'Twilight Zone' Turns 50

Fifty years ago, the TV show Twilight Zone went on the air. Rod Serling was the host. The show lasted only five years on CBS but lives on in syndication — and in its influence on shows like the X-Files, and pinball and video games.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, if the stock market seems to be hovering in the Twilight Zone some days, then it's only fitting that our Last Word in Business today comes from Rod Serling. These are words that millions of Americans could repeat for you, even if we didn't have the tape.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Twilight Zone")

Mr. ROD SERLING (Writer): You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, "The Twilight Zone."

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Mr. Serling said those words on TV for the first time 50 years ago today. He was the presiding spirit over a program that was forever slipping into a parallel universe, rather like what you'd find in a disturbing dream. The show lasted only five years but lives on in syndication and in its influence on shows like "The X-Files."

The first episode of the "Twilight Zone" was about an Air Force pilot who finds himself alone in a deserted town.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Twilight Zone")

Mr. EARL HOLLIMAN (Actor): (as Mike Ferris) When I woke up this morning, I -well, I didn't exactly wake up. I just found myself out on that road, walking.

Professor ROBERT THOMPSON (Syracuse University): Well, he may be hallucinating, he may not be. That was the thing about "The Twilight Zone," is you were never quite sure what was true reality and what wasn't.

INSKEEP: Robert Thompson is a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.

Prof. THOMPSON: What "The Twilight Zone" was doing was providing this extraordinarily timely, and I think in many way prophetic, transition between the kind of secure era of the Eisenhower period and what would become known as the '60s, when we would completely challenge everything that we normally thought was true and solid and established.

INSKEEP: "The Twilight Zone" was broadcast during the Cold War and was filled with tales of the Earth's destruction. Though the Cold War is over, its strange prophecies still haunt the mind.

In one episode, a woman is burning up with fever, and she thinks the entire planet is suddenly plunging into the sun. Of course, she's just imagining that. It turns out the Earth is actually spinning away from the sun and getting colder every minute.

(Soundbite of "The Twilight Zone" theme music)

INSKEEP: That's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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