The producers and stars of the enormously popular sitcom “I Love Lucy,” Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, were a powerful force in the television industry. In addition to their own hit series, their production company Desilu was directly responsible for the creation of legendary shows like “Star Trek,” “The Untouchables,” and — you guessed it — “The Twilight Zone.” But we’ll get back to them.
Rod Serling was also a TV powerhouse in the late 1950s, thanks to hard-hitting, critically acclaimed, award-winning teleplays like “Patterns” and “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” But Serling had become jaded with the process of producing teleplays, which often forced him to acquiesce to the bizarre demands of network sponsors, who demanded script changes that sometimes diminished the story’s impact, or undermined the plot and themes entirely.
Since sponsors balked at serious issues that could turn off potential customers, or at least remind them that the real world is an unpleasant place, Serling moved away from conventional dramas and pulled out an old half-hour science-fiction script he had written in the early 1950s called “The Time Element.” The teleplay originally aired on a series called “The Storm” on the Cincinnati station WKRC-TV, even though Serling had, at the time, been on staff at a rival network called WLW. Unfortunately for them, WLW didn’t realize they had a huge talent on their hands, and what’s more they had no interest in producing dramas. Instead they tried to enlist Serling to play a circus clown on one of their shows. (All that exists of that experiment is one lone photograph.)
Serling then expanded “The Time Element” into an hour-long teleplay and then sold it to CBS, a network that did not produce it. At least, not until producer Bert Granet came along.