Desi Arnaz starred in I Love Lucy. He was also the driving force behind the show. He negotiated the format of the sitcom as well as its recording location. His decisions on the show led to the creation of re-runs as well as syndication. However, Arnaz was so much more than just that.
Desi Arnaz was a man with charisma to spare. Before he was one of the most important people in television history, he was a bandleader. Arnaz also hosted a handful of shows both before and after his time on I Love Lucy. For instance, he once hosted Saturday Night Live in its first season. However, some may not know that Desi was technically the first host of the iconic television series The Twilight Zone.
Unfortunately, that episode didn’t air in syndication and isn’t part of any of The Twilight Zone‘s home video releases. That’s mostly because when Desi Arnaz hosted the show it wasn’t called The Twilight Zone yet. It was a standalone screenplay called “The Time Element.” Rod Serling wanted to produce a science fiction/fantasy anthology series. So, the first step in that direction was getting the screenplay on the air. He did so on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse in the fall of 1958. The episode was a hit and it wasn’t long before CBS gave Serling the greenlight.
Desi Arnaz Hosts ‘The Twilight Zone’
If you’ve ever watched an episode of The Twilight Zone, you’re familiar with the format. First, the host would step into the frame from the shadows. Then, he would explain the concept of the story. After the story wrapped up, the host would come back on with a little more commentary. For “The Time Element,” Desi Arnaz took over those duties.
As the episode opens, Desi Arnaz walks out of the shadows and greets the audience. Behind him is the enormous shadow of a grandfather clock, complete with a swinging pendulum. He briefly explains what “The Time Element,” is about. However, he doesn’t let on what kind of story the audience is about to see.
For those familiar with I Love Lucy, seeing Desi Arnaz in such a serious manner may seem a little strange. However, audiences at the time were used to seeing Arnaz introduce segments of Playhouse. Those segments ranged from comedy to drama. On the other hand, they weren’t used to seeing science fiction stories like the one they witnessed that night. The surprise twist at the end that came to be the trademark of The Twilight Zone may have been the hook that made “The Time Element” a hit.
If you’re curious to see what The Twilight Zone as hosted by Desi Arnaz looks like, you can watch the whole episode on YouTube.