You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone

It was one of those weekends. The air outside smacked of chill. The couch beckoned. The TV cried of loneliness.

Cue the Twilight Zone intro.

RodSerling

Via Flickr user Tobyotter

What better is there to do on a cold weekend than watch a few episodes of The Twilight Zone? I’m not talking about The Twilight Zone of 1985 or 2002. I’m not talking about the movie. I’m talking about the original masterpiece created by Rod Serling that ran on CBS beginning in 1959.

Though the series ended in 1964, it left an undeniable impression on people. The Twilight Zone‘s last episode aired almost 50 years ago, and we still talk about it. Syfy still runs TZ marathons every New Year’s and July 4.

Here are three pieces of wisdom The Twilight Zone has imparted on the world.

  1. The Twilight Zone proves that you can create a compelling story with round characters in the span of 30 minutes. How many shows can do that? We aren’t short on scripted TV shows with well-thought-out characters, but The Twilight Zone is different. With a typical show, the writers have a base to develop from. They establish certain aspects of a character with each passing episode and season, and they can build off that background knowledge the audience possesses. Not The Twilight Zone. Each episode introduces a new set of characters and a new story. Talk about stretching the creative limits. The Twilight Zone‘s writers had to come up with a show from scratch every week, which meant no building off previous episodes. And definitely no clip shows (thank you, Mr. Serling).Here’s another bite to chew on: How many well-known TV shows that are more serious can fit into a 30-minute time slot? Push aside Seinfeld and I Love Lucy. Right now, I’m putting comedies and sitcoms into a different category. Think dramatic shows: ERLaw & Order, The X-Files. Though they are critically acclaimed and loved by audiences, they’re all one hour long. The Twilight Zone crafted complex characters and fascinating story lines — all in half an hour. That’s talent.
  2. The Twilight Zone can teach a lesson without seeming preachy. The show was rarely happy-go-lucky. Episodes centered around the apocalypse, death, war, totalitarianism, and evil dolls. These aren’t the type of subjects most people want to tackle after a day at work, not when Leave It to Beaver was on. And The Twilight Zone didn’t just breach these subjects. It hit viewers on the head with heavy moral lessons. The acceptance of mortality, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and actions hold consequences weren’t always easy pills to swallow.But I’ve never heard anyone accuse TZ of being overbearing with its lessons. Perhaps it’s because the show always presents a specific story and then demonstrates the message that should be learned. It shows before it tells. The lessons feel so natural because even though Serling’s voice-overs at the end of each episode add a lot, the audience doesn’t need them to understand the prevailing message. There’s no parent figure spelling out the lesson. It is all gathered through the narrative alone.
  3. Most of The Twilight Zone‘s stories are not tied to any specific time. They weren’t specific to the 1960s. The decor, clothing, and technology look like they’re from that time period, but the essence of the episodes — the stories and lessons on the human condition — is timeless. That may be one of The Twilight Zone‘s most memorable pieces of wisdom. You can spin a story, and if you do it right, people will respond to it almost 50 years later. In another 50 years, people will still watch The Twilight Zone. There is no expiration date on a story that explores lessons about humanity — and that comes with a great intro.
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