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The Strange Occurrence of the Twilight Zone Episode That Won an Oscar - Yes, an Oscar
One episode of The Twilight Zone made it to the Academy Awards stage.
The Twilight Zone (which regularly airs on SYFY) is one of the most celebrated and influential pieces of genre television ever produced, a landmark of the medium that inspired virtually every science fiction and suspense series that came after it in one way or another. Over the course of its run, the show won two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for its creator and host, Rod Serling, cementing its place as a television hit. Then, somehow, as its final season was still airing, The Twilight Zone also made its way to the Oscars stage... sort of.
One of the episodes in the show's fifth and final season, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," was a strange animal for the show, something that Serling himself remarked upon in his introduction. Unlike other episodes, the story was entirely produced by filmmakers outside of the Twilight Zone team, then re-edited and repackaged to air as part of the series, complete with Serling's intro and outro. To make things even stranger, the episode was actually produced in France, where it had already won Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival.
How The Twilight Zone episode "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" Won an Academy Award
So, how does an award-winning French short film make its way to American television as part of a beloved sci-fi program? Well, according to producer William Froug, it came down to budget concerns. At the time, CBS was pushing the show to save money as it worked to complete its Season 5 order, and that meant that producing a whole new episode to complete the order was going to make money extremely tight. In an effort to appease the network while still meeting the tone of the show, Froug suggested they license "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," which he'd already seen, and simply make it part of The Twilight Zone.
"It was almost entirely silent," Froug said in The Twilight Zone Companion. "There were maybe a half-dozen lines in it, and there was one brief ballad –– in English, of all things. CBS was very reluctant –– 'A French film on television? Who ever heard of such a thing?' –– but I convinced them, because we bought all the TV rights for $10,000. With that one airing, we immediately took care of the whole year's overage. It brought us out at the end of the year under budget."
And the episode fit right into The Twilight Zone's overall vibe. Based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce, the episode tells the story of a Confederate soldier about to be executed who, while falling from the gallows, imagines an entire dramatic escape sequence for himself in the moments before his actual death. So, despite the weird circumstances, it was right at home.
But things were about to get weirder. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" aired on CBS as an episode of The Twilight Zone on February 28, 1964, and just six weeks later, won an Academy Award at the 1964 Oscars for Best Live-Action Short Subject, making it the first Oscar-winning film to air on TV prior to the ceremony. So, while it didn't technically win an Oscar as an episode of the The Twilight Zone, it will forever be associated with both Oscar gold and Rod Serling's masterpiece.
Episodes of The Twilight Zone air regularly on SYFY. Check the schedule for details.