Magic and Rod Serling tied The Twilight Zone together

Rod Serling had the magic touch when it came to writing The Twilight Zone!

Image credit: The Everett Collection

For anyone who wanted to jump in, leave it all behind, and enter The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling had some key advice: "Just close your eyes and let your imagination go."

What are the boundaries of your imagination? That was the question Serling spent five seasons trying to answer with The Twilight Zone. 

With nearly 100 television films under their belt, Serling and producer Buck Houghton said most of the stories in The Twilight Zone were based in real life — kind of. According to a 1962 interview with The Napa Valley Register, nearly a third of their stories have been in the "magic person, place or thing" category.

In fact, magic may have been the most important element of the series, but it also wasn't the only fantasy tool Serling used.

"We've had stories dealing with Mr. Death, his emissary or the after-death theme; stories that return our hero by means of a dream-like illusion to the past, and, stories that project him backward or forward in time," Serling said.

Other Twilight Zone scripts have examined many other topics related to the human mind and imagination — including the idea that a person is not only himself but an extension of himself.

If you're wondering what in the world that means... the episode "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" is a great example. 

"Perhaps because these stories stretch credibility the farthest, they are the most difficult to tell," Houghton said. "It takes four or five sentences sometimes just to explain a story in this category. Maybe that's why we have done only four of them."

In the era of missiles and rockets to the moon, it was only natural for The Twilight Zone to feature a few scripts that took a deep dive into the space race. Serling said the series set up all sorts of scenarios and situations for TV viewers to immerse themselves in.

But no other topic or script was as successful as those that dealt with magic. We guess you could say it was Serling's magic touch. So, what was it about magic that grabbed TV audiences?

"Magic stories are easily most appealing to the viewer," Houghton said. "We have all, at some time in our life, wished we possessed some extra power, some sort of magic that would be at our disposal."

Houghton said the average TV viewer could not only relate to but be empathetic towards stories based on magic simply because they were familiar with how magic can affect everyone's daily lives.

Although comedies didn't pop up too often in The Twilight Zone, "It's really just a matter of how absurd we want to make the stories," Serling said. 

No matter the theme of the episode, Serling said the characters make up the series. What would The Twilight Zone have been without its crazy introspective characters?

"The test of any good story must be whether there is a character to go with it," Serling said. "If there is no attachment to the character, no way for his development, then there is no way to do the story."

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4 Comments

Runeshaper 2 months ago
"We have all, at some time in our life, wished we possessed some extra power, some sort of magic that would be at our disposal." Ain't that the truth?!
Pacificsun 2 months ago
For magic to exist the viewer has to believe that it can. Which has nothing to do with if it does. That seems an apt way to explain the premise of the Twilight Zone. And if the story is entertaining (or promising) enough, it does become wishful.

But sadness or regret is certainly the opposite when the stories are morose. In the way that the Twilight Zone was attempted, IMO there have been no other Series like it.
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