Hollywood Flashback: When Rod Serling Entered 'The Twilight Zone'

Rod Serling beneath his six Emmys at home in February 1972.

After growing frustrated with corporate sponsors' control over TV content, the writer came up with the idea for the anthology series and used it to smuggle through some big ideas about politics, racism and the human condition.

A freelance radio copywriter from Syracuse, N.Y., Rod Serling toiled for years as an unproduced screenwriter. Then, in 1956, his 72nd screenplay, the intense corporate drama Patterns, was broadcast live (as most TV was back then) on NBC's Kraft Television Theatre. It won Serling an Emmy.

He won a second the following year for Requiem for a Heavyweight, which starred Jack Palance as a washed-up prizefighter. Newly minted as the most celebrated writer in a hot new medium, Serling moved his family to California, where the TV industry was exploding. Once there, he quickly grew frustrated by how much sway corporate sponsors had over his content. So Serling hatched a plan: Since science fiction seemed to fly past network censors, he'd create an anthology series in that genre, using it to smuggle through some big ideas about politics, racism and the human condition.

Everything about The Twilight Zone — from its unsettling Marius Constant score to its Joe Messerli-designed logo to Serling himself as the guide into the unknown — is now immutably iconic. The show ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964, picking up two Emmys in 1960 and 1961 for Serling's writing. A lifelong smoker, he died June 28, 1975, of a heart attack during open-heart surgery. He was 50.

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.