“You’re travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Twilight Zone!”
Te Twilight Zone was a television series that first aired in 1959 for five seasons and has had three revivals since then, including this year on CBS. Created by Rod Serling, the original series addressed topics of science fiction, suspense, horror, and fantasy. The original series is currently available on Netflix.
This classic series is a great text to analyze with students and use as a creative writing model. Through the science fiction, fantasy, horror, and suspense, Sterling (who wrote two thirds of episodes) was able to include his own social commentary timely themes from the anxieties of nuclear threat to the broken promises of suburbia, warning against anti-intellectualism and condemning virulent racism and bigotry — themes that all sound uncannily familiar today.
Two episodes to watch with students are the 1963 episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and the 2019 remake, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” These two episodes are worth viewing for a compare and contrast assignment. I have provided the graphic organizer I created for my students below.
Each episode of the initial Twilight Zone opened with a monologue from Serling where he would introduce the theme in his own, hypnotizing way. Sometimes abstract, sometimes, direct, each monologue served to draw the viewer into a story that might challenge long-held beliefs or put them in a world they never could’ve imagined. Each of these monologues ended with Serling inviting the viewer to enter a story that took place in “The Twilight Zone.”
Similarly, the Twilight Zone closing monologues offered commentary and persuasion. Check out the closing monologue from “Eye of the Beholder.”
Now the questions that come to mind: where is this place and when is it, what kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm? You want an answer? The answer is, it doesn’t make any difference. Because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in this year or a hundred years hence, on this planet or wherever there is human life, perhaps out amongst the stars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned in the Twilight Zone (1960).
What does Ron Sterling state in his closing statement? What is he trying to persuade his audience to think about? Examining the openings and closings requires students to study craft and structure. Viewing and studying openings and closings are opportunities for students to flex their own writing muscles and voice to provide their audience with synthesis, analysis, and substance. Once students look at various models and mentors, they can write their own concise social commentaries or monologues about fear, identity, or stereotypes.
Ultimately, having students create their own compelling Twilight Zone episode or updating a classic Twilight Zone episode allows students to be creative and innovative communicators. Storyboards and graphic organizers are scaffolding tools to help students create and execute an engaging episode.
Want more about the Twilight Zone formula and storytelling techniques, check out this video essay deconstructing the cinematic techniques and formula for Twilight Zone episodes.