The Twilight Zone premiered on CBS in the waning months of the Eisenhower era, but more than a half-century later the brand is enjoying a resurgence, as is Serling, the creator, host, producer and social conscience behind the pioneering anthology that specialized in “imaginative tales that are not bound by time or space or the established laws of nature.”
Few shows plant a flag in the public imagination the way The Twilight Zone did. Its name, its theme music, and many of its characters (including monotone narrator Serling) became part of the American lexicon. In 2013, the WGA named it the third-best written show in television history (behind The Sopranos and Seinfeld) while TV Guide ranked it as the fifth best television series in broadcast history.
Among the show’s many fans: three-time Oscar nominee Frank Darabont, the writer-director of The Shawshank Redemption and co-creator of The Walking Dead series on AMC.
“The twist endings are fun, that’s icing for me, it’s the cherry on top of the sundae, but the aspect that stays with you are the moral complexities of what Serling would work into the textures of the thing,” Darabont told Deadline. “He was telling adult stories, and mind you, this was at the time when television was not really that adult. You look back in the 1960s we had a lot of shows that were apparently aimed at 10-year olds, you know, the Gilligan’s Island era of television. So, to have something that was really smart, really adult, and dared to have that moral compass in the storytelling was so refreshing. Even as a kid I appreciated how smart and adult that was, and what a sneaky triumph that was for him. Issues he dealt with in The Twilight Zone were issues that the suits would never let him deal with if it weren’t science fiction, these really intriguing, ironic stories about the human condition. I’m a big, big, big, big, big fan of Mr. Serling.”
Serling introduced the pioneering CBS series as a place as “vast as space and as timeless as infinity” and the brand and the man behind it seem to be living up to that promise with their 21st century reach. Consider:
Series revival: The Twilight Zone series on CBS All Access is a linchpin (along with the new Star Trek shows) of the subscription streaming service. Developed by Simon Kinberg, Jordan Peele and Marco Ramirez, and hosted by Peele, the series has been renewed for a second season. The series earned Kumail Nanjiani his first Emmy nomination for the episode titled “The Comedian.” The Season 1 finale (directed by Kinberg) was titled “Blurryman” and featured a startling guest appearance: Serling himself, resurrected in CG form, ushered a fan of the original series into a black-and-white realm that lies somewhere between the living past and the meta-present.
New biopic: Richard Kelly, the writer-director behind the brilliantly off-kilter Donnie Darko (2001), is ramping up a biopic on Serling for Mandalay Pictures that’s scheduled to go into production next year. Jason Michael Berman is producing with Kevin Turen (Arbitrage), Matthew Lindner (Nine Days) and Kelly’s manager Brian Young.
Graphic novel biography: The venerable publishing house called Humanoids delivers a surprisingly poignant, intensely researched and crisply illustrated biography of Serling in the form of The Twilight Man, a 180-page graphic novel by cartoonist Koren Shadmi. Deadline has an exclusive preview of the book’s eerie opening chapter, which introduces Serling in a fashion that suits the late storyteller’s sensibilities. (Preview below.)
Expanded ride: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disneyland Paris is getting a major upgrade with three new storylines and an expanded name: A New Dimension of Chills has been added as a sobriquet. Visitors don’t know if their plummeting elevator will be sent plummeting by the strange creatures in the elevator shaft or hurled into a strange new dimension by a vindictive poltergeist. The revamped ride opens its doors September 28.
Paperback release: St. Martins Press is readying an updated paperback version of Mark Dawidziak’s book Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone expanded to include Peele content. It joins the considerable bookshelf devoted to Serling, which includes last year’s Rod Serling: His Life, Work and Imagination (University Press of Mississippi) by Nicholas Parisi.
Art exhibit: An exhibit called Art Inspired by The Twilight Zone opens on October 4 (the actual anniversary of the original series’ premiere) at the Del Ray Gallery in Alexandria, VA. It’s one of several art openings tied to the anniversary across the country.
A exclusive preview of The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television, which hits stores on October 8: