Original Air Date: September 29, 1961
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Lamont Johnson
“What you are about to watch is a nightmare. It is not meant to be prophetic, it need not happen, it’s 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.”
In an ordinary suburban neighborhood a family birthday party is being held for a physician named Bill Stockton (played by Larry Gates). Many of his friends, neighbors, and former classmates from the State University are in attendance but the party is interrupted by an emergency radio broadcast. Unidentified objects are headed toward the United States, we are left to assume nuclear war has been declared.
Bill takes his wife and child down to his fallout shelter. Many of his friends and neighbors who once derided him for making the bunker now come knocking on the door begging to be allowed in. However, Bill only constructed the facility to accommodate for three people. In shock, the group goes mad. They start attacking each other and attempt to ram their way into Bill’s shelter. While the group grows increasingly hysteric and barbaric, Bill’s family remains terrified while locked in their shelter. Just then another radio broadcast is heard. It announces the unidentified objects were merely satellites and there is no need to panic.
The people are suddenly calmed and they slowly begin to disperse, though the bestial survival instincts lurking just beneath the surface of suburban America remain ever-present (a similar theme to the Season 1 episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”).
“No moral, no message, no prophetic tract, 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.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- “The Shelter” aired after a summer in which the fallout shelter had become a major middle class commodity due to the Berlin Crisis of 1961 which very nearly caused a nuclear war. Two weeks after the episode aired, the crisis escalated and construction of the Berlin Wall began.
- This was also one of the show’s best reviewed episodes.
- In an interview with Bob Crane, Rod Serling described the inspiration for the episode as stemming from his own family’s interest in building a fallout shelter. Serling stated that the episode received 1,300 letters and cards over a two day period after the initial broadcast.
- These were some of the same sets used in “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.”