'The Twilight Zone' Premiered 60 Years Ago Today In 1959

Oct 2, 2019

Turns out  Rod Serling was right: There is a dimension as timeless as infinity called The Twilight Zone.

Since Serling's iconic drama anthology premiered on CBS 60 years ago today – on Oct. 2, 1959 – the show has never gone off the air.

In the premiere, Earl Holliman (Police Woman, The Sons Of Katie Elder) stars as a man who finds himself alone in an abandoned small town and without any recollection of who he is or where he is. Seling, who began his career in 1950 at Cincinnati's WLW, wrote the episode. (It airs at 12:30 a.m. late tonight on MeTV on WLWT-TV Channel 5.2 and Dayton's WHIO-TV Channel 7.2.

The Twilight Zone traces its roots to Cincinnati. CBS bought the series after a pilot -- or prototype episode for The Twilight Zone -- aired on CBS' Desilu Playhouse on Nov. 10, 1958. That one-hour episode was called "The Time Element," which was first broadcast as a live half-hour drama on WKRC-TV seven years earlier, on Dec. 11, 1951, according to Nick Parisi's book, Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination.

Rod Serling at work at his typewriter.
Credit Courtesy Mark Dawidziak

During its five-year run on CBS, Serling tweaked The Twilight Zone's iconic opening about there being "a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man… which we call The Twilight Zone."

This promotional film for advertisers before the premiere shows some of the changes. An announcer – not Serling – voices the series' iconic opening. It claims there is a "sixth dimension" unknown to man, not a fifth dimension.

Here's how the 1959 premiere was originally scripted. I have deleted the narrative that was heard on the broadcast so you can see the difference.

ANNOUNCER: "There is a sixth fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, and between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the sunlight summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that might be called which we call The Twilight Zone."

Burt Reynolds and John Williams starred in "The Bard" episode broadcast on May 23, 1963.
Credit Courtesy CBS

MeTV's schedule doesn't show any 60th anniversary celebration, retrospectives or tributes.

Tonight's episode is "The Gift" (April 27, 1962) about an alien crash landing near a small Mexican village. Late Thursday MeTV airs "The Dummy" (May 4, 1962) about a ventriloquist (Cliff Robertson) whose dummy comes to life. 

Late Friday MeTV airs "Young Man's Fancy" (May 11, 1962) about a newlywed being pulled back into his childhood home.

Late Sunday, two Twilight Zones will air, including one with Carol Burnett at 12:30 a.m. as a down-on-her-luck woman being helped by an incompetent angel in "Cavender Is Coming" (May 25, 1962). At midnight, viewers will see "I Sing The Body Electric" about a robot helping a widower with three children (May 18, 1962).

Lee Marvin in "The Grave" from Oct. 6, 1961/
Credit Courtesy CBS

Other famous actors who ventured into The Twilight Zone include Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, William Shatner, Burt Reynolds, Art Carney, Mickey Rooney, Burgess Meredith, Lee Marvin, Jonathan Winters, Cloris Leachman, George Takei, Roddy McDowall, Don Rickles, Jack Klugman, Elizabeth Montgomery, Peter Falk, Buster Keaton and Dennis Hopper.

In the promotional film for advertisers, Serling appears to calm any fears potential sponsors may have about his dark dramas.

"We think it's a special kind of series. Essentially people watch television to get entertained. And the keynote of this series, and the thing we're concerned with, the thing we're aiming for, the thing we're working toward, is entertainment. This is a series for the storyteller -- because it's our thinking that the audience will always sit still and listen and watch a well-told story…

"We think The Twilight Zone is pretty unique. We think it will be much talked about. And we think it also will be enjoyed. We think it’s the kind of show that will put people on the edge of their seats – but only for that one half of an hour. We fully expect they'll go to the store the following day and buy your products."

Serling, of course, was right. The Twilight Zone has been much talked about -- for 60 years.