Submitted for your approval: As members
of the Writers Guild of America gather this weekend to honor their best, that’s
always a good time to remember Rod Serling, arguably the most influential TV
writer the medium ever produced.
As the creator of “The Twilight Zone” –
a series that resonates throughout pop culture to this day – Serling still
casts an outsized shadow. And yet even he experienced considerable frustrations
with TV’s limitations, as is documented in a new book by his daughter Anne
Serling, “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling,” which will be released by Citadel Press on April 30.
Filled with anecdotes and
self-reflection, for students of television, the book is more of a speed-read
than a must-read. Although Serling is an interesting personality, there’s far
more than anyone needs reminiscing about personal moments and how he was as a
man and father.
Nevertheless, several tidbits and facts
stand out, beginning with the sheer explosion of creative genius Serling
exhibited in a relatively brief span — from his mid- to late-30s, during the
five seasons in which “Twilight Zone” aired.
The series yielded 156 episodes in that
time; Serling wrote a staggering 92 of them.
Beyond cementing his reputation as a
master of small morality tales, the series also made Serling publicly famous —
perhaps as recognizable as any writer has ever been — albeit because he wound
up introducing the show. Turns out the first choice, Orson Welles, wanted too
Despite what “Twilight Zone” came to
represent, Serling became disenchanted with TV, saying in a speech years later,
“I can tell you that drama, at least in television, must walk tiptoe and in
agony lest it offend some cereal buyer from a given state below the
Mason-Dixon.” He also chafed at how the show was edited for syndication, excising
key scenes to squeeze in more ads, until the episodes “looked like a long,
protracted commercial separated by fragmentary moments of indistinct drama.”
Serling also experienced a lack of
creative control over his next anthology, “Night Gallery,” which had its
moments, while lacking the kind of consistency that makes “Twilight Zone” an
A chain smoker, Serling was only 50
when he died in 1975. One can only imagine what his fertile imagination might
have conjured had he lived and worked today, with the greater latitude the
cable universe could have afforded him.
Yet for all his sci-fi prescience, his
deft touch in concocting unexpected little twists, Serling was dead wrong when
it came to analyzing the durability of his own work. Even though “The Twilight
Zone” had already begun airing in reruns that will seemingly be with us until
the monsters really do land on Maple Street, the writer maintained he had
“spewed out everything I had to say, none of which has been particularly
monumental, nothing that will stand the test of time.”
In an industry where practically every writer, without
much prodding, can hum the opening bars of “The Twilight Zone” theme and cite
favorite episodes, it’s fair to say that’s one test Serling passed with flying