The main change was the gender of the main character: in the original play, Nan Adams was instead a man named Ronald Adams, and he went through the same basic sequence of events. “I was not asked to adapt the play to television, nor was I asked about the change of gender in the main character,” Lucille Fletcher said, according to the 1992 “Twilight Zone” companion book. “If I had been, I would never have approved of it, for good though Inger Stevens’ performance was, I don’t think a female in the part added anything to my play. In fact, I think that the dramatic effect was minimized.”
Although Serling probably should’ve given Fletcher a heads-up about all this beforehand, it is easy to see the logic behind changing the main character’s gender. A story about a woman on her own throughout the empty countryside is a lot creepier than it’d be with a man. Even today, traveling alone as a woman is a lot riskier than traveling alone as a man, to the point where nearly every travel website has an advice article specifically written to give women traveling safety tips. A man being stalked by another man is creepy, sure, but a woman being stalked by a man is both creepy and common. It helps to add an extra layer of foreboding to the hitchhiker’s stalking, especially since the actor (Leonard Strong) doesn’t portray him as a particularly menacing figure. The cultural context of a strange man pursuing a lost, innocent woman does a lot of heavy lifting here.