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SYFY WIRE The Twilight Zone

Did You Know The Twilight Zone Had a Different Narrator Before Series Creator Rod Serling?

No one could welcome us into the fifth dimension like Serling.

By Josh Weiss
Rod Serling holds a lit cigarette.

With The Twilight Zone so deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche, it's a little hard to imagine anyone serving as host and narrator for the groundbreaking anthology (airing regularly on SYFY) other than its celebrated creator, Rod Serling. While Burgess Meredith, Forrest Whittaker, and Jordan Peele tried to fill the void across a film adaptation and two small screen revivals, none of them came close to matching the enigmatic aura of the chain-smoking man who originally introduced that otherworldly dimension of sight, sound, and mind.

"Although small in stature, Serling gave the television viewer a vision of a much larger man, with a ruddy complexion, dark, wavy hair, sparkling eyes and a deep — almost monotone — voice," read the obituary in the Press & Sun-Bulletin (the local newspaper of Serling's hometown in Binghamton, New York) after the writer passed away in 1975 at the age of 50.

This Quora response from user Joy Banerjee sums it up best: "[His] use of a deep, measured delivery when narrating The Twilight Zone was a conscious choice to help establish the eerie and suspenseful tone of the show. Serling's distinctive voice became an integral part of the series and helped to make it an iconic part of television history."

For More on The Twilight Zone:
The Season 1 Fan Feedback That Changed Rod Serling’s Approach to The Twilight Zone
The Classic Twilight Zone Episode That Inspired Jordan Peele's Us
Why This Famous Sci-Fi Robot Showed Up on The Twilight Zone 3 Different Times

Why Rod Serling Decided to Narrate The Twilight Zone Himself

American writer and actor Rod Serling In 'The Twilight Zone'

But like most writers, Serling harbored no ambition of appearing in front of the camera. Content to remain behind-the-scenes, he initially left the job of narration to an established professional by the name of Westbrook Van Voorhis (full name: Cornelius Westbrook Van Voorhis), who had gained notoriety for his work on The March of Time radio program that spanned the Great Depression and World War II. Those who tuned in for The Twilight Zone's pilot episode ("Where is Everybody?") on October 2, 1959 would have heard Voorhis speaking over the opening titles rather than Serling. You can listen to it for yourself right here.

"[He] had that kind of big voice," former CBS executive William "Bill" Self states in  Marc Scott Zicree's Twilight Zone Companion book. "But when we listened to it, we decided it was a little too pompous-sounding."

Following several screenings of the pilot in New York, the idea of Orson Welles taking over as narrator was floated by the late talent agent, Ira Steiner. Serling purportedly wasn't very keen on the idea, which never came to fruition, considering Welles wanted more money than the network sponsors were willing to pay. "Finally, Rod himself made the suggestion that maybe he should do it," Self recalled. "It was received with skepticism. None of us knew Rod except as a writer. But he did a terrific job."

One of the most notable aspects of the Voorhis version is that it opens with "There is a sixth dimension beyond that which is known to man," which was later tweaked to, "There is a fifth dimension..." for subsequent airings at the behest of Self. "I said, 'Rod, what is the fifth one? And he said, 'I don't know. Aren't there five?' I said, 'I can only think of four." So we rewrote it and recorded it."

Classic episodes of The Twilight Zone air regularly on SYFY. Click here for complete scheduling info!