On October 2, 1959, a very literary show premiered on CBS. It was called, of course, The Twilight Zone. Not literary, you say? Tell that to Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson.
When CBS greenlit the first season, Rod Serling was contracted to write 80 percent of the scripts. To fill out the remainder, he sent out an open call to writers—and received 14,000 manuscripts in the first five days. None of them were useable, and Serling decided he had to try another tack: getting established genre writers on board. One of these genre writers, of course, was his hero, Ray Bradbury.
In an interview with Sam Weller, Bradbury remembers that the two writers met in 1958, a year before the premiere of The Twilight Zone on CBS. Serling was a friend of John Gay, with whom Bradbury was already working, and they sat together at a Writers Guild awards dinner. “After dinner, Rod said he was starting a series, a fantasy series, but he didn’t really know what he was doing, he needed help,” Bradbury said.
I said, “Come to the house with me right now and I’ll give you books that will help you.” I gave him copies of books by Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, John Collier and Roald Dahl. I said, “Now you’ve got a complete idea of what your show should be like. Buy some of these stories or hire these authors to work for you, because you can’t do the whole thing yourself.”
By all appearances, Serling read the books Bradbury gave him. He also reached out to some of the writers Bradbury had turned him onto, including Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson. Beaumont, Matheson, and Bradbury read a few of Serling’s sample scripts and liked the project, all agreeing to contribute.
Pretty immediately, Serling had his core writing crew: Richard Matheson, who is still most famous for the early vampire novel I Am Legend, would contribute 16 episodes, including the iconic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and Charles Beaumont would be credited with 22 before his untimely death from an unspecified brain disease at 38.
But Bradbury had less success adapting his work for The Twilight Zone. His first script, “Here There Be Tygers,” was accepted but never filmed. (The party line was that his scripts were “too expensive to shoot,” but it sounds a little more complicated than that.) In the end only one Bradbury original made it to the series: the 100th episode, “I Sing the Body Electric!,” is an adaptation of an unpublished Bradbury story.
Did Rod Serling plagiarize Ray Bradbury? Keep reading here.