This Day in Twilight Zone History: Remembering CBS Programming Executive James T. Aubrey

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Sep 3, 2017

 Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone premiered on October 2, 1959, and over the course of its five-year run would churn out 156 episodes and cement itself as a classic of science fiction television. Its influence would be felt in any number of shows and movies that would follow -- from The Walking Dead to Stranger Things -- and beyond, becoming one of the enduring pop culture staples of its era. This Day in Twilight Zone History presents key commemorative facts about the greatest science fiction/fantasy television series of all time, presented by author Steven Jay Rubin, whose latest book is The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia (arriving this October). Whether it’s a key performer’s birth or death, the date an episode debuted, or any other related fact, This Day in Twilight Zone History presents a unique aspect of the rich history of this television series and the extraordinary team that created it.

 Today, September 3, This Day in Twilight Zone History remembers CBS programming chief and MGM president James T. Aubrey, who passed away on this day in 1994, at 75. An acknowledged genius at programming – and also super egotistical (actor John Houseman called him “The Smiling Cobra”) – Aubrey was Rod Serling’s true nemesis at CBS. Aubrey inherited The Twilight Zone when he took over the programming reins in 1959, and he did not like anthology shows. He felt that the future of series television was in following the same likable characters each week – and the crowning examples of his philosophy were the hit series The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan’s Island.

 

The Cast of The Beverly Hillbillies

 

Now, you can just imagine how Serling felt about those kinds of television shows. Aubrey succeeded in canceling Playhouse 90 – one of the most honored anthology shows of all time – and he was finally able to toss the Zone in 1964.

 

Later, as president of MGM, he orchestrated the demolition and sale of the various MGM backlots, and although that was a big moneymaker for the studio, it also spelled the end of an era, essentially destroying the historical locations where The Twilight Zone came to life each week. So here’s to acknowledging a true television force, who provided Serling with a five-year challenge to keep his show going, a challenge that was met and surpassed.

One last look at the MGM backlot