The Twilight Zone's Effect on Sci-Fi, Anthologies, and Modern Storytelling
Without it, there'd be no Black Mirror, Man in the High Castle or Westworld; how The Twilight Zone changed everything.
"Next stop, the Twilight Zone..."
For over five decades, the moment that people heard Rod Serling's classic opening narration, everyone knew that all bets for normalcy were off. Even today, anyone who's ever watched television has heard references to the classic TV show.
Now considered to be one of the most timeless sci-fi television series of all time, TheTwilight Zone once began as a simple, unassuming TV show back in 1959.
Written and directed by Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone was once hailed by Newton Minow of the National Association of Broadcasters as the only weekly show that he found "dramatic and exciting" in a sea of formulaic comedies and unimaginative shows.
It was a show that proved that science fiction can be great television.
Prior to the debut of The Twilight Zone, television shows that shared a sci-fi theme were often hackneyed, hokey, and focused around a two-dimensional hero traveling through space. The genre itself was often greeted with eyerolls by executives, and was typically relegated to children.
The Twilight Zone wasn't like this in the least bit. Instead of featuring a two-dimensional beefcake's adventures in outer space, the show focused on realistic characters and situations that began much like any typical day in the 1950's. It was reality with a surreal plot twist - and that's what made it so golden.
Thanks to Serling's amazing plot lines and characters, people began to rethink science fiction. Sci-fi was no longer stories about fictional trips through the cosmos; it became a way of saying that anything was possible.
Serling's storylines also offered poignant commentaries on society, humanity, and life in general.
Though Aesop and other classic authors used the idea of adding morals to stories, this practice was one that had faded into nonexistence by the time that writers began to create scripts for the small screen.
Serling brought it back by introducing stories in which twists and turns revealed true human nature - and the consequences of cruel behavior. It's hard to deny how powerful the imagery and plots were, especially considering how little they had in terms of special effects.
For example, in "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street," neighbors turned against one another when they believed that aliens were coming. In the end, the aliens observed them and said, "They pick the most dangerous enemy that they can find... and it's themselves."
Meanwhile, in the story the "Eye Of The Beholder," Serling made people question what beauty really is worth in society's eyes, and if beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Both lessons are as timely today as they were in the 50's and 60's.
Every story had an innate ability to be cerebral enough to unleash a person's inner philosopher, yet easy enough for a child to understand. To this day, science fiction writers still view The Twilight Zone as the gold standard in television writing.
For readers who had the Twilight Zone book anthology, they already may have noticed the impact the show had on typical anthologies. The Twilight Zone as an anthology was different from most others on the market. Unlike Nancy Drew's anthologies, The Twilight Zone didn't follow adventures of a random fictional character.
Instead of focusing on the adventures of a bunch of set-in-stone characters, The Twilight Zone as an anthology focused on a certain ambiance and writing style filled with plot twists. You didn't need to read the prior anthology story to understand what was happening - and that alone was both a novel idea and a huge breath of fresh air.
The written anthology was extremely successful, and ended up inspiring hundreds to write their own Twilight Zone style stories. Moreover, the anthology's success also convinced publishers to follow suit with similar "pick and choose" anthology collections in other fields of literature.
The Twilight Zone introduced themes that still are found in today's sci-fi shows.
Fearless as a television show, The Twilight Zone broached topics that were either never acknowledged or just never imagined. Some of these topics ended up becoming permanent fixtures in modern television - and many ended up bleeding into other genres of storytelling as well.
One of the most obvious examples of themes that The Twilight Zone introduced was the idea of the "suburban nightmare." Serling was one of the very first television writers to remind people that the seemingly stable image of beautiful suburban America always has murky, often hideous secrets that lie right beneath that idyllic veneer.
Nowadays, the trope of a suburban dystopia can be found in a small library of different movies including Pleasantville, Donnie Darko, the Stepford Wives, and of course, Disturbia.
This is far from the only allegory introduced by The Twilight Zone; a quick watch through the episodes reveal many, many more.
We've entered the Age of the Twilight Zone, and we can't go back.
The biggest impact that The Twilight Zone had was that it raised the bar for modern television, science fiction, and even modern acting. It opened our eyes to the full potential of what television can be; once we knew what sci-fi writing and TV presentation was capable of, we could never go back to the hackneyed stories of old.
In 1959, audiences were first introduced to The Twilight Zone - and it mesmerized them. With every major twist and turn, it continued to captivate us, remaining in its own dimension of television and storytelling, timeless as infinity, with possibilities as vast as our universe itself.