Submitted for your approval: The place is Covedale, a working-class neighborhood in Cincinnati. The time is 1948. A young writer named Rodman E. Serling is moonlighting from his day job at WLW radio, where he writes the popular Leave It to Cathy serial; each evening at home, he feverishly churns out television melodramas for Channel 12. The tremendous success, and heartache, that Rodman will eventually encounter in those infant days of television can only be matched in … the Twilight Zone.
Fifty years ago, Twilight Zone first aired on CBS. What has come and gone since is nothing less than a television phenomenon.
And, it all began here. As the show’s creepy theme music would have it, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da.

In the early 1950s, Serling commuted constantly between Cincinnati and New York City to woo the national networks on his early scripts.
One such story, “Patterns,” finally sold to the Kraft Television Theatre. Serling’s morality tale portrayed an ambitious executive, lured from Cincinnati to the Big Apple by a corporate promotion, who can’t seem to cut it in his new environs; the executive’s frustrated wife finally reminds him that, in a pinch, “there’s always Cincinnati.”

Serling won his first Emmy for “Patterns,” followed in short order by “Requiem for a Heavyweight” — which aired on Playhouse 90 — and then Twilight Zone (not to mention, later in his career, the film Planet of the Apes).

The creative genius was generous in doling out work to fellow Cincinnatians: Earl Hamner Jr. — a graduate of the University of Cincinnati — got to write early Zone episodes such as “The Hunt” and “A Piano in the House” before moving up the career ladder to become the creator of the TV series The Waltons. Serling also gave a 21-year-old Steven Spielberg, who was born in Cincinnati, his first TV directing job (a haunting Night Gallery piece titled “Eyes”).

Serling, who attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, set many of his Zone episodes in Ohio towns such as Peaksville and Ridgeview. His travels through other dimensions, not only of sight and sound, but of mind, won him more Emmy Awards for drama than any other writer in the history of the medium. In total, Serling authored more than half of the 151 Zone episodes.

It was 1958 when what’s considered the pilot for the Twilight Zone concept first aired (the first full season began a year later). In “Twilight Zone: The Time Element,” Serling explored a motif he’d return to again and again: Time travel as a means of reshaping history and somehow reconstructing a second chance. (Time travel was also a common theme in episodes of The Storm serial he wrote for WKRC.) The storyline behind “Time Element”: A bartender finds himself at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1941. Should he warn civilians and military about the next day’s attack, and risk altering the course of history?

As a writer, Serling delighted in dishing out unexpected twists in his anthology series:

• In “To Serve Man,” humans are intent on translating an alien work, ostensibly a volume titled To Serve Man, to show how the visiting creatures a plan to serve humanity. (The clueless humans finally decode the work and are horrified to learn it’s a cookbook.)

• In “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” Serling takes a thinly veiled stab at McCarthyism and the dangers of mass hysteria. A suburban neighborhood suffers a blackout, but one house mysteriously keeps its electricity, triggering rampant paranoia and the belief that the home owner is an alien. It’s a textbook example of how prejudices lead to a search for a scapegoat and, eventually, violence.

• And in “A Stop at Willoughby,” Serling retreats to the days when he took a train that stopped in Willoughby, Ohio, in a moody piece that examines the changing nature of life, relationships and the workplace.

In all his social commentaries, Serling never strayed far from Cincinnati in terms of his state of mind. He took the Midwestern values and ethics he’d absorbed, and applied them to all his works. He was resolute on civil rights, on the atrocity of 1950s blacklisting, and on the frail nature of humanity in general.

He bristled when the network censors would blue-pencil his scripts, such as a reference to “a mob of men in masks and sheets.” (TV executives feared offending their Southern affiliates.)

In a sense, the censors created the need for Twilight Zone. The network suits would swoop in any time one of his early dramas approached a topic even resembling controversy, so Serling had the brainstorm to take his commentaries on the world and set them in the more comfortable landscape of science fiction and fantasy. The Zone stories were almost always just vague disguises, parables and metaphors that dared to disturb and challenge without ever setting off the alarm bells of antsy network executives.

Or, as Serling himself would put it years later, “I found that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say.”

Rod Serling is gone now, but his life’s work lives on in syndication — even 50 years later. In a fashion, Serling found the secret to eternal life that always seemed to elude his characters. He found it in, where else ... the Twilight Zone.