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, October 11th, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1963 5th season premiere of one of the most popular TZ episodes of all time – “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
Written by Richard Matheson, who was inspired one day looking at cloud formations out his airplane window, this story introduces a pre-Star Trek William Shatner as Bob Wilson, a man recovering from a nervous breakdown who begins to see an odd creature on the wing of a passenger plane – something or someone that no one else on the plane can see.
The Twilight Zone excelled at taking a perfectly ordinary thing like an airplane ride and turning it into a scary journey into another dimension. Just as he did in the previously memorable episode “Nick of Time,” in which he battled a fortune teller machine, Shatner brought total credibility to the role of Wilson.
Richard Donner, who went on to direct a slew of blockbuster feature films including Superman and Lethal Weapon, directed this episode – which was later remade in Twiilght Zone: The Movie with John Lithgow taking on the role, and doing a fantastic job under George Miller’s (Road Warrior) direction.
Here’s to The Twilight Zone and air travel – never the same in our own imagination after “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”