Matheson: In the Zone

Out of the 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone‘s original run, Rod Serling wrote a staggering 92 scripts. But even a prolific genius like him couldn’t write them all.

So over the course of the show’s five-year run, he turned to several talented writers whose imaginative stories helped explore some of the most fascinating corners of the fifth dimension.

Men like Charles Beaumont. George Clayton Johnson. Montgomery Pittman. Earl Hamner. And a man who crafted some of the Zone‘s most legendary episodes: Richard Matheson.

Richard Matheson 1926-2013

Richard Matheson

The gremlin on the wing? Matheson. The devil’s-head fortune-teller? Matheson. Agnes Moorehead trying to fend off two tiny home invaders from another planet? Matheson. Two guys trying to patch up a broken-down robot boxer? You guessed it.

He also contributed some of TZ’s most well-known lighter moments. If you’ve enjoyed seeing Keenan Wynn “wink out” Serling at the end of “A World of His Own,” you have him to thank. Or if you’ve chuckled at Buster Keaton racing through a back alley, clad in his underwear and a time-travel helmet, you-know-who is responsible.

Invaders 18

He penned 14 episodes in all (plus two more, if you count two stories that Serling himself adapted), and in the process left an indelible mark on popular culture. And that’s to say nothing of his many books, movies and other TV shows.

Assessing his impact would take a separate post. For now, I want to ask a simple question: Which one of Matheson’s baker’s-dozen-plus-one TZs is your favorite?

(Not familiar with the episode names? Check this list on

UPDATE (June 27, 11:30 a.m.): The Mystic Seer, a little girl wandering in a modern-day Wonderland, a telephoning corpse, and those two intrepid “aliens” from Earth put up a valiant fight, but in the end they couldn’t match the popularity of everybody’s favorite wing-walker from … say, where DID that creature come from?

No matter. The fans have spoken: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, with 26 percent of the vote, is the most popular Richard Matheson TZ episode! “Nick of Time” takes the silver medal with 17 percent of the vote. “The Invaders”, “Little Girl Lost”, and “Night Call” (12 percent) tied for the bronze.

All the remaining episodes (except “A World of Difference,” which really surprises me) managed to cop at least one vote. Thanks to all who voted!


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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 06/25/2013, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Very sad to lose a great writer like Matheson. He wrote some wonderful TZs. “Nick of Time” is still one of my favourite episodes. And I must say, I think that bit of fun with Serling at the end of “A World of His Own” is one of the series’ best moments.

    This is a nice little post. And what a fun poll! Naturally, I went with… “Nick of Time”. :)

    • Great selection. I voted for “Nick of Time” as well. So many classic episodes to pick from, but in the end, that’s such a huge favorite of mine. :)

      Glad you enjoyed this post so much! It’s sad to lose Matheson, which is why I wanted to assemble this small tribute. What a legacy. More posts to come.

  2. RIP, Mr. Matheson!

    Thanks for the tribute to a great writer, you two. :-] But, maaan, this voting thing! Decisions, decisions! And I do agree with “the Serling moment” at the end of “World of His own”—priceless!

    • You’re welcome, Frank! :) Tough to pick just one, I know. If it’s any consolation, it wasn’t easy for me, either!

  3. “Nick of Time” just slightly edges out “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” for me, but both are very good episodes. Each is extremely creepy in their own way, with “Nick of Time” obviously working its chills on a much more subtle, cerebral level than “Nightmare.” They definitely feature top-notch writing by Matheson. And, coincidentally, both have some really solid acting by William Shatner from before he turned into a parody of himself.

    • That’s long been my take on both of those episodes as well, and with the same result: “Nick of Time” edging out the slightly better known “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

      And I agree with you about Shatner. Every time someone talks about him hamming it up, I point to these two episodes as an example of what he could do.

      Thanks for voting!

  4. Bill Slaughter

    It is impossible to pick just one but because that was the question I did. Little Girl Lost truly takes us to another dimension and that’s what TZ is all about. So different than any other episode.All on list are superb but having to pick just I have to pick this one.

    • It was tough, I agree, and even though I didn’t pick LGL, I agree with you that it kind of encapsulates the whole series. I appreciate your vote and your comment, Bill!

  5. Tough tough choice….

    That is some classic TZ! Death Ship is just perfect. The Invaders is just perfect.

    Personal favorite out of this list is either Third from the Sun or the Buster Keaton one. I’ll vote for Buster, since I think I first encountered Third from the Sun in short story format, and second as a Twilight Zone.

    Oh! But Little Girl Lost is so good too! (Though I think Poltergeist might be better.)

    • “Once Upon a Time” does offer some silly fun, so I’m glad to see it pick up a vote or two. I agree that “Third From The Sun” is a very good one, but I didn’t put it on the official poll, since Matheson didn’t actually script it for TZ. Thanks for voting, Mickey!

  6. “Night Call” – that was actually an easy one for me. That episode always gives me the creeps. I can barely watch it alone. The #2 slot might be harder to choose though – “Nightmare…” or “The Last Flight”? Decisions, decisions!

    • Interestingly enough, Serling planned some ghost stories for a never-to-be-seen Season 6 of TZ. “Night Call,” though, remains its only real ghost story, and yeah, it’s a creepy one. “The Last Flight” is another favorite of mine. Glad you voted!

  7. Regrets all around — obviously, to learn of Mr. Matheson’s death; but also that I was on vacation and missed the chance to vote in your poll! “Nightmare” is a worthy winner, although (as I’ve opined before), I prefer Matheson’s other Shatner-starring episode, “Nick of Time,” which would have been my choice. Glad to see it garnered a second place finish!

    • Sorry to hear you missed voting, but at least it wasn’t so close that your selection would have made it otherwise, you know? Thanks for chiming in, Mike!

  8. I have to pick Nightmare at 20,000 Feet as the best, but Night call comes in as a very, very close 2nd for me. It’s absolutely chilling, even if the ending was strange – two phone wires on the grave – where’d he get the phone? i know, it’s silly to even ask that!

    It reminded me a lot of one of my favorite film noirs, Sorry, Wrong Number.

    • I really like Night Call as well — definitely too much to ask such logical questions! There’s nothing like a good ghost story.

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