TV

Get into 'The Twilight Zone': 5 things you never knew about iconic series

July 3, 2014 at 11:03 AM ET

Rod Serling, the creator and most regular resident of "The Twilight Zone."
Everett Collection
Rod Serling, the creator and most regular resident of "The Twilight Zone."

The Fourth of July holiday will bring many Americans outdoors on Friday, especially for celebrations that end with fireworks lighting up the night sky. But if you're already hearing the theme music to "The Twilight Zone" in your head, you're more likely looking forward to staying indoors all day, skipping the bombs bursting in air and catching Syfy's 24-hour marathon of the classic TV series. 

"'Twilight Zone' is stories well told," Marc Zicree, a Hollywood screenwriter and author of "The Twilight Zone Companion," said about the series (which originally aired from 1959-64). "You can watch episodes even when you know what the surprising ending is because they're first rate in every area. Rod Serling wrote about the human heart and compassion and alienation — all of which were common issues then and are equally common now. That's why it endures, not because of the tricky, twist ending."

That said, there's a lot about "Twilight Zone" that even fans may not know. So step into another dimension ... cross over into ... the trivia zone:

One episode was a preview of 'The Waltons.'
Creator of one of TV's most wholesome series, "The Waltons," Earl Hamner Jr. was responsible for several episodes of "Twilight Zone," including Jan. 26, 1962's "The Hunt." The story is about an older couple, their beloved hound dog, and the afterlife. But Mr. and Mrs. Simpson turned out to be a test run for Grandma and Grandpa Walton, says Zicree: "The first draft of those characters was in that episode."

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A scene from the nostalgic "A Stop at Willoughby," which had autobiographical elements included about Rod Serling's life.
CBS via Getty Images
A scene from the nostalgic "A Stop at Willoughby," which had autobiographical elements included about Rod Serling's life.

Serling gives author Ray Bradbury gets two tips of the hat
When Serling started "Twilight Zone," he asked the author of "Fahrenheit 451" for an assist in writing sci-fi; the author made sure Serling read Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont's works — and the two became key writers on the series. As a thanks, Serling referred to "the Bradbury house" in the 1959 episode "Walking Distance," and in 1960's "A Stop at Willoughby" he has a character refer to "the Bradbury account."

Everything was 'Forbidden'
Shot at MGM studios, "Twilight Zone" creators had free reign over the legendary facility's prop department. Serling, said Zicree, would go into the prop room just to get ideas for episodes; over the show's run they ended up re-using every key prop used in the iconic 1956 sci-fi film "Forbidden Planet."

Face off!
In 1961's "The Silence," a rich man played by Franchot Tone challenges an obnoxious member of his club to stay silent for a full year. The episode shot its opening and finishing scenes, leaving Tone and his fellow actors to finish everything up the following week. The problem? Tone got into a parking lot brawl over the weekend, and had half of his face scraped raw. That's why for the midsection of the episode, all that can be seen is one side of his face; the other side is obscured by a pillar or in shadow. "When the episode came out, critics complemented the director for his choice in only showing half of his face," said Zicree.

Where no man had gone before
"Twilight Zone" was revolutionary in the way it affected not just TV storytelling, but in how TV shows were made. Serling was arguably the first real "showrunner," a writer — rather than a producer — who was in charge of his own show. But Serling died at just 50 from a heart attack. Who read the eulogy at his funeral? Good pal, fellow showrunner and future thinker Gene Roddenberry, creator of "Star Trek."

The full list of episodes featured in Syfy's "Twilight Zone" marathon can be found here.

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