Things You Might Not Know About The Twilight ZonePublished on July 11, 2017. Updated June 15, 2020
The Twilight Zone was a groundbreaking show when it aired from October 2, 1959 to June 19, 1964. Although the show never brought in huge ratings, it was nominated for eight Emmy Awards in total and won two, and has gone down in history as being one of the greatest TV shows of all time. The show has even spawned a TV series and a movie with the same name. It’s been more than 50 years since the original show went off the air, so here are 8 things you didn’t know about The Twilight Zone:
8. Developing The Twilight Zone
Creator Rod Serling began writing for television in the 1950s, but he found that he was unable to write about more controversial topics because of the networks and sponsors would censor his scripts. To get around this, he decided to create a science fiction show with robots, aliens and other supernatural occurrences, which he felt would give him more freedom to express controversial ideas. In 1957, he pitched a pilot called “The Time Element” (which would become The Twilight Zone), which was about a man who travels back in time to 1941 to warn everyone about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor, but the script was initially rejected. A year later, producer Bert Granet discovered it and produced it as an episode of the television anthology series Desilu Playhouse. The show was a success, so CBS agreed to let Serling go ahead with his pilot for The Twilight Zone.
7. Calling All Writers!
Although Rod Serling wrote many of the show’s first season episodes, he realized that he could not write all of them, so he invited viewers to send in manuscripts. His staff received up to 14,000 in the first five days and only got around to reading 500 of them. Unfortunately, none met the high standards that Serling had established, so he instead invited a group of established West Coast writers to a screening of the pilot, which is where he found writers Richard Matheson and Charlies Beaumont. Together with Serling, they wrote all but one of the first season’s scripts, as well as most of the series.
Rod Serling wanted actor Richard Egan to narrate the show because he liked his distinctive voice but, because of contractual issues, Egen was unable to lend his voice to the show, so Serling narrated the show himself. Other actors who were considered for the role of narrator included Westbrook Van Voorhis and Orson Welles. While Van Voorhis didn’t get the job because his elocution wasn’t right, with Welles their efforts to negotiate a salary proved futile.
5. Theme Song
The Twilight Zone has one of the most recognizable opening themes in television history. CBS offered $200 to any composer who could write a signature theme for the show and French avant-garde composer Marius Constant was the winner. He wrote the theme song in a single afternoon and it was used in the show starting in season two.
4. Budget Cuts
During season two, a new network executive, James Aubrey, took over CBS. He wanted to keep costs for the show down, so he ordered that six episodes be produced on videotape rather than film, which made shooting and editing next to impossible because each episode had to be camera cut on a studio sound stage using four cameras. Even with these cutbacks, the network only managed to save $6,000 per episode, which was far less than the cost of a single episode, which was around $50,000.
In January 1964, CBS announced that The Twilight Zone was going to be cancelled. According to producer William Froug, it was cancelled because CBS exec Jim Aubrey felt that the show was over budget and the ratings weren’t good enough; however, Rod Serling claimed that it was his decision to cancel the show. ABC reportedly was interested in bringing The Twilight Zone over to their network under the name Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves, but Serling wasn’t interested. He sold his 40% share in the show to CBS, believing that the studio wouldn’t be able to recoup the production costs, which were frequently over budget, but with syndication, the show was quite successful.
2. Ratings Struggles
When the show first premiered, it was really popular with critics, but it struggled to find a receptive television audience. It managed to attract a large enough audience that it was able to survive a brief hiatus in November of 1959, and then it finally surpassed its competition on ABC and NBC, which convinced its sponsors to hold on until the end of the season; however, throughout its five seasons, the show only had moderate ratings and was twice canceled and then revived.
1. New Time Slot
For the fourth season, The Twilight Zone lost its place in CBS’ September 1962 schedule to the show Fair Exchange, which meant that it had to air in January 1963 in an entirely new time slot, Thursdays at 9 p.m. The new time slot meant that the show needed to be expanded from a half hour to an hour, which was especially problematic for the crew because their formula at the time was really effective. This wasn’t the only change in season four. The name also changed from The Twilight Zone to Twilight Zone. Viewers didn’t like the new time slot or the expanded episodes. The ratings suffered and the fourth season was referred to as the “least creative and most awkward season.”