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The Twilight Zone

Barry Keith Grant

Television Studies, Popular Culture

TV Milestones Series

Published: February 2020
ISBN: 9780814345788
Pages: 132 Size: 5 x 7
Illustrations: 20 b&w illus.
Published: February 2020
ISBN: 9780814345795

CBS’s The Twilight Zone (1959–1964) remains a benchmark of serious telefantasy and one of the most iconic series in the history of American television. Barry Keith Grant carefully situates The Twilight Zone within the history of broadcast television and American culture, both of which were changing dramatically during the five seasons the series originally aired. At the same time, the genres of science fiction, horror, and fantasy were moving from marginal to mainstream, a cultural shift that The Twilight Zone was both part of and largely responsible for.

Grant begins by considering The Twilight Zone’s use of genre conventions and iconography to craft its pithy parables. The show shared visual shorthand that addressed both older audiences familiar with Hollywood movies but unfamiliar with fantasy and science fiction as well as younger audiences more attuned to these genres. Rod Serling looms large in the book as the main creative force of The Twilight Zone, and Grant explains how he provided the show’s artistic vision and its place within the various traditions of the fantastic. Tracing motifs and themes in numerous episodes, Grant demonstrates how The Twilight Zone functioned as an ideal example of collective authorship that powerfully expressed both timeless terrors and the anxieties of the age, such as the Cold War, in thought-provoking fantasy.

Grant argues that the imaginary worlds offered by the show ultimately endorse the Americanism it simultaneously critiques. The striking blending of the fantastic and the familiar that Grant identifies in The Twilight Zone reflected Serling’s goal of offering serious stories in a genre that had previously been targeted only to juvenile television audiences. Longtime fans of the show and new viewers of Jordan Peele’s 2019 reboot alike will enjoy this deep dive into the original series’ history, style, and significance.

Barry Keith Grant is professor emeritus of film and popular culture at Brock University, Ontario, Canada. He is the author or editor of many books, including Shadows of Doubt: Negotiations of Masculinity in American Genre Films (Wayne State University Press, 2010) and Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video (Wayne State University Press, 2013). An Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, his work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and has been translated into several languages.

Drawing on his well-established reputation as one of the most astute commentators on genre, Grant has produced a well-written overview of what is easily the most important science fiction/fantasy series in television history. He skillfully situates The Twilight Zone in the context of serious television drama, explains Rod Serling’s complex role as the show’s writer and producer, and sketches the series’ astonishing cultural afterlife. A deft introduction to both the show and early television, Grant’s volume provides a keenly observed account of its enduring impact on American culture.

– J. P. Telotte, author of Disney TV (Wayne State University Press, 2004)

The Twilight Zone is perhaps the most important science fiction television series ever to have aired: its episodes established the genre’s power as a tool of social commentary, enabling Serling to bring into family homes ideas and stories that otherwise would not have been told at that time. Barry Keith Grant’s masterful overview of this landmark series does justice to this power: it provides a comprehensive analysis of the original series and its legacy in popular culture, from allusions and spoofs to Jordan Peele’s recent reboot. From the Cold War and atomic anxiety to civil rights and poignant social critique, The Twilight Zone has given us images through which to articulate and respond to the challenges of the last fifty years. Yet the series deserves its place as a milestone in television history for formal reasons as well, Grant argues, given its complex mixing of genre conventions and transformation of television authorship. This volume is essential reading not only for scholars of speculative culture or fans of this trailblazing series but also for anyone engaged in theorizing the medium of television. It powerfully establishes The Twilight Zone as a pivotal text for changing what TV could be. Eminently readable, Grant’s book displays both his capacious knowledge of the series and his clear enjoyment in watching it. Reading this book offers equivalent pleasure.

– Sherryl Vint, author of The Wire (Wayne State University Press, 2013)

In the parlance of twenty-first century media culture, The Twilight Zone has evolved into a franchise that so far has generated revival movies, television series, books, magazines, comics, and online adaptations of the original program. Barry Grant acknowledges the continuing aftereffect of Rod Serling’s initial creation, but more importantly describes and analyzes in depth and detail why this one-of-a-kind hybrid of genres is a pinnacle accomplishment from the first generation of American television, which some TV historians have christened a Golden Age. Grant deftly explains how the six-time Emmy-winning Serling evolved into one of early television’s first showrunners as he transitioned from writing some of the era’s most celebrated live anthology dramas, such as ‘Patterns’ (1956) for Kraft Television Theatre and ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’ (1957) and ‘The Comedian’ (1958) for Playhouse 90 to ‘his greatest achievement,’ The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959–1964). This sometimes science fiction-horror-fantasy series served as Serling’s metaphoric vehicle to weigh in on many of the most pressing issues of his day, including the rat race and conformity, civil rights and individual responsibility, the Cold War and the anxieties of the atomic age, and much more. Grant convincingly argues that the ‘speculative fictions’ of The Twilight Zone explored the thematic tensions that animated postwar American society and culture better than any other TV show of its time. This concise, readable volume has something for everyone, whether you’re a Twilight Zone fanatic, looking for a deeper dive into why you love the program, or a reader new to the series who is wondering what all the fuss is about.

– Gary R. Edgerton, professor of creative media and entertainment at Butler University and co-editor of the Journal of Popular Film and Television

Grant makes his case sufficiently convincing by emphasizing how much of its creator went into The Twilight Zone and how unique it was for its time as a result.

– Mike Segretto, Psychobabble

Grant’s analysis is rich and convincing, and one of the strengths of this book across all the chapters is his ability to analyze multiple episodes in depth but without sacrificing the breadth of the series. Each chapter covers a great deal of ground and one comes away from the book with a clear sense of the richness, diversity, and complexity of the show, as well as of some of its inherent contradictions. Notably for the TV Milestone series, the book conveys how and why The Twilight Zone remains a landmark series for the science-fiction and television fan and scholar. As such the book provides an excellent overview of The Twilight Zone and its place in television past and present.

– Stacey Abbott, Science Fiction Studies

This book is a valuable addition to Twilight Zone scholarship, acknowledging the work of previous scholars while also advancing the study of the show. Its clear and accessible style makes it ideal for undergraduate students, perhaps especially in media courses, but its depth and insight make it valuable for advanced scholars as well. I would recommend it for any library interested in remaining current with studies of the fantastic across media.

– Dominick Grace, Science Fiction Research Association Review

The Twilight Zone is a highly recommendable book for those who are fans as well as interested in this show. It is an easy-to-read and thought-provoking study that delves into what this cultural product meant in the sixties as well as a reflection on generic themes, auteurs and the Cold War context. This book can also be a complement for historians to understand how popular culture products can shape fears and tackle invisible issues ignored by other historical artifacts.

– Erika Tiburcio Moreno, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

Readers will welcome the apocalyptic closing, as we reconsider the series during late
capitalism, a situation that contagion has made pressingly clear. An ideal critical
introduction, Grant’s book should spawn more insightful commentary on a series more
loved than critiqued.

– Matthew Sorrento, Critical Studies in Television: The International Journal of Television Studies