Fifty years ago today, on Friday, October 2, 1959, CBS broadcast the first episode of a new television program called The Twilight Zone. Created by Rod Serling, the anthology series would soon become a cultural touchstone as well as an important marker in TV history.
After a successful airing of Serling’s would-be pilot, “The Time Element,” on Desilu Playhouse in 1958, CBS had ordered a more official pilot for The Twilight Zone. Serling went back to work and created “Where Is Everybody?”, which sold the series and also became the first episode to air.
Earl Holliman stars as Mike Ferris, a man suffering from amnesia who finds himself wandering around a quiet, little town. In fact, the town is completely deserted. Not like a ghost town, though, for even a cigar has been left burning on the desk of a local jail.
While the ultimate twist in this tale is milder and less fanciful than some of the more famous examples from later episodes, “Where Is Everybody?” nevertheless establishes the surprise endings that helped to define The Twilight Zone.
The series ran for five seasons, produced 156 episodes, and won three Emmy Awards. Besides never truly leaving the airwaves due to syndication, The Twilight Zone has also been revisited a number of times since broadcasting its final episode in 1964.
Just a few years after Serling’s death in 1975, Steven Spielberg produced Twilight Zone: The Movie, which hit theaters in 1983. The mediocre film is perhaps remembered most for an on-location tragedy.
CBS brought the series back to television in 1985, including both new stories and remakes of classic tales. Though three seasons were produced to create a more enticing syndication package, the 1980s Twilight Zone series never captured the public’s attention in the same fashion as the 1960s version. In 1994, CBS tried once again with Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics, a TV-movie based on two previously unproduced Serling stories.
Forest Whitaker hosted UPN’s short-lived Twilight Zone series, which aired in the 2002-2003 season. Interest in The Twilight Zone concept continues, however. Leonardo DiCaprio recently purchased the film rights to The Twilight Zone and is planning to produce movies based on Serling’s original stories.
Selected Information Sources/Recommended Viewing & Reading
The Twilight Zone: The Complete Definitive Collection DVD set, CBS/Image Entertainment
The Twilight Zone Companion: Second Edition book by Marc Scott Zicree
Twilight Zone at The Museum of Broadcast Communications
The Twilight Zone Archives
For those in the United States, watch full episodes of The Twilight Zone at CBS.com, including “Where Is Everybody?”