Favorite TV Shows: the 1950s: The Twilight Zone

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I had engaged recently in a conversation in which TV shows were discussed. Afterwards, I was thinking that I consider the 1950s and the 1960s to have been the era which produced the best television shows.

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I am not claiming that the special effects were good or that the shows were slick in any way.  In some cases that I will mention, the acting was not the finest, but, and this is my point, the writing was extraordinary.

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I will mention one show per post and will cover more in the not too distant future.  In all cases, I am referring primarily to the writing, the story-telling, and the themes of the shows. First is The Twilight Zone, which ran from 1959-1964 and dealt with the moral, ethical, and social problems of the time.  Certainly, this show is memorable for the famous actors who appeared at different times, but it is still the writing with which I am the most interested.

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The one episode, in particular, that I argue is among the best writing of all time for TV is “Death’s-Head Revisited.”  In this episode, a former concentration camp captain visits Dachau after the war.  There the ghosts of his victims take vengeance on him.  Serling wrote a riveting epilogue in which he says, “All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God’s Earth” (The Twilight Zone.) This is one of Serling’s best moments in writing.

This is one of the most powerful moments ever shown on Television, and it is one of the most extraordinary statements on the worst evil ever committed by human beings to other human beings.  We must never forget  the horror of the Holocaust.

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Citations:

Serling, Rod. The Twilight Zone. “Death’s-Head Revisited” 1961.

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39 thoughts on “Favorite TV Shows: the 1950s: The Twilight Zone

  1. Loved the Twilight Zone. The stories are timeless and well done. As for Dachau, I drove by it 15 years ago on a trip with my mother. I almost got a speeding ticket. Every hair on my body stood on end. Many Germans hated what was done and were as persecuted for their stand as some of the Jews. That anyone could create that kind of terror in people everywhere is unconscionable. I never want to go near those areas again nor should others have to endure such atrocities, but I’m sure there is another Hitler born every day. You are correct in that we need to be ever vigilant.

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  2. I remember this episode… haunting. I loved the brilliant way in which Rod Serling would modulate his voice through the opening narrative, and concluding summaries of each episode in such and entrancing manner. Your so right Charles, it was superb writing, especially for television, and that is probably why The Twilight Zone episodes from the 1960’s still survive the test of time. Yes, the production values were not always the best, but I feel the black and white filming only added to the suspense, and horror elements. Truly classic television.

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  3. Twilight Zone is a show I have to revisit. It made such a lasting impression on me, even though I was only 13 when it went off the air. I read Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–1945 for the first time when I was in college. I haven’t forgotten that either.

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  4. Entertainers like Serling have a powerful bully pulpit for keeping memory alive, but also sometimes for desecrating memory. I often designed assignments to encourage my students to see that every TV show, every story, had a “message,” however subtle, in the form of the characters we were instructed to love or hate, and the behaviors we were expected to admire or detest. I wasn’t particularly conscious of this power of narrative when I started creating characters in my writing. The part that writers like Serling master is letting story do the work. I’ll be curious to see what other shows you liked. I’ll remember most of them!

    Here’s a fun page about The Twilight Zone. http://mentalfloss.com/article/59288/8-bizarre-facts-about-rod-serling-and-twilight-zone

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  5. I sneaked out of bed to see the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” When William Shatner pulled the curtain open and confronted the gremlin staring through the airplane window, I cut the TV off and scrambled back into bed where I held the covers over my head until I finally fell asleep.

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  6. Before I discovered Cosmos, Twilight Zone was my favorite show all throughout middle and high school. Still own the complete series on DVD. Nice highlight of Death’s Head, one of the best in the series. Some of my favorites include The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, The Purple Testament, and Nothing in the Dark.

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