I still stand by my long-time belief that Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone is the greatest TV series ever produced. At this point, the show is more than that: it’s an entertainment benchmark, a milestone in storytelling form. Every few holiday weekends or so, there will be a Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy and I will stop what I’m doing to revisit a few episodes. I’ve seen most of them, studied all of them, and adore what the legacy of the series has meant to popular culture. For the New York Times, Maureen Dowd writes a piece that kind of hints at what I’m getting at:
It’s impossible not to watch a stretch of the endlessly inventive Serling and not notice how many of his plots have been ripped off for movies, and how ahead of his time he was. In a popular new Samsung ad, a young woman jumps up from the lunch table and begins screaming because the tarantula screensaver on her colleague’s 4G phone is so lifelike; another guy at the table takes off his shoe and smashes it.
There’s a “Twilight Zone” episode where a Western gunfighter time travels forward and goes into a bar, where he sees a TV with a cowboy coming toward him. Thinking it’s real, he pulls out his pistol and shoots the screen.
Looking at this summer’s lame crop of movies and previews you can appreciate Serling’s upbraiding of the entertainment industry for “our mediocrity, our imitativeness, our commercialism and, all too frequently, our deadening and deadly lack of creativity and courage.”
“The Twilight Zone” was never gangbusters in the ratings, and Serling — who smoked on screen — died at 50 from the ravages of six packs a day. He felt like a sellout and failure. He had sold syndication rights for his show to CBS for a few million, thinking he had not written anything of lasting value.