Watch The Twilight Zone’s Pilot Episode, Pitched by Rod Serling Himself (1959)

Sure, cre­ators of tele­vi­sion’s dis­pos­able sit­coms and game shows have to sell their wares, and stren­u­ous­ly, to net­work exec­u­tives. But The Twi­light Zone? How could such an inno­v­a­tive, influ­en­tial tele­vi­su­al insti­tu­tion have ever need­ed to push its way past gate­keep­ers? Yet watch the series’ 1959 pilot above, and, before that even starts, you’ll see cre­ator Rod Ser­ling him­self make his pitch: “You gen­tle­men, of course, know how to push a prod­uct. My pres­ence here is for much the same pur­pose: sim­ply to push a prod­uct. To acquaint you with an enter­tain­ment prod­uct which we hope, and which we rather expect, would make your prod­uct-push­ing that much eas­i­er. What you’re about to see, gen­tle­men, is a series called The Twi­light Zone. We think it’s a rather spe­cial kind of series.” And how.

As the quin­tes­sen­tial late-night, black-and-white plunge into the spec­u­la­tive, the bizarre, the moral­is­tic, and the sim­ply eerie, The Twi­light Zone con­tin­ues to cap­ti­vate viewers—nowadays often, no doubt, YouTube viewers—born gen­er­a­tions after the end of its run. The pilot episode, “Where is Every­body?” sets the tone by fol­low­ing a lone, bewil­dered man through a mys­te­ri­ous­ly emp­ty town, seem­ing­ly aban­doned moments ago. But before that rolls, Ser­ling tan­ta­lizes the boss­es with descrip­tions of oth­er tales then in pro­duc­tion: a man stuck on an aster­oid with a robot, an immor­tal sen­tenced to life impris­on­ment, and a mil­que­toast mis­tak­en for the fastest gun in the old west. Not for noth­ing did Ser­ling build a rep­u­ta­tion as an auteur of human lone­li­ness. But that would come lat­er. “Mr. Ser­ling should not have much trou­ble in mak­ing his mark,” wrote the New York Times’ crit­ic when the show first aired. “At least his series promis­es to be dif­fer­ent.”

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Relat­ed con­tent:

Rod Ser­ling: Where Do Ideas Come From?

When Roald Dahl Host­ed His Own Creepy TV Show Way Out, a Com­pan­ion to Rod Serling’s Twi­light Zone (1961)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.