The Twilight Zone: “The Shelter”–Cold War Terror


MGR-1 Honest John rocket picture. Photo taken in the 1960s by a U.S. Army employee.


In September 1961, at the height of the Cold War, Rod Serling wrote a chilling episode of The Twilight Zone speculating about what might happen in small town America if a missile was fired on the U.S. The episode is called “The Shelter.”

I remember watching this episode as a child and the tension, the fear in this show left a profound effect on me. Following a series of school shootings, American students now have drills to prepare them on how to react if someone enters their school with a gun. When I was a child we had drills preparing us for a possible missile crisis. An alarm would go off in our school. Two children were elected to close and lock the windows and the remaining students would climb beneath our desks, sitting with our knees against our chest and our hands over our heads or faces. Of course, these actions would be of little help if a missile did land nearby, but the drills did serve a purpose. They provided parents and children with a false sense of security, believing the children would be safe in public schools if a missile was fired on the U.S.

In August of 1961, construction began on the Berlin Wall. “The Shelter” aired on September 29, 1961.

Cold War Plot

The show opens with deceptively light birthday music. We enter a home in a typical suburban neighborhood where a group of adults are standing around a table and a half-eaten cake that once said “Happy Birthday Doctor” before it was sliced into pieces. It is the home of the neighborhood doctor, Bill Stockton (Larry Gates). As the group laughs and chatters and prepares for an after dinner drink, one of the neighbor’s suggests a speech. The neighbor, Jerry Harlowe, played by the talented Jack Albertson, honors the “good doctor” for taking care of their children and grandchildren through the years. One neighbor jokingly points out the hammering in the middle of the night as the doctor built a bomb shelter in his basement. “Well, we’ll have to forgive him for that,” Harlowe replies.
Veteran actor Jack Albertson who plays Jerry Harlowe, Doc Stockton’s best friend in “The Shelter.”

As the party starts to move to the bar for drinks, the doctor’s son, Paulie (Michael Burns) informs everyone that the television has gone blank and viewers were instructed to turn on the “Comrade Station.” A few people laugh nervously as if they are thinking, or hoping, it is a joke. The doctor, however, looks nervous as he walks into the next room and turns on the radio. The announcer explains that shortly after 11 p.m. a series of unidentified objects were spotted moving in on the United States. The announcer recommends that those who have shelters go to their shelters immediately and states that those who don’t should gather food, water, and gather in a central place. One by one, the couples grab each other’s arms and run from the doctor’s home to prepare for what appears to be a missile attack. The doctor moves his family to the shelter in the basement.

Rod Serling Makes his Appearance

Various couples are seen running down the street when Rod Serling steps out of the bushes. I love these magical appearances when Serling steps into the picture wearing suit and tie and a serious expression to comment on the show. “What you are about to watch is a nightmare,” he explains. “It is not meant to be prophetic, it need not happen. It is the fervent and urgent prayer of all men of good will that it never shall happen.  But in this place, in this moment, it does happen. This is The Twilight Zone.”

Back inside the doctor’s home, Grace (Peggy Stewart), the doctor’s wife, is filling containers of water. She drops one and it shatters on the kitchen floor. “Easy,” the doctor says. “Make believe it costs $100 an ounce. Maybe in an hour or so it will be worth more than that.” Thanks, Doc. I’m sure she feels much more comfortable now!

The son is carrying boxes of canned goods downstairs. The doctor tells him to go upstairs for his black bag. The doctor is looking for light bulbs. Grace says she forgot to buy more. She was waiting for them to go on sale. “How much time do we have,” she asks. The doctor doesn’t know. Then the water runs out.

They carry the remaining items to the shelter. Paulie, the son, is sent to the garage for a tool kit. When he leaves, the doctor tells his wife that he doesn’t know what will happen. He is trying to prepare her. She finishes his sentence. “New York is only 40 miles away,” she says. “If they get it, we get it. Then what? We tiptoe through the rubble and the bodies of our friends?” She suggests it would be better, quicker if they just…and this time does not finish her sentence. Paulie re-enters the room. “That’s why we have to survive,” the doctor tells his wife, nodding at their son. “He’s only twelve-years old.”


Jack Albertson, who plays Jerry Harlowe, Doc Stockton's best friend in "The Shelter."

Jack Albertson, who plays Jerry Harlowe, Doc Stockton’s best friend in “The Shelter.”


Someone is banging on the door. It is their neighbor, Jerry Harlowe. He points out that the Harlowe home is new, they don’t have a shelter. He wants to bring their family into the doctor’s shelter. The doctor tells him they can use their basement, but there is no air space in the shelter. Harlowe becomes hysterical and attacks him. The doctor stops him, apologizing. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I tried to tell you, but you didn’t want to listen. Now you have to face something far worse.” He slams the door. The doctor and his family are locked in the shelter.

Neighbor Marty Weiss (Joseph Bernard) and his family arrives. Marty is begging the doctor from the stairwell to allow his family into the shelter. Marty’s wife and baby are crying. The doctor refuse. “I can’t and I won’t,” he shouts through the door. “You probably will survive, but you’ll have blood on your hands. You’re a doctor. You’re supposed to help people,” Marty screams. “That was a million years ago,” the doctor mumbles, then he screams for Marty to get out of his basement.

The neighbors are slowly gathering upstairs. “Ask him again!” the wives beg. Harlowe sees this as futile and suggests they stop wasting time and pool their resources then gather in a basement. Another neighbor suggests they break down the door. They then ask Harlowe, the doctor’s best friend, to plead on their behalf. In the midst of the discussion, Frank Henderson (Sandy Kenyon) turns on Marty and makes racist comments. “That’s the way it is when the foreigners come over,” Henderson says, shouting at Marty.

Inevitable Chaos

The radio is making more announcements. Planes are heard overhead. The men run down the stairs and tell the doctor he can either figure out how many people can come in or they will bust down the door. The doctor tells them they are wasting precious time. The neighbors decide to find a battering ram. Then they realize other neighbors will see and want to come. “This isn’t their street, this isn’t their shelter,” one woman says. Harlowe points out that it is not their shelter either, and that they are acting like a mob. Marty agrees. The racist neighbor punches Marty and makes more racist remarks. The sirens go off and the men run for a battering ram.

Inside the shelter, Grace is upset. “Who are those people,” she asks stunned. “Those people are our neighbors. They’ve lived alongside us twenty years,” the doctor replies. The family begins to move furniture to block the shelter door. The neighbors bring a large metal post in and start banging on the door. They are hysterical, sweating, angry, and damaging the door.

Suddenly, the radio comes back on. The President has announced there are no enemy missiles approaching, the state of emergency is called off, there is no enemy attack. The sirens go off to announce the emergency has ended. The couples hold each other, comfort each other. Frank Henderson, the racist neighbor, tries to apologize to Marty. “Oh, I don’t think Marty is going to hold it against you, Frank,” Harlowe says, “Just like I don’t think Bill is going to hold all this against us,” and we now see that Bill and his family are coming out of the shelter. “We can have a block party tomorrow night to pay for the damages,” Harlowe suggests. “Yes, Marty says. “A big celebration. I think we raise one now.”

“Anything to get back to normal,” Harlow says. The doctor stumbles past him, stunned. “I don’t think we know what normal is,” Doc Stockton replies. “I thought I did once. I don’t anymore.”

“I told you we’d pay what for the damages, Bill,” Harlowe says with a pleading tone. “Damages?” Stockton replies. “I wonder. I wonder if any one of us has any idea what those damages really are. Maybe one of them is finding out what we’re really like when we’re normal. The kind of people we are just underneath the skin. I mean all of us, a lot of naked, wild animals who put such a price on staying alive that they’ll claw their neighbors to death just for the privilege. We were spared a bomb tonight, but I wonder, I wonder if we weren’t destroyed, even without it.”

Rod Serling always has the last word in these plays. “No moral, no message, no prophetic tract,” he says. “Just a simple statement of fact. For civilization to survive the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight’s very small exercise in logic from The Twilight Zone.”

Who Would you Save?

When I was in school in the 60s and 70s there was a popular debate question: In a national crisis, who would you save? The elderly politicians? Young couples with babies and the ability to have more children? Scientists? Doctors?

In the situation presented in “The Shelter,” my first thought was that the doctor should tell the neighbors to leave all their food, water, and children and that he would take their children into the shelter, but leave the adults outside. At first, I thought the doctor should sacrifice his life for the children, too. However, he is also a doctor, and he had obviously studied possible crisis scenarios, so his value increases. He could teach survival skills to the children. In a situation like this one, I know I would send in the children and I would leave the shelter. I would sacrifice myself so others could live and the human race could continue on.


  • “The Shelter.” The Twilight Zone. First aired on September 29, 1961. Season 3, Episode 3. Dir. Lamont Johnson. Writer: Rod Serling. Players: Larry Gates, Joseph Bernard, Jack Albertson. Running Time: 25 min.

The Twilight Zone: “Nightsong”

Gilera 4 classic motorcycle. Image by  Gérard Delafond.

Gilera 4 classic motorcycle. Image by Gérard Delafond.


Love unrequited, or so she thinks. Andy Fields is a woman with a broken heart. She believes she was abandoned by her childhood sweetheart and appears to be doomed to spend the rest of her life alone, playing records late at night as a DJ in The Twilight Zone episode “Nightsong.”

The Revival of The Twilight Zone, and Andy’s Lover 

Rod Serling was the creator of the original The Twilight Zone and writer of most of its scripts. “Nightsong,” however, was created for the revised series of The Twilight Zone, which made its appearance in the 1980s. The show aired on October 11, 1986, and stars Lisa Eilbacher, Kenneth David Gilman and Antony Hamilton. This episode was written by Rockne S. O’Bannon and Michael Reeves. Serling is listed on IMDb as a contributor, though he had died 11 years earlier. The show was produced by Philip DeGuere.

In the opening scene we find the 96.3 KGRR night DJ, Ace Campbell, saying goodbye to his listeners. (Ace is played by Kenneth “Kip” David Gilman, who not only has an extensive list of television appearances on his resume, but is also known as “one of theater’s most important actors,” due to his versatility and talent, according to his IMDb bio.) Ace introduces the midnight D.J., Andrea Fields, or “Andy,” played by the beautiful Lisa Eilbacher. Lisa Eilbacher became famous through her early appearances on Western television shows, such as GunsmokeBonanza, and Wagon Train. In 1984 she starred as Jenny Summers, who assists her friend, Eddie Murphy, in his investigation of a murdered friend in Beverly Hills Cop.

Back in the DJ booth, as Ace Campbell rises from his seat to leave, Andy (Eilbacher) enters the room and prepares for her shift. Of course, the first thing the viewer should notice is the floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with record albums–this is truly a classic show! As Andy sorts through the albums, Ace Campbell flirtatiously asks her why they are no longer dating, Andy doesn’t have an answer. “I guess I’m just not ready for more than a few laughs,” she replies. Ace, now a compassionate friend, advises her that she needs someone in her life besides herself.

The Campbell walks out the door at the same moment Andy finds an album by her former boyfriend. Andy follows Campbell out the door and asks how the album appeared in the studio. Campbell, confused, explains he found it in a dumpster. Andy mumbles that she promised herself she would never listen to the album.

Apparently Andy changes her mind. She returns to the broadcast room and places the record on the turntable then introduces “Nightsong” by Simon Locke. As she is listening to the music she suddenly notices a shadow on the wall. A man appears in the room. The man is Simon Locke, (played by Antony Hamilton, who also played Max Harte in the 1990 revised television version of Mission Impossible.) Andy, shocked, approaches him slowly, then slaps him. Locke begs her not to be angry. “After five years, isn’t it a little late?” she asks. Locke patiently explains that he needs to speak to her. Andy screams at him to get out, holding her face in her hands, sobbing. When she looks up, he has disappeared.

Andy is distracted when she leaves her shift and is almost hit by a motorcyclist, then Locke appears out of nowhere to save her. Her car is dead and he offers to help, but she angrily slaps him away. As they walk down the street, arguing, Andy confronts him with her knowledge of his many affairs. Locke has no excuse for his behavior or treatment of her. “I just got lost,” he says quietly.

In the next scene, we see the two of them in an all-night diner discussing his two cancelled record contracts and his failed band. As they talk, we realize they not only dated, but grew up together. She reminds him of how he once wanted to be a comic book hero, the Golden Condor. (The Golden Condor could be a reference to a 1980s cartoon The Mysterious Cities of Gold and film remake starring Tyrone Power.)

Once again, Locke and Andy argue and he leaves the diner. Later, when she’s lying in bed and listening to his album, she calls out his name and he suddenly appears by the window in her bedroom. By this time the audience is clear that they are witnessing the appearance of a ghost, but Andy seems oblivious to this detail. She tells Locke she realizes all of his songs were about them and they start to dance.

This time, it’s Locke who pulls away as he tries to explain that he can no longer have a relationship with her. Andy begs him to try. “Maybe it will work this time,” she says.

He shakes his head. “This time there’s no coming back,” he replies, but Andy shouts at him, refusing to allow him to explain what the audience already knows. “There’s something you just don’t understand,” he tells her, then asks her to follow him.

They drive out to the desert on his motorcycle. Locke explains that this is where he went to run away from life. He is speeding on a dirt road and Andy is frightened and tells him so, but Locke drives faster. He shouts back to her that he was afraid of failure, that he panicked, just took off, but he is not slowing the motorcycle. They finally reach the top of a cliff and Simon takes her hand, then drags her down, past the rocks and tall grasses, to the bottom of the cliff.

“All this time, that one obscure album that no one heard. No one cared. Then you played that album. I felt stronger and came back,” Locke explains as they continue to climb down. He also tells her that he was the man on the bike that almost killed her at the station. Then he tells her to forget Simon Locke, that she can do better.

“I never stopped loving you,” Andy replies.

“Well you can stop now,” Locke explains. “You can start living again,” he tells her. He moves some brush aside and exposes a crumpled motorcycle with a skeleton tangled in the twisted metal. Yes, Simon Locke is a ghost. “Forgive me,” he whispers. “Forgive me, please,” and just as suddenly as he appeared in the studio, he has now disappeared.

In the next scene, Andy is back at the station taking requests when a young woman calls and asks for Simon Locke’s “Nightsong.” Andy complies and dedicates the song “from Andrea to Simon, with love.”

The Problem

This episode seems to represent the problem with the revised version of The Twilight Zone. The original Twilight Zone was often intense, spooky. The shows are cautionary tales, warning us that everything is important, and nothing is as it seems. Later versions seemed to lose that focus. They were often well-written, but lacked the eeriness of Serling’s stories, something Serling took great pride in with his original series. Supernatural television had changed. Along with horror films, directors suddenly decided that more was better, and audiences felt that more was too much. Instead of leaving the horrific details to the imagination, they often treated audiences as if they lacked the intelligence to understand the subtleties of plot and dialogue and spelled it out. In this particular episode, it wasn’t enough to show a mangle motorcycle, they had to show Simon Locke’s skeleton, as well.

Serling is credited with introducing the paranormal to family viewers in an acceptable manner, making it clear to viewers that what they may consider to be strange and abnormal is actually a common and accepted part of their lives, and they would know this if they paid closer attention. In this respect, “Nightsong” stays true to Serling’s goal. Although it is clear to the audience that Simon Locke is a ghost, Andy doesn’t see it until the end of the show. Nevertheless, it is obvious from the start that this show lacks the skillful touch of Rod Serling.


  • “Nightsong.” The Twilight Zone. Original air date: October 11, 1986. Season 2, Episode 27b. Dir. Bradford May. Writer: Michael Reaves. Players: Lisa Eilbacher, Antony Hamilton, Kip Gilman

The Twilight Zone: Supernatural Television Masterpiece

Rod Serling and Inger Stevens. Stevens starred in The Twilight Zone episode "The Hitchhiker."

Rod Serling and Inger Stevens. Stevens starred in The Twilight Zone episode “The Hitchhiker.”


It was the late 50s, and the Golden Age of live television drama was drawing to an end. The use of videotaping provided increased opportunities for special effects, but also ended the spontaneity of the popular live dramas. Vietnam made its shocking appearance on the nightly news and the television viewing audience seemed to change. They wanted action and adventure, just as before, but they also desired a distraction from the painful reality of their world.

This is precisely what Rod Serling provided with his stories.  By the late 1950s, Serling was already a veteran of anthology television and had a keen sense of the needs of his audience, which he proved with one of the most highly-acclaimed science fiction anthologies ever created for television–The Twilight Zone. He questioned reality. He questioned dreams. He introduced the viewing audience to the supernatural, to possibilities that were beyond scientific understanding, and he asked: “What if…?” It was genius.

Supernatural Themes and Unexplainable Circumstances

The Twilight Zone set the standard for explorations into the odd and unexplainable world of supernatural television in the late 1950s and early 60s. Serling’s stories focused on many popular 1950s fiction themes, including space travel, aliens, and ghosts, but they often had more serious underlying themes, such as the effects of alcoholism and mental illness. His ability to please his audience was undeniable. His stories won three Emmys and numerous other awards.

The original version of The Twilight Zone ran from 1959 to 1964 with 155 episodes. Some biographers include the first Desilu Productions show for a total of 156. It was an instant hit–apparently, Americans love strange, odd, unexplainable circumstances and as fans of the writings of Rod Serling know very well, anything can happen in the “Twilight Zone.”

In spite of the ongoing argument against time travel, Serling seemed particularly fond of the subject and was capable of skillfully, briefly, suspending the disbelief of his audience long enough to convince them that time travel is possible. For instance, in the 1960 production of “The Last Flight” a pilot lands his 1917 biplane at a modern Air Force base and slowly, gradually, realizes there is a reason he is there, and a reason he must return to 1917. In “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” Cliff Robertson plays a pioneer in 1847 who suddenly finds himself in 1961 New Mexico searching for a cure for his son’s illness. In the 1962 production of “Kick the Can” a group of friends living in a senior’s home discover a way to return to their childhood. Each of these shows has that magic ingredient that attracts and holds the attention of the viewing audience from beginning to end, leaving them with a sense that they have just experienced something quite strange and impossible to explain. That magic ingredient is the writing of Rod Serling.

Perfect Timing

In addition to his skill and choice of topics, there was another reason why Serling’s stories were so popular–his writing was familiar. Rod Serling wrote for many anthology programs during the 1950s, including Kraft TheatreThe U.S. Steel Hour; and Playhouse 90. Most anthology serials in the early 50s were filmed live, but Serling introduced The Twilight Zone at just the right time when television was moving toward filmed anthologies. This gave Serling more freedom with his set designs.

It also allowed him a bit more freedom with plot. As with most television writers, Serling was tired of the influence of the sponsors on theme and plot and filming shows in advance gave him the opportunity to explore themes of fantasy, experiences that might happen “in another dimension,” ideas that sponsors really could not argue as being unrealistic because the entire idea was to take a different look at what is considered “real.”

The idea for The Twilight Zone began in 1957 as Serling became increasingly annoyed by changes sponsors insisted on making to his Playhouse 90 scripts. Serling was so frustrated he finally quit his writing position and shocked the world of television with the announcement that he intended to write and produce his own fantasy show.

Of course, they could not have been too shocked. If there was any writer in the business at that time who knew television, it was Serling. According to Michael Winship’s Television, Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” the second script Serling wrote for Playhouse 90, is still considered the best television program ever written.

When The Twilight Zone was still in the dream stage, a show without a script, Serling decided to revise a story he wrote for a Cincinnati radio station years before and approached CBS, but the script was rejected. Instead, it aired as an episode on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, another anthology series produced by husband and wife team Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. The show was “The Time Element,” and starred William Bendix. According to Cult TV, that one episode generated more viewer response than any other aired that season and once again attracted the attention of CBS. After three attempted scripts, CBS decided to pick up the show in February of 1959 and The Twilight Zone pilot “Where is Everybody” aired on October 2, 1959.


Rod Serling, creator and writer of The Twilight Zone supernatural anthology and Night Gallery.

Rod Serling, creator and writer of The Twilight Zone supernatural anthology and Night Gallery.


Anatomy of a Ground-Breaking Anthology

The Twilight Zone generally begins with a visual introduction to the theme of the supernatural, weird, some force beyond current scientific understanding or acceptance, with spooky background images and occasionally an appearance by Serling, or more often a voice-over of Serling introducing the show.

There is actually a wide variety of introductions. The 1960s show “The Hitchhiker,” stars Inger Stevens as Nan Adams, a cross-country traveler troubled by a persistent hitchhiker. The show begins with, “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man and is timeless as infinity as it exists in shadow between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

The show was filmed at the MGM studios, using standard sets and the back lot. It was close enough to the city to provide use of New York street scenes, but also had forest and lake settings. However, the setting was undoubtedly far less important than the plot itself.

The shows are also known for having “that one line,” the line that pulls the story together as the characters, and the audience, realize at the same time what the story is about. For instance, in the 1960s performance “A Passage for Trumpet,” an intriguing show with an underlying theme of the afterlife and subtle discussion of angels starring Jack Klugman as Joey Crown. Crown has lost his career as a professional trumpet player due to his alcoholism, but he has not lost his love for music. In a final act of desperation he steps in front of a truck. It is unclear if this is an act of suicide or desperate confusion, but when he rises from the street the confusion takes center stage as no one seems to be able to see or hear him.

Joey hears music coming from a nearby nightclub. He wanders inside and finds a man playing the trumpet. The man mysteriously knows Joey’s name. He offers to let Joey play a song on his trumpet. Joey begins to play, then pauses to ask how the man knows his name. “Am I dead? Are you a ghost?” Joey asks. The man laughs and shakes his head. “Oh I’m not dead,” the stranger replies. “And neither are you, Joey.” The man explains that the other people who did not speak to Joey on the street are ghosts and just don’t know it, that sometimes, “to make it easier, we let them go on in a life that they’re familiar with.”

Joey is still confused and wants answers. The stranger explains that Joey is in limbo, a shadow, then he asks Joey a very important question: Which does he prefer, his life, or limbo? The man is clearly offering Joey the chance to return to his former life, which Joey readily accepts. As the man is leaving, Joey shouts, “Hey Mister, I didn’t get your name!” The man turns around. “My name?” he asks. “Call me Gabe. Short for Gabriel.” That is the line that pulls the story together. “Call me Gabe.” Joey has just had a conversation with the Angel Gabriel, and Gabriel has given Joey a second chance at life.

Serling again appears in the conclusion, generally in a voice-over that summarizes the moral of the story in a way that is often quite poetic. In “A Passage for Trumpet,” for instance, Serling says, “Joey Crown who makes music, and who discovered something about life, that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look, and to listen. Joey Crown, who got his clue in the Twilight Zone.”

What’s in a Name?

The name of the show also holds an interesting bit of trivia. Apparently, Rod Serling believed he invented the term “The Twilight Zone,” but later learned that Air Force pilots used the same phrase when describing the moment when their planes were descending and the pilot was no long able to see the horizon, an apt metaphor.

Serling also mistakenly believed there were five dimensions and often referred to a mysterious “sixth dimension” in his show until someone respectfully informed him (most likely the same Air Force pilot) that there are only four dimensions used to determine a object’s location in space–width, height, depth, and time.

Early Star Appearances

The Twilight Zone was not popular with sponsors. Many of them complained that they “didn’t get it” and some would call the studio on a regular basis, insisting on an explanation of the show that aired the night before. The show was, however, popular with actors. In addition to the already named Jack Klugman and Inger Stevens, other famous actors made appearances on the early shows, such as Roddy McDowell; Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery who later appeared as husband and wife on Bewitched, and Agnew Moorehead who played Montgomery’s mother; William Shatner who also broke ground in the science fiction field and now has his own Star Trek fan club; Art Carney; Claude Akins; Earl Holliman who starred in the pilot show and later became famous as Lt. Bill Crowley in Police Woman; Cliff Robertson; and even Robert Redford, who made numerous appearances in television anthologies before breaking into film.


The list of stars goes on, along with the popularity of the show. It’s been 53 years since the show first aired and the reruns are as popular with fans today as they were in the beginning due to the creative imagination, the genius, of Rod Serling. There were attempts to revive the show in the 1980s, and again in 2002, which still appear as reruns on occassion, but these shows, although attempting to remain true to the original, lacked the critical ingredient present in the early version: the writing of Rod Serling.


  • Blake, John. The Twilight Zone Companion.
  • Javna, John. Cult TV: A Viewer’s Guide to the Shows America Can’t Live Without! St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.


Monsters: Classic Supernatural Television Anthology

Each Monsters episode begins with the monster family gathered around the television, waiting for their favorite show.

Each Monsters episode begins with the monster family gathered around the television, waiting for their favorite show.


We begin with a view of earth from the sky and move in closer to a small, suburban town with carefully plotted streets and homes that all resemble each other, typical of a 1950s neighborhood. The camera focuses on one home, then moves into the living room as Mom comes from the kitchen with a bowl of snacks in her hands. “Honey, it’s family hour. There must be something on,” she says as her husband tosses the television guide behind his chair in an act of frustration.

It appears to be a typical weeknight in an average American home, but Mom does not look as typical as she sounds. She only has one eye, and it is in the center of her forehead. She also has two short horns protruding from her forehead alongside the eye. Her young child, wearing a cute set of overalls and sitting in front of the television leaps to her feet and turns around to exclaim, “Oh wow! Candy Critters!” as she lifts the lid from the snack dish. She also has one eye and a small growth of horns. Mom sits down in her rocking chair. The child sits on the floor at the feet of her parents. Dad, seated in the chair beside the his wife, has control of the remote. He is wearing a suit and tie and has a head that resembles a vomitous green version of the creature from the classic horror film, “The Blob.”

Dad changes the channel. “Oh great!” Mom exclaims. “It’s Monsters, our favorite show. “The eerie opening music comes to an end with the sinister laughter of the father, and the show begins.

Monsters for Every Taste

Monsters was a production of Laurel Entertainment, Inc. and ran for three seasons, from 1988 to 1990 for a total of 72 episodes, 24 per season. This half hour anthology series offered a wide variety of creatures and the shows are generally categorized as either horror or science fiction.

The show was produced by Richard P. Rubinstein, who also produced Tales from the Darkside, and like Tales from the Darkside, some of the shows are spectacular, and others are simply mediocre, though they did attract many popular writers of the time, including Stephen King. There were numerous writers who produced works for this show, though, including Edith Swensen who wrote six scripts and the team of Peg Haller and Bob Schneider who wrote five episodes.

Unlike Tales from the Darkside, the shows on Monsters focus on one fantastic fantasy creation–the monster. In fact, the focus is completely on the monster. There is some action, interesting plots, and ironic endings, but the monster is definitely the focus of the show. There is also a generous mix of humor with horror in the shows, particularly obvious in some performances, such as “Small Blessings,” which is about a beastly baby who is so ferocious that his parents suspect he is committing crimes in the neighborhood.

Obviously, there was extensive use of makeup, wild costumes and theatrical effects used on the shows to create the monsters, and there was a wide range of monsters, from fantastical creations to aliens, vampires, ghosts, witches, and zombies. Some of the shows, such as “Jar,” which has a hint of film noir, also include sexually explicit scenes, as well, and some shows expose bare breasts, so the intended audience is clearly adults.

Actors Love Monsters, Too!

The list of actors appearing on the show is impressive, and include Lili Taylor who appeared on Monsters early in her career; David Spade, Kevin Nealon and Julie Brown, former cast members on Saturday Night Live; Tony Shalhoub who co-starred in the popular television shows Wings and Monk; Gina Gershon who co-starred in the popular film Face/Off; rock star Deborah Harry; and Steve Buscemi, who has won numerous acting awards including a Golden Globe and has also appeared in over 126 films.

This show has two consistent characteristics to watch for–the monster, of course, and the ironic ending. A few of the more popular shows in this series include “Jar,” with its unique country farm style version of film noir; “Small Blessings,” which has a great example of the ironic twist ending; “Leavings,” with its fine acting by Tony Shalhoub; and Stephen Kings’ “The Moving Finger.”

Although re-runs still occasionally appear on the SyFy channel, Monsters is currently appearing on the cable channel Chiller TV.  Since this show is also an anthology, the episodes will be discussed individually on this blog. Stay tuned…

The Outer Limits: Science Fiction for Monster Fans!

Purported UFO. Photo taken in New Jersey, 2008. Space, aliens, and UFOs were the major focus of the revived version of The Outer Limits.

Purported UFO. Photo taken in New Jersey, 2008. Space, aliens, and UFOs were the major focus of the revived version of The Outer Limits.


It’s time for me to admit the truth: I am a cult fan of The Outer Limits. I watched it as a child and love it just as much, if not more, as an adult. For some odd reason, the show was not popular with sponsors, but children of the 60s loved it. Monsters, aliens, UFOs–The Outer Limits had it all, including a young audience eager to meet the show’s monster-of-the-week.

Monsters were popular in the 60s–trust me, I was there. Children of the 60s were raised on black and white versions of Frankenstein, Dracula, and a very young Michael Landon who revealed to the world in 1957 that he was a teenage werewolf. We hid beneath our desks at school during bomb drills. We understood the fear of the unknown. The creator of The Outer Limits also knew that fear, and he knew how to use it.

The Outer Limits premiered on ABC on September 16, 1963. It was an anthology show. Each episode was referred to as a separate “play” and often based on short stories or novellas. The Outer Limits lasted two years and never ranked in the top 25 shows, but like Star Trek, which ran for three years and never ranked in the top 25, The Outer Limits became a part of cult television history.

Every week, The Outer Limits brought a new, freaky creature into the living rooms of America. It didn’t matter if they were insects, reptilian, alien, or humans replicated through time travel, Americans loved their freaky creatures. In fact, according to John Javna’s Cult TV, writers were specifically instructed to include in each play, “one splendid, staggering, shuddering effect that induces awe, wonder, tolerable terror, or even merely conversation and argument.” (Future articles on this blog will discuss the specifics of the monster in each play and what it represents.)

Leslie Stevens and the Show’s Conception

The Outer Limits was the creation of child prodigy Leslie Stevens who sold his first screenplay to Orson Welles when he was 15 years old. Stevens wrote most of the early episodes with Joseph Stephano, who was also the screenwriter of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Stevens referred to the monsters on the show as “bears.” As he explained, during the Vaudeville years (1880s-1930s) when a performance was going badly and the audience was bored, the stage director would send out a comedian dressed as a bear. Thus Stevens referred to his monsters as “bears.” The monsters, or bears, were important to the show, but not as important as the metaphor, the life lesson they represented.  Monsters were cool, but The Outer Limits had something even better–monsters with a message.

The show was conceived by Stevens in 1961 as a science fiction show, a show that would inspire awe in the audience as they explored the mysteries of the universe. Stevens proposed the show to television promoter Dan Melnick, who agreed to promote the show as long as Stevens could guarantee each show had a monster to meet the demands of children in the 60s. The show also had to be low on the horror scale and high on the science fiction aspects.

The original title was Please Stand by, which was eventually replaced, but this phrase was incorporated into the famous introduction. Why? Because America was staggering beneath the stress of the Cuban Missile Crisis and ABC thought the title “Please Stand By” might inspire another Orson-Wellesian-panic with listeners jumping from windows during the broadcast of “War of the Worlds” because they feared the planet was taken over by aliens.

The Monsters

The original monsters were not particularly impressive due to budget constraints–$10,000 to $40,000 is an awfully tight budget when creating a believable beast from space–and some of the creatures are downright funny. In the 1964 play “Specimen: Unknown,” written by Stephen Lord and directed by Gerd Oswald, a member of a team of astronaut scientists find mushroom-shaped organisms attached to their space station. The organism, exposed to light, becomes a flower, which emits deadly spores. Naturally, when the space team returns to earth for help they accidentally bring the spores with them. This episode had the highest Nielsen rating in the first season, and ironically, the terrifying deadly spores were made from…puffed wheat.

Many fans of the show believe the most ridiculous monster appeared in the play “The Duplicate Man,” which aired on December 19, 1964. In this show, academic researcher Henderson James convinces Captain Karl Emmet to smuggle a Megasoid to Earth. The Megasoid must be brought to earth illegally because it is a dangerous killer. At one point the Megasoid escapes and hides among the stuffed animals at a zoo exhibit. This disguise was easily accomplished because the terrifying beast was actually a man dressed in a flimsy gorilla costume made from velour and a recycled bird mask, with the recording of a growling German shepherd for his voice.

One of the audience favorites in the monster category was the Chromoite in the play “The Mice,” which aired on January 6, 1964. I am watching this show as I write. In this show, a scientific mission to exchange a human for an alien is exposed as a secret alien plan to invade earth. The opening scene shows a lovely young woman walking through the woods. She hears what sounds like bees to me, and of course decides to step off the path and investigate in her tight skirt and high-heeled shoes. She sees a monster, the Chromoite monster, which resembles a flabby Portuguese man-of-war. She runs to a nearby building and the beast rises to follow–clearly, it is a man in a costume.  When it enters the building, it appears to be as tall as the ceiling. It has shiny legs, crab claws, and several mouths dripping with drool. Yummy.

The monsters were not supposed to be horrifying according to the contemporary definition of horror. The monsters are metaphors, generally representing the folly of humankind, or humans trying to play God, or conversely, the instinctive fear of technology.

The premiere episode aired on September 16, 1963, and was titled “The Galaxy Being.” In this play, Cliff Robertson stars as Allan Maxwell, a radio station engineer who makes contact with an alien creature, the show’s first “monster.” The alien is accidentally transported to earth. The monster in this show represents our fear of the unknown as local residents and authorities react to the presence of the monster with hysteria and violence.

The Voices of The Outer Limits

The voices of the monsters were generally the voice of singer Robert Johnson. Listen closely–does it sound familiar? Johnson’s voice was so captivating that he was hired by Bruce Geller, creator of the original Mission Impossible series, as the tape recorder voice. “This tape will self-destruct…”

When Stevens conceived the show he did not want The Outer Limits to appear to be competing with Rod Serling’s popular The Twilight Zone, so he did not want a speaker who appeared out of nowhere to introduce the show. Instead, his introduction appropriately came through a computer-like “control” voice.

The control voice introduces the show with: “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to — The Outer Limits.”

Following the commercial break, the control voice introduces the characters and the play. At the end of the show, the control voice states, “We now return control of your television set to you, until next week at the same time, when the Control Voice will take you to…The Outer Limits.”

The Outer Limits Revived

The Outer Limits was revived in 1995 and ran another seven years, until 2002, on the Sci Fi Channel. Later episodes of The Outer Limits brought the humans-playing-God theme home in a more solid, meaningful way that seemed to resonate with viewers entering a new millennium.  Both versions of the show are also highly atmospheric. The first versions, in black and white, are eerie, very much “out of this world,” often with rain, dark clouds, intensely atmospheric.

The later versions focus more on the science fiction, and the atmosphere in these shows are high-tech. In 1999, Frankenstein’s monster became a computer, a space ship, a time travel machine. This blog will explore important episodes from both the early and later plays, their monsters, and the metaphors. Please stand by…


  • Javna, James. Cult TV: A Viewer’s Guide to the Shows America Can’t Live Without!. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Schow, David J., Frentzen, Jeffrey. The Official Outer Limits Companion. Ace Books. New York: 1986.
  • “Specimen Unknown.” The Outer Limits. First aired February 4, 1964. Season 1, Episode 22. Dir. Gerd Oswald. Players: Stephen McNally, Richard Jaeckel, Russell Johnson. Running time: 52 min.
  • “The Galaxy Being.” The Outer Limits. First aired September 16, 1963. Season 1, Episode 1. Dir. Leslie Stevens. Players: Lee Philips, Jacqueline Scott, Cliff Robertson.
  • “The Duplicate Man.” The Outer Limits. First aired December 19, 1964. Season 2, Episode 13. Dir. Gerd Oswald. Players: Ron Randell, Constance Towers.
  • “The Mice.” The Outer Limits. First aired January 6, 1964. Season 1, Episode 15. Dir. Alan Crosland, Jr. Players: Henry Silva, Diana Sands, Michael Higgins, Francis De Sales, Ron Foster.
  • Winship, Michael. Television: Companion to the PBS Series. Random House. New York: 1988.