Picture, if you will, America as it existed on the television shows of the 1950s — think titles like Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best and The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. Those gentle black-and-white portraits of the nation’s small towns and suburbs depicted harmonious communities where the outside world was kept at a distance, and any conflicts could be resolved within a 30-minute span. That vision of America was so tidy, so comforting, it’s no wonder that those shows remain the default way their era is remembered in the collective pop-culture memory — to the point where they are often confused for reality by the politicians, commentators and relatives who speak with feigned nostalgia about some kind of mythic past.
Now picture, if you will, being a child in the 1950s finishing an episode of, say, Leave It to Beaver and then changing channels and entering… The Twilight Zone. Overflowing with big ideas and uniquely attuned to the fault lines running through America, Rod Serling’s pioneering series provided the vital counterpoint to the placid programming that mostly worked to distract viewers from the realities of life. “He started to write The Twilight Zone to address the problems in society,” Serling’s daughter, Jodi Serling, confirms to Yahoo Entertainment. “He felt it was criminal that [television] writers were not permitted to address the social evils that existed.”
At the same time, the realities of his chosen industry meant that he couldn’t be as direct as he might have liked. “Because of the hostile environment that he met with from sponsors, he saw the advantages of writing science fiction and fantasy, which the advertisers would routinely approve only if they took place in a fictional world,” Serling explains. “When reality is something you don’t want to deal with, you pretend that it doesn’t exist. It’s much more plausible for people to accept it when it’s not real or personal. My dad just had this incredible ability to transform his ideas and beliefs into beautifully written stories.”