Friday, January 2, 2009

Rod Serling: The Coolest Guy Ever?

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.


Rita Vetere said...

I grew up watching Twilight Zone and every episode found me glued to our black and white TV, so no need to convince this reader of Rod Serling's genius. For some reason, Eye of the Beholder stands out for me. I was so creeped out when those bandages came off...

Nick Hughes said...

I wish I had cable! (or maybe I don't?)

Nick Hughes said...

Happy 30th Birthday, Brian!

Brian O'Rourke said...

That's a great episode! Even though we logged 15 hours of TTZ, we didn't catch that particular one. The Definitive Collection box set is tempting as all hell.

When's the next chat BTW?

Brian O'Rourke said...


A man like you doesn't need cable. You're better than that.

And I'm purposely ignoring your second comment (but thanks).


Jenna said...

Brian - I must comment here... Eye of the Beholder was in fact viewed in our home on NYE, but it was during those few hours when I was splayed on our sofa with the flu (complete with scary high fever) and you were at a party, celebrating that end of 2008/start of 2009!
Rita - yes, it was a particularly creepy and awesome episode!

Brian O'Rourke said...

For the record, I was home by 11:30 on NYE!

Rita Vetere said...

Hey, Jenna,
Sorry to hear you were out of commission on NYE with the flu... that's awful! Hope you're all better now.

Brian - HAPPY 30TH BIRTHDAY!!! :-)

Thanks for asking about the chat. It's going ahead on Monday, January 12th, at 8:00 p.m. EST, and my guests will be Sean Cummings and Grayson Reyes-Cole. The chat room, as you know, is on my website, and I do hope you'll be able to swing by and join us.

I am so looking forward to your release. Can't wait to read The Unearthed!

Brian O'Rourke said...


Thanks for the birthday wishes. I'm marking my calendar right now for Jan 12th. I'll see you then. Let me know if you'd like to post a formal announcement/invitation on my blog, and I'd be happy to put one up.