Happy Belated Birthday to Rod Serling, the creative genius that brought us The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. Serling was born on December 25, 1924 and died much, much too young on June 28, 1975.
Thanks to the Sci-Fi channel, I watched approximately 15 hours of The Twilight Zone on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Each time an episode ended, the wife and I would ask each other if we wanted to watch something else. "Yeah," was always the response, but as soon as the voiceover and instantly recognizable music came on, we were sucked in for another thirty minutes of genius.
We caught several of the classics: Burgess Meredith breaking his glasses amid a pile of rubble and books after the apocalypse; William Shatner squaring off against the "man" on the wing of the plane; Telly Savalas getting bested by a freaky doll.
Combining a tremendous work ethic and sheer bravado, Serling took the world of television by storm. He wrote 70 scripts that were produced as television shows BEFORE he even began TTZ. When he wearied of seeing his stories neutered, anesthesized, and toned down, he had two choices: continue playing the game or create his own show where he had complete control. It wasn't a tough decision for him.
Here's why I think Serling is so cool:
1) Prolific doesn't begin to describe his output as a writer. Of the 156 Twilight Zone episodes, he wrote 92 of them. And he had a hand in many of those he didn't write. It's no wonder that he didn't attempt to rejuvenate the show after its third cancellation. He had to have been burned out by then.
Speaking of prolific, did I mention he wrote screenplays during this time period as well? Little stories like The Planet of the Apes and Seven Days in May.
2) Serling is probably the first (and only?) TV writer to become a trademark. He provided each episode's introduction, prologue, and epilogue. As Gore Vidal said of W. Somerset Maugham, it's impossible to ignore Serling because he "was so there." While many might claim Serling's omnipresence in TTZ smacks of self-indulgence, authorial intrusion, and commercialism, I believe just the opposite--it's a testament to his artistic integrity. He created the show because he wanted to tell HIS stories; he appeared on the show because he wanted the audience to know they were HIS stories; and he provided the bookends to each episode as a way to further put his own thematic touches on the story. In doing so, no less than his reputation was at stake.
3) Iconoclastic. I finally looked this word up the other day, and Serling's picture was next to it in the dictionary. I'm just kidding, but it probably should be. Intelligent, articulate, and bold, Serling's writing forced audiences to face some tough issues. And even though the show is 50 years old, we don't have to watch it as a piece of history. We can watch it because it's still relevant.
5 hours ago