After three straight seasons of consistently critically-lauded productions, The Twilight Zone‘s fourth season was hampered from the outset with turnover and transition. As each previous season of the show ended, the crew found itself in the unfortunate position of having to scramble to secure a new sponsor. In the Spring of 1962, time was growing dire to find new funding and then-notorious CBS President Jim Aubrey made a fateful decision to move the show from its usual timeframe to an hourlong slot. At the same time, he also made his preferences known for episodic sitcom shows like Gilligan’s Island or The Beverly Hillbillies instead of anthology programs like Playhouse 90 or The Twilight Zone.
By the time The Twilight Zone finally secured sponsorship for a fourth season, it had to be squeezed in midway through the year as a midseason replacement for another hour-long show entitled Fair Exchange which sat in the Thursday night slot, a timeframe which Rod Serling felt would cost The Twilight Zone its young viewership. The change also caused a backlash among the creative team, Richard Matheson who contributed two scripts to the fourth season made his dismissive feelings of the changes known to production staff and director Douglas Heyes decided to leave the show to join NBC’s similar series entitled Thriller, which was hosted by Boris Karloff. In the tumult over funding and structural changes, the show lost its most prolific producer, Buck Houghton, who sadly left in search of more secure employment. He was replaced with veteran producer Herbert Hirschmann, who apparently had a somewhat antagonistic relationship with Rod Serling. In The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree he quotes Mr. Hirschman as saying:
“We had a few fights. Rod was a tremendously talented writer and very, very facile. He was so much better than the average television writer that even even half as good as he was capable of writing was better than most. I think it became easy for him. And our fights consisted of me saying, ‘Rod, I think you can do better than this.’The scripts were pretty good by television standards, I just thought he was capable of better work, and he had to be flogged and kicked in the ass, frankly, and argued with to bestir to improve on what was already pretty good. So any arguments we had were basically in those categories where he’d send me a script which, if it came from somebody else, I’d have been thrilled with, but I knew he was capable of better things” (291).
For reasons unknown, Hirschman soon departed The Twilight Zone after a mere twelve episodes into the fourth season. The thirteenth episode “No Time Like the Past” was overseen by CBS Associate Producer Murray Golden, who was then replaced by veteran producer Bert Granet, who worked on many memorable episodes in the late fourth and early fifth season before yielding to the show’s final producer William Froug.
Fans of the show have often bemoaned the fourth season and its change in structure. Rod Serling –who spent much of this chaotic period teaching at Antioch College halfway across the country in Yellow Springs, Ohio– was the first to acknowledge its problems. He had the following words to offer:
“Our shows this season were too padded. The bulk of our stories lacked the excitement and punch of the shorter dramas we intended when we started five years ago and kept to for a while. If you ask me, I think we had only one really effective show this season, ‘On Thursday We Leave For Home.’… Yes, I wrote it myself, but I overwrote it. I think the story was good despite what I did to it.”
In my own view, the fourth season is still a brilliant addition to The Twilight Zone series with some terrific episodes, particularly from the hand of Charles Beaumont who was experiencing the summit of skills yet also the unfortunate effects of a rapidly advancing disease which would soon claim his life (Alzheimer’s Disease). It was a grave tragedy for such a young talent, but the one bright spot was that Mr. Beaumont’s friends began ghostwriting scripts for him, including Jerry Sohl, a well-regarded science fiction writer for other shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, and Star Trek. Some of the greatest episodes in this fourth season in my view include: “In His Image,” “Mute,” “Death Ship,” “Miniature,” “No Time Like The Past,” “The Parallel,” “The New Exhibit,” “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville,” “On Thursday We Leave for Home,” but with that being said, there are still no truly poor episodes in this season showcasing another triumph for the show. Thankfully the fifth and final season was a familiar return to form.
Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.