The Twilight Zone (1985) is the first of two revivals of Rod Serling's acclaimed 1959–64 television series of the same name. It ran for two seasons on CBS before producing a final season for syndication.
After the original Twilight Zone series had ended in 1964, Rod Serling sold the rights to the series to CBS, which allowed for a revival of the show by the network.
Even so, the network was slow to consider a revival, shooting down offers from the original production team of Rod Serling and Buck Houghton and later from American filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Their hesitation stemmed from concerns familiar to the original series: The Twilight Zone had never been the breakaway hit CBS wanted, so they should not expect it to do better in a second run.
Casts featured stars including Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Season Hubley, Morgan Freeman, Martin Landau, Jonathan Frakes, and Fred Savage.
New theme music was composed and performed by The Grateful Dead with Merl Saunders, iThe Grateful Dead would go on to provide incidental music for a number of episodes in the series.
Filling in for Serling (who died in 1975) as narrator was Charles Aidman, himself the star of two classic Twilight Zone episodes. The Twilight Zone ran for two seasons on CBS. For most of the network run the series was one hour in length, but occasionally (and in a departure from the original series), presented two or three stories within the one-hour time slot. For part of season 2, the show presented half-hour episodes.
An additional third season of half-hour programs was produced in 1988 to "pad" the series' syndication package. Robin Ward replaced Aidman as the narrator of these Canadian-produced episodes.
First season (1985–86)
Episodes featured adaptations of stories by Harlan Ellison (whose "Shatterday" launched the new series), Greg Bear, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert McCammon, and Stephen King. A new batch of scripts was supplemented with remakes of classic Twilight Zone episodes like "Dead Man’s Shoes", "Shadow Play", and "Night of the Meek". Though the production crew was convinced that they were making all of the right decisions, ratings began to slide as the novelty of the show wore off.
Wes Craven directed several episodes including "Shatterday", "A Little Peace and Quiet", "Wordplay", and "Chameleon".
Other Season One episodes included "Healer", "Dreams for Sale", "Examination Day","Children's Zoo","Kentucky Rye",and "Nightcrawlers".
That the show's producers had even managed to hire Harlan Ellison was considered by many to be nothing short of miraculous; Ellison was an extremely vocal critic of television who had already published two collections of essays on the subject, “concluding that to work in television is akin to putting in time in the Egyptian House of the Dead.” These feelings surfaced once again when the script he submitted for Twilight Zone's Christmas special – an adaptation of Donald E. Westlake's 1964 story "Nackles", in which an obnoxious and mean-spirited drunk frightens his children with stories of a malicious anti-Santa Claus – was rejected by CBS' West Coast Program Practices. The segment, which was to be Ellison's directorial debut, was halted in mid-production. This cost the program between $150,000 and $300,000 and Ellison’s services as a creative consultant. “[Their] suggestions were vile, infamous!” Ellison recalled of his aborted attempts to change the network’s mind. On the DVD release, Mr. Ellison further expounds on his experiences during four audio commentaries to four of his stories that were adapted for the show.
The "Nackles" incident generated a flurry of press which ultimately proved inadequate to revive public interest in the series. "I can see why people who were expecting The Twilight Zone were disappointed with it," said staff writer Michael Cassutt of the show's low ratings. "...our show always seemed uneven to me. There were episodes perfectly in keeping with The Twilight Zone spirit, and then others that could have been from The Outer Limits or from anything." Thanks to such successes and despite poor ratings, The Twilight Zone was renewed for a second season in early 1986.
Second season (1986–87)
The series debuted in an hour-long format, but was put on hiatus only a few weeks into the season. CBS had moved the series to Saturday nights, which led to falling ratings. When The Twilight Zone returned in December, the episodes were half-hour shows, and generally contained only one story. The series was cancelled by February, with remaining episodes being aired over the summer as hour-long multi-story episodes. Season 2 only ran for 11 episodes; several of the unproduced episodes would be filmed for season 3. In regard to writing for the episode "The Girl I Married", J. M. DeMatteis commented "I have a feeling that the show that appears will not bear much relation to what I wrote. What I've found out is that this season—unlike last, where the script was pretty much regarded as sacrosanct—the network is really interfering a lot. [...] Regardless, I know I did a good job and it was a real satisfying experience."
Third season (1988–89)
CBS replaced the original production team, and set out to do thirty 22-minute episodes for the third season; this way they could have enough episodes to sell the series into syndication. Robin Ward replaced Aidman as the narrator of these Canadian-produced episodes, and he also re-recorded Aidman's narration when the CBS episodes were edited for inclusion in the syndication package. To lead the writing team, the producers brought in a new group led by executive producer Mark Shelmerdine (I, Claudius) and supported by story editors Paul Chitlik, Jeremy Bertrand Finch, and J. Michael Straczynski. Straczynski authored more episodes that season than anyone else on staff. The producers named Straczynski the sole story editor following the release of Chitlik and Finch. Harlan Ellison was coaxed back to The Twilight Zone in the third season, and wrote what would be the third-to-last episode of the series, titled "Crazy as a Soup Sandwich."