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A Trip Into The Past

What would The Twilight Zone be without time travel? So let’s go back for a moment to September 13, 2010. Yes, exactly two years ago.

That was the day a Rod Serling fan named Paul went looking for a Twitter page that paid tribute to the most imaginative TV series of all time. After all, you can find fan pages for some of the most obscure pop-culture obsessions imaginable. Surely there would be one exploring that “middle ground between light and shadow,” right?

Yet my search was largely in vain. There was one page, yes, but it simply posted rolling excerpts from Serling’s TZ intros, with no engagement with followers at all. (It also abruptly stopped on December 31, 2010.) Otherwise, zip — no official, nothing unofficial. Just the “vastness of space” that Serling describes in the TZ pilot.
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Serling on Science Fiction

Is science fiction a low form of literature, consumed only by a small, niche audience? Not according to Rod Serling.

RS2

In a 1970 interview with professor and author James Gunn (you can watch it below), he explains that science fiction is a more sophisticated form of literature than many critics tend to assume — and one with a much wider audience:

I think the networks have traditionally, and almost ritualistically, short-changed the science-fiction audience, both qualitatively & quantitatively. I don’t think … they’ve given the proper respect to science fiction as a legitimate area of literary attempt. So number one, I think … it’s a high-level literary form, and number two, I think it’s much more than a small cotre of loyal viewers who have read “Amazing Stories” and want to go on. I think it’s a sizeable group, particularly amongst the young.RS3 Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Winning Gamble

It’s easy to look at The Twilight Zone today and think of it as a can’t-miss proposition. How could it fail?

Yet Rod Serling was taking a real gamble when the show debuted in the fall of 1959. Anthology shows had a shaky track record. Science fiction and fantasy weren’t given much respect in those days. More importantly, he was walking away from a lucrative job as a successful TV writer.

Serling's Winning Gamble2

So why did he do it? Here’s what he told Mike Wallace just before Twilight Zone premiered:

I’m not nearly as concerned with the money to be made on this show as I am with the quality of it, and I can prove that. I have a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer which guarantees me something in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars over a period of three years. This is a contract I’m trying to break and get out of, so I can devote time to a series which is very iffy, which is a very problematical thing. It’s only guaranteed 26 weeks and if it only goes 26 weeks and stops, I’ll have lost a great deal of money. But I would rather take the chance and do something I like, something I’m familiar with, something that has a built-in challenge to it.

Serling had already won three Emmy awards before The Twilight Zone went on the air. He would win three more in the years ahead, two of them for Twilight Zone. The routine excellence of the series quickly turned it into a classic with legions of fans.

It pays sometimes to “take the chance.” Not exactly a Zone moral — but a good lesson nonetheless.

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