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TV History: The Twilight Zone

by Christine Becker

This clip was uploaded for an assignment in Christine Becker's FTT 30461: History of Television class at the University of Notre Dame in Spring 2019. Check the commentary dropdown menu for a student's analysis of the clip.

Underneath the Supernatural

by Bridget Garrity

Television during the 1950s is remembered as a Golden Age full of prestigious anthology dramas, which were filmed live from New York and each week consisted of a new story with new characters. However, during the latter part of the 1950s, television transitioned from a “Golden Age” into a “Vast Wasteland” filled with formulaic and predictable Westerns that left behind the integrity of early television. Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone is an anomaly. Premiering in 1959, this show arrived after the craze of anthology dramas and stood out amidst the increasing number of Westerns. Serling had previously been a writer of anthology dramas, but wanted to incorporate his own voice, even if it meant clashing with sponsors. By setting his series within a science-fiction premise, Rod Serling tackles contemporary social issues but avoids controversy by displacing the blame on aliens or supernatural causes. The content and messages of each episode “suggest explanations for why the ideological challenges of the sixties emerge, in spite of a system of popular culture often characterized as structurally conservative and monolithic” (Newcomb 119).
In the very first episode of Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone, titled “Where Is Everybody?” a man dressed in a U.S. Air Force jumpsuit wanders around a deserted town in the hopes of finding another human being who can help him remember who he is. The selected clip begins with an unknown male protagonist entering an empty soda fountain. He decides to make conversation with the only person he can see, a reflection of himself in the mirror. He explains to his reflection that “he is in the middle of a nightmare he can’t wake up from.” He realizes that he has found himself somewhere between reality and fantasy in world that seems to be functioning as normal, but has something horrible hiding beneath the surface. This fear of not knowing anything and being completely helpless expresses an innate fear of mankind: the fear of being alone. He further realizes the extent of his situation when he walks out from behind the bar to see a spinning rack of books titled The Last Man on Earth. After seeing this book, which is dated February of 1959, he frustratedly storms out of the soda fountain.
As night approaches, the man discovers a theater that lights up with a sign that advertises a film called Battle Hymn. After examining the movie poster, he remembers that he is a member of the Air Force. Thinking someone is inside the theater, he runs inside screaming. He continually experiences a lingering feeling that he is being watched, and looks directly into the projector yelling, “can’t you see me?” At first glance, this clip seems to address anxieties surrounding new technologies, such as the atomic bomb and the repercussions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which have the potential to completely wipe out an entire population. Just before this conclusion can be made, Rod Serling throws a curve ball in the story. After the man frantically stumbles down the street and presses the pedestrian button uncontrollably, the audience discovers the truth. A room of men in military uniforms watch the man in an isolation booth. The men reveal that his name is Mike Ferris and he has been in solitary confinement for 484 hours to test his abilities as an astronaut. Therefore, the episode comments on the Space Race with Russia. At this time, the government was so fixated in sending a man to space and beating the Russians that they would risk a man’s sanity without the blink of an eye. This calls into question whether the individual should be treated as expendable in order to benefit the greater good. The general asks Mike what it was like and he responds, “a place I don’t want to go again.” This close-up shot reveals Mike’s fear for what is to come when he actually embarks on a journey to space. Humankind has solved many of the world’s problems and yet man’s need for companionship is one that cannot be reversed.
In an episode that contains so few words, many ideas are presented. Mike Ferris is in essence a representation of the twentieth century man. He had lived through the Depression and World War II which brought suffering and destruction. While this first episode to The Twilight Zone takes a more conservative approach in dealing with ideological and political issues of the time, it distinguishes itself from the bland and commercially dominated television of the Network era. In Horace Newcomb’s article, he addresses the “increasing pressure from sponsors for works that were not pessimistic, works more suitable as contexts for advertisers’ purpose” (Newcomb 108). As such, Mike’s withering stability is not directly blamed on the government. Instead, it prompts the audience to question the American value of progress. The Twilight Zone brilliantly did what no show had done before: it presented abnormal situations, which at the surface seem supernatural, but underneath it all contain truths of reality that are meant to challenge societal norms.

Works Cited
Newcomb, Horace. (1997). The Opening of America. The Other Fifties, 103-123. Retrieved February 26, 2019.

Underneath the Surface

by Bridget Garrity

Television during the 1950s is remembered as a Golden Age full of prestigious anthology dramas, which were filmed live from New York and each week consisted of a new story with new characters. However, during the latter part of the 1950s, television transitioned from a “Golden Age” into a “Vast Wasteland” filled with formulaic and predictable Westerns that left behind the integrity of early television. Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone is an anomaly. Premiering in 1959, this show arrived after the craze of anthology dramas and stood out amidst the increasing number of Westerns. Serling had previously been a writer of anthology dramas, but wanted to incorporate his own voice, even if it meant clashing with sponsors. By setting his series within a science-fiction premise, Rod Serling tackles contemporary social issues but avoids controversy by displacing the blame on aliens or supernatural causes. The content and messages of each episode “suggest explanations for why the ideological challenges of the sixties emerge, in spite of a system of popular culture often characterized as structurally conservative and monolithic” (Newcomb 119).
In the very first episode of Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone, titled “Where Is Everybody?” a man dressed in a U.S. Air Force jumpsuit wanders around a deserted town in the hopes of finding another human being who can help him remember who he is. The selected clip begins with an unknown male protagonist entering an empty soda fountain. He decides to make conversation with the only person he can see, a reflection of himself in the mirror. He explains to his reflection that “he is in the middle of a nightmare he can’t wake up from.” He realizes that he has found himself somewhere between reality and fantasy in world that seems to be functioning as normal, but has something horrible hiding beneath the surface. This fear of not knowing anything and being completely helpless expresses an innate fear of mankind: the fear of being alone. He further realizes the extent of his situation when he walks out from behind the bar to see a spinning rack of books titled The Last Man on Earth. After seeing this book, which is dated February of 1959, he frustratedly storms out of the soda fountain.
As night approaches, the man discovers a theater that lights up with a sign that advertises a film called Battle Hymn. After examining the movie poster, he remembers that he is a member of the Air Force. Thinking someone is inside the theater, he runs inside screaming. He continually experiences a lingering feeling that he is being watched, and looks directly into the projector yelling, “can’t you see me?” At first glance, this clip seems to address anxieties surrounding new technologies, such as the atomic bomb and the repercussions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which have the potential to completely wipe out an entire population. Just before this conclusion can be made, Rod Serling throws a curve ball in the story. After the man frantically stumbles down the street and presses the pedestrian button uncontrollably, the audience discovers the truth. A room of men in military uniforms watch the man in an isolation booth. The men reveal that his name is Mike Ferris and he has been in solitary confinement for 484 hours to test his abilities as an astronaut. Therefore, the episode comments on the Space Race with Russia. At this time, the government was so fixated in sending a man to space and beating the Russians that they would risk a man’s sanity without the blink of an eye. This calls into question whether the individual should be treated as expendable in order to benefit the greater good. The general asks Mike what it was like and he responds, “a place I don’t want to go again.” This close-up shot reveals Mike’s fear for what is to come when he actually embarks on a journey to space. Humankind has solved many of the world’s problems and yet man’s need for companionship is one that cannot be reversed.
In an episode that contains so few words, many ideas are presented. Mike Ferris is in essence a representation of the twentieth century man. He had lived through the Depression and World War II which brought suffering and destruction. While this first episode to The Twilight Zone takes a more conservative approach in dealing with ideological and political issues of the time, it distinguishes itself from the bland and commercially dominated television of the Network era. In Horace Newcomb’s article, he addresses the “increasing pressure from sponsors for works that were not pessimistic, works more suitable as contexts for advertisers’ purpose” (Newcomb 108). As such, Mike’s withering stability is not directly blamed on the government. Instead, it prompts the audience to question the American value of progress. The Twilight Zone brilliantly did what no show had done before: it presented abnormal situations, which at the surface seem supernatural, but underneath it all contain truths of reality that are meant to challenge societal norms.

Works Cited
Newcomb, Horace. (1997). The Opening of America. The Other Fifties, 103-123. Retrieved February 26, 2019.

Excerpt from THE TWILIGHT ZONE

This clip is an excerpt from the first episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, "Where Is Everybody?"

from The Twilight Zone (PILOT) - Where Is Everybody (1959)
Creator: Rod Serling
Distributor: Vimeo (User: GTI1dasOriginal)
Posted by Christine Becker
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