The fourth season of The Twilight Zone almost never happened. According to Marc Scott Zicree’s invaluable The Twilight Zone Companion, the show searched for a fourth-season sponsor for so long, CBS found another program for its time slot. It eventually returned mid-season in January, replacing the hour-long Fair Exchange, which coincidentally The Twilight Zone was replaced by. But the CBS executives wanted hour-long TZ episodes, ignoring the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
However, it was up to someone else to fix as producer Buck Houghton moved on after the third season, and creator Rod Serling’s involvement was decreased because he was teaching at Antioch College. He still wrote seven of the episodes and would offer notes on the remainder with new producer Herbert Hirschman. Past TZ contributors wrote half the season’s episodes: six by Charles Beaumont, two by Richard Matheson, and one by Earl Hamner, Jr. The remainder were by John Furia, Jr., who wrote “I Dream of Genie,” and Reginald Rose, writer of 12 Angry Men and creator of The Defenders, whose “The Incredible World of Horace Ford” was previously seen on Westinghouse Studio One during a live performance on June 13, 1955. Before his tenure was over, Hirschman left to produce Espionage in London. The final four episodes of the season were produced by Bert Granet.
Yet, with some of the same creative people involved, the expanded duration proved to be a detriment. The stories weren’t as engaging and the resolutions didn’t come through with the same intensity. Serling said, “viewers could watch fifteen minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse.”
The season wasn’t as critically acclaimed. The show earned a single Emmy nomination for cinematography, and ended its Hugo Award winning streak with just a nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation. Realizing their error, the series went back to a half hour in its fifth and final season.
While none of the episodes are equal to the greats during its run, there are some enjoyable stories. Making his fourth and final appearance, Burgess Meredith stars as the title character who helps out a failing newspaper owner in “Printer’s Devil.” Robert Duvall falls for a different kind of girl in “Miniature.” Albert Salmi learns greed is not good when another devil (Julie Newmar) offers him a chance to go back in time and get even richer in “Of Late I think of Cliffordville.” This season also included actors James Doohan, Anne Francis, Dennis Hopper, Jack Klugman, and Burt Reynolds.
The show’s opening was changed once again with new visuals that included a door, eye, window and a new introduction. Serling welcomed viewers with:
You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.
Attentive viewers will also notice the show is titled Twilight Zone. Also, Serling the narrator no longer appears within a scene in the episode. Instead, he stands in a studio up against a blank wall.
Rightly considered the weakest season of the series, I would suggest completists hold out for a great price before buying The Twilight Zone: The Complete Fourth Season.