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50 Years of The Twilight Zone
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
I'm about to make a bold statement; The Twilight Zone (the first episode of which aired 50 years ago on October 2, 1959) is my favorite TV series of all time. Period. I may love Arrested Development and think that The Wire was one of the best TV dramas ever, but when it comes to BEST TV SERIES OF ALL TIME I'd cast my vote for The Twilight Zone (Zone) every time.
If you've never watched Zone before — and I'm guessing most people who take the time to read my columns have — essentially the series was horror/sci-fi based where each episode stood alone from every other episode and no stories were intertwined. Some Zone episodes dealt with creatures of the unknown while others were about people traveling across time and space to name two plots of many. Regardless of the actual story, each episode commented in some way or form on the human condition, both good and bad. In Zone, sometimes the good were rewarded and the bad punished and sometimes the good were punished right along with the bad.
Often dismissed as a half-hour long morality tales, Zone was something much more. Episodes somehow touch a collective paranoid nerve that was just as relevant 50 years ago as it is today. Be it fears of isolation, racism, the destruction of mankind... Almost nothing was off topic or taboo when disguised in the veil of horror or sci-fi.
Today many of the series that Zone aired alongside when it premiered are mostly consigned to memory. Series like Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, The Red Skeleton Show and Father Knows Best, all top series when Zone premiered, turn up from time to time on TV Land and syndication, but pale in comparison to the ripples in pop culture created by Zone.
Series like Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The X-Files, Fringe and just about every M. Night Shyamalan movie to date to all bear the marks of being "descendants" of Zone. In fact, on many occasions Lost co-creator and director of the recent Star Trek movie J.J. Abrams has said that his favorite TV series is also Zone, so at least I’m in good company!
Personally, I must've discovered Zone sometime in the early 1980s when the series aired in syndication. I remember that for a time WGN aired two Zone episodes Sunday afternoons. It's not like the early 1980s were known as a great period in TV drama (take your pick, T.J. Hooker or Airwolf) and a series like Zone that was very much different spoke to me. I don't know if it was the writing of series creator Rod Serling (who wrote many of the shows himself), the moody set pieces or that the series was in black and white when most everything else I saw was in color. But I immediately loved Zone and would watch it whenever I had a chance.
Sometime in the 1990s Zone left syndication and would air exclusively on SyFy where you can still see it today. However, other than a marathon of episodes that air a few times each year, Zone has been exiled to middle of the night viewing slots on that channel. (Though somehow that seems appropriate to me.)
Here's how I plan on celebrating Zone's 50th anniversary – I plan on watching every single episode of the between October 2 this year and October 2, 2010. There are 156 episodes of the series in all, which means that I'll have to average around three episodes a week so that shouldn't be much of a problem. I had toyed with watching the episodes as they were originally broadcast week to week – watching the first episode on October 2, the second on October 9, etc. and taking breaks over the summer just as the original series did. The only problem was that I wouldn't finish my marathon until June 19, 2014, which is just a bit too much of a commitment even for me.
Regardless, consider my October 2009 to October 2010 my Zone year. Join me! All episodes of The Twilight Zone are available on DVD and many are available for online viewing at CBS.com. Visit me online at AlphaEcho.com.