," where entertainment has a unique purpose rather than being mindless.

"Television needs new and different ideas even more than it needs sponsors," Serling said. "I'd like to think I could start a trend, push off some of the Westerns and detectives for the kind of shows that only television can do."

Spoiler alert: It worked, and the trend continues today across television and film.

"It drives me to desperation to consider all the waste in television," Serling said. "There are some shows on-air which help people to know, see — to understand, but they are so few. Why is it everybody is so timid, so afraid?"

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14 Comments

WhiteRook 7 months ago
Rod Serling was a top drawer scriptwriter! His screenplay for the movie "Seven Day in May" was excellent! A military coup, a take over of the U.S.Government was pretty much a fantasy back in the 60's. Today not so much a fantasy. The dialog in that movie is so crisp and clear a true spine tingling script. Later, his teleplay for the tv movie "Doomsday Flight" was again another suspenseful script in the genre of Hitchcock. A barometric pressure triggered bomb hidden on coast to coast jet liner and the twist ending is a classic!!
Wiseguy70005 7 months ago
That's right, FANTASY. Far too many people have (and continue to this day) refer to The Twilight Zone as science fiction. Although there were science fiction episodes (it was an anthology, after all) the overall genre was fantasy.
AgingDisgracefully 8 months ago
So THAT'S why he did so much "submitting for your approval"!
Actually, he only said that phrase THREE times!
GaryGoltz 8 months ago
https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8i4844 watch the Time Element
PHILZACHER63 8 months ago
My Uncle was Rod Serling's roommate at Antioch College in Ohio around 1946.
Runeshaper PHILZACHER63 7 months ago
That's cool!
Andybandit 8 months ago
That is too bad. The TTLZ is a great show.
cperrynaples 8 months ago
I remember that Serling sat down with Mike Wallace just before the premiere and Wallace said something to the effect of "So Rod are you giving up serious writing in order to do The Twilight Zone?" In a PBS documentary about Serling years later, Wallace was forced to eat humble pie...LOL!
justjeff 8 months ago
Serling actually first received notice for his dramatic TV play "Patterns". It was later made into a movie.
According to Wikipedia:

"Patterns, also known as Patterns of Power, is a 1956 American "boardroom drama" film starring Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, and Ed Begley; and directed by Fielder Cook. The screenplay was by Rod Serling, who adapted it from his teleplay of the same name, which was originally broadcast January 12, 1955 on the Kraft Television Theatre with Sloane, Begley and Richard Kiley."
justjeff justjeff 8 months ago
Another 1956 film based on a Serling script was "The Rack"...
texasluva 8 months ago
Most things new (especially in those times) was gone over with a fine-tooth comb. We are lucky that the thumbs finally went up for The Twilight Zone. Just imagine what we have might not have gotten. Everything is just part of our history. Serling was right back then: "Why is it everybody is so timid, so afraid?" I am happy that this many others made it to our screens.
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