Twilight Zones first episode aired October 2, 1959.
The Twilight Zone is an American television anthology series created by Rod Serling. Each episode (156 in the original series) is a mixture of self-contained fantasy, science fiction, suspense, or horror, often concluding with a macabre or unexpected twist. A popular and critical success, it introduced many Americans to serious science fiction and abstract ideas through television and also through a wide variety of Twilight Zone literature. The program followed in the tradition of earlier radio programs such as The Weird Circle and X Minus One and the radio work of Serling’s hero, dramatist Norman Corwin.
The success of the original series led to the creation of two revival series: a cult hit series that ran for several seasons on CBS and in syndication in the 1980s, and a short-lived UPN series that ran from 2002 to 2003. It would also lead to a feature film, a radio series, a comic book, a magazine and various other spin-offs that would span five decades.
Aside from Serling himself, who crafted nearly two-thirds of the series’ total episodes, writers for The Twilight Zone included leading genre authorities such as Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Jerry Sohl, George Clayton Johnson, Earl Hamner, Jr., Reginald Rose, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. Many episodes also featured adaptations of classic stories by such writers as Ambrose Bierce, Lewis Padgett, Jerome Bixby and Damon Knight.
The term “twilight zone” predates the television program, and originally meant simply a “gray area.” (Intelligence analysts in the early Cold War labeled a country a twilight zone if there was no definite U.S. policy on whether to intervene militarily to defend it.) Rod Serling himself chose the title of the series, and said that only after the series aired did he discover that the “twilight zone” was also a term applied by the US Air Force to the terminator, the imaginary border between “night” and “day” on a planetary body.
CBS purchased a teleplay in 1958 that writer Rod Serling hoped to produce as the pilot of a weekly anthology series. The Twilight Zone episode “The Time Element” marked Serling’s first entry in the field of science fiction.
The story is a time travel fantasy of sorts, involving a man named Peter Jenson (William Bendix) visiting a psychoanalyst, Dr. Gillespie (Martin Balsam), with complaints of a recurring dream in which he imagines waking up in Honolulu just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “I wake up in a hotel room in Honolulu, and it’s 1941, but I mean I really wake up and it’s really 1941,” he explains, concluding that these are not mere dreams; he actually is travelling through time. However, Dr. Gillespie insists that time travel is impossible given the nature of temporal paradoxes. During his
dream, taking advantage of the situation, he bets on all the winning horses, all the right teams and, eventually, tries unsuccessfully to warn others — the newspaper, the military, anyone — that the Japanese are planning a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. His warnings are seen as crazed ravings, and are either ignored or met with physical violence, as he is punched out by an engineer who works on the USS Arizona, after insisting that it will be sunk on December 7. Jenson’s dream always ends as the Japanese bombers fly overhead on the morning of December 7, prompting him to yell out “I told you! Why wouldn’t anybody listen to me?”. Jenson finally discloses to Dr. Gillespie that he was actually in Honolulu on December 7, 1941. While on the couch, Jenson falls asleep once again, only this time, Japanese planes flying overhead shoot inside the windows of his room and he is killed. When the camera cuts back to the doctor’s office, the couch Jenson was lying on is now empty, and Dr. Gillespie looks around, confused. Although Jenson had smoked earlier, the ashtray is empty. He looks in his appointment book and finds he had no appointments scheduled for this day. Gillespie goes to a bar and finds Jenson’s picture on the wall. The bartender said that Jenson tended bar there, but was killed in Pearl Harbor.
With this script, Serling drafted the fundamental elements that would distinguish the series still to come: a science-fiction/fantasy theme, opening and closing narration, and an ending with a twist. But what would prove popular with audiences and critics in 1959 did not meet network standards in 1957. “The Time Element” was purchased only to be shelved indefinitely, and talks of making The Twilight Zone a television series ended.
This is where things stood when Bert Granet, the new producer for Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, discovered “The Time Element” in CBS’ vaults while searching for an original Serling script to add prestige to his show. “The Time Element” (introduced by Desi Arnaz) debuted on November 24, 1958, to an overwhelmingly delighted audience of television viewers and critics alike. “The humor and sincerity of Mr. Serling’s dialogue made ‘The Time Element’ consistently entertaining,” offered Jack Gould of The New York Times. Over six thousand letters of praise flooded Granet’s offices. Convinced that a series based on such stories could succeed, CBS again began talks with Serling about the possibilities of producing The Twilight Zone. “Where Is Everybody?” was accepted as the pilot episode and the project was officially announced to the public in early 1959. “The Time Element” is rarely aired on television and it was only available in an Italian DVD box set titled “Ai confini della realtà — I tesori perduti” until it was shown as part of an all night sneak preview of the new cable channel TVLand.
Throughout the 1950s, Rod Serling had established himself as one of the hottest names in television, equally famous for his success in writing televised drama as he was for criticizing the medium’s limitations. His most vocal complaints concerned the censorship frequently practiced by sponsors and networks. “I was not permitted to have my Senators discuss any current or pressing problem,” he said of his 1957 production The Arena, intended to be an involving look into contemporary politics. “To talk of tariff was to align oneself with the Republicans; to talk of labor was to suggest control by the Democrats. To say a single thing germane to the current political scene was absolutely prohibited.”
Twilight Zone’s writers frequently used science fiction as a vehicle for social comment; networks and sponsors who had infamously censored all potentially “inflammatory” material from the then predominant live dramas were ignorant of the methods developed by writers such as Ray Bradbury for dealing with important issues through seemingly innocuous fantasy. Frequent themes include nuclear war, mass hysteria, and McCarthyism, subjects that were strictly forbidden on more “serious” prime-time drama. Episodes such as “The Shelter” or “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” offered specific commentary on current events. Other stories, such as “The Masks” or “The Howling Man,” operated around a central allegory, parable, or fable that reflected the characters’ moral or philosophical choices.
Despite his esteem in the writing community, Serling found The Twilight Zone difficult to sell. Few critics felt that science fiction could transcend empty escapism and enter the realm of adult drama. In a September 22, 1959, interview with Serling, Mike Wallace asked a question illustrative of the times: “…[Y]ou’re going to be, obviously, working so hard on The Twilight Zone that, in essence, for the time being and for the foreseeable future, you’ve given up on writing anything important for television, right?” While Serling’s appearances on the show became one of its most distinctive features, with his clipped delivery still widely imitated today, he was reportedly nervous about it and had to be persuaded to appear on camera. Serling often steps into the middle of the action and the characters remain seemingly oblivious to him, but on one notable occasion they are aware he’s there: In the episode “A World of His Own,” a writer with the power to alter his reality objects to Serling’s unflattering narration, and promptly erases Serling from the show.
The original series contained 156 episodes. Seasons 1, 2, 3, 5 were half hour shows. The fourth season (1962-1963) contained one-hour episodes……Source(s) Wikipedia