1. The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
Air Dates: October 2, 1959 - June 19, 1964
Best Episode: "The Masks" (March 20, 1964)
How many times have you heard someone, when in a bizarre situation (for instance, a bar in which women buy all of the drinks), say, “It feels like I'm in the The Twilight Zone”? There's one man to thank for that ongoing pop culture reference point: Rod Serling, the game-changer responsible for several award-winning TV scripts, but most notably known for creating the groundbreaking anthology series The Twilight Zone.
Given a look today, the Zone's greatest episodes still hold up as television's best examples of thought-provoking and unsettling storytelling. Serling and his writing team (led by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont), probed societal issues and everyman fears with a genre-specific eye, inserting aliens, time travel, horror, and sometimes dark comedy into the everyday world as mirrors for viewers to confront harsh realities. The show was incredibly ahead of its time.
And it was, more often than not, scary as hell. Try driving on an open road alone at night after watching “The Hitchhiker”, or not shivering in the presence of mannequins once you've seen “After Hours". We still get paranoid while flying on airplanes (“Nightmare At 20,000 Feet”), reading cookbooks (“To Serve Man”), and quarreling with neighbors (“The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”).
Television producers have tried time and time again to match what Serling did back in the early '60s, but to no avail. What's most scary about The Twilight Zone is how brilliant it remains today.