There’s no more iconic title in television history than “The Twilight Zone.” The show has been referenced in movies, on stage and on TV for decades.
How ubiquitous is it? There have been allusions to the show in — just to name a few — “All in the Family,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Angels in America,” “Animaniacs,” “Bridesmaids,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “ET: The Extraterrestrial,” “Family Guy,” “Frasier,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “Futurama,” “Gilmore Girls,” “The Golden Girls,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Hairspray,” “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” “Jumanji,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Muppet Babies,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Naked Gun 2½,” “Rent,” “Robot Chicken,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Seinfeld,” “Sixteen Candles,” “The Sixth Sense,” “South Park,” “Veronica Mars,” “Wayne’s World,” “The Wonder Years” and “The X-Files.”
“The Simpsons” alone has done “Twilight Zone” shoutouts in 15 episodes.
People who’ve never actually seen an episode of the series use it as a figure of speech. Who hasn’t described a weird situation as being out of “The Twilight Zone”?
So it’s not a surprise that CBS All Access (the network’s streaming service) is reviving it. It is, perhaps, even less surprising that CBS has handed the keys to the 60-year-old franchise to Jordan Peele (“Key and Peele,” “Get Out,” “Us”).
“Too many times this year it’s felt we were living in a twilight zone, and I can’t think of a better moment to reintroduce it to modern audiences,” Peele said.
(He’s executive producing with Simon Kinberg, whose credits include the “X-Men” and “Deadpool” films.)
So, for the fourth time, we’re getting a TV anthology in which characters travel “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,” as creator/writer/executive producer Rod Serling used to tell viewers.
What might surprise you is that, despite its pop-culture icon status and appearance on multiple lists of the best shows of all time, “The Twilight Zone” has never been a huge hit.
• The first time around (1959-64), CBS was disappointed in the ratings; its budget and episode order was cut in Season 2; it was nearly canceled after Season 3; it returned at midseason in Season 4; it was canceled midway through Season 5.
It became a much bigger success in syndication.
• In 1983, “Twilight Zone: The Movie” was a critical and box office disappointment, though it made money — budgeted at $10 million, it made $29.4 million. It’s chiefly remembered for the on-set helicopter accident that killed actor Vic Morrow and two young child actors.
• A 1985-88 revival started strong on CBS, then limped to cancellation after two seasons. A third season was produced for syndication.
• A 2002-03 revival on the now-defunct UPN (CBS’ sister-network) went nearly unnoticed.
So why bring it back? First, there’s that iconic title. Second, it’s returning on a streaming service, not on a broadcast network. And, while there is advertising on CBS All Access (if you subscribe to the cheaper tier), it derives most of its revenue from subscription fees. The hope is that “The Twilight Zone” will attract more subscribers.
“We can’t wait to share this wildly entertaining and relevant reboot with our subscribers,” said Julie McNamara, executive vice president for original content for CBS All Access. “This series is truly a love letter to the classic Rod Serling masterpiece, while clearly reflecting the culture of today. There are also some new, bold twists in the storytelling.”
Peele steps into Serling’s shoes as narrator and on-air host, though no one is taking on Serling’s individual workload as writer; he wrote or co-wrote 92 of the original 156 episodes.
The new “Twilight Zone” is packed with stars, including Ike Barinholtz, John Cho, Chris Diamantopoulos, Taissa Farmiga, James Frain, Ginnifer Goodwin, Greg Kinnear, Luke Kirby, John Larroquette, Sanaa Lathan, Tracy Morgan, Kumail Nanjiani, Chris O’Dowd, Seth Rogan, Adam Scott, Rhea Seehor, Allison Tolman and Steven Yeun.
Four episodes were screened for critics, including the two that go online on Monday. (Beginning April 11, one episode will drop on successive Thursdays.) And, yes, they are creepy, and each features an unexpected twist.
(Their running times range from 39 to 54 minutes, and they’re intended for adults. There’s R-rated language and some non-graphic violence.)
The new “Twilight Zone” will focus on original stories, not remakes. But the first episode, titled “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” was “inspired by” the original series’ episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” — which starred William Shatner as a man who sees a gremlin sabotaging the airliner in which he’s a passenger.
That was remade as a segment in the 1983 movie, with John Lithgow stepping into Shatner’s shoes. This time, it’s Adam Scott — but, no, this is not a remake. No spoilers here, but it’s very different. There are three surprising twists, and a big shoutout to the original.
The original episode also inspired a segment in “The Simpsons’” 1993 “Treehouse of Horrors” episode — “Terror at 5½ Feet” — as well as bits in “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls,” “The Angry Beavers,” “Dragon Ball Z,” “Hotel Transylvania 3,” “The Lego Batman Movie,” “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” “SNL” (twice), “Sharknado 2” and “3rd Rock from the Sun.”
And it inspired a sketch in “Key and Peele” that featured Peele as a an airplane passenger who sees a gremlin. Audiences didn’t require an explanation because ... it was “The Twilight Zone.”
By the way, all 156 episodes of the original series are available on CBS All Access.