Saturday, November 21, 2009
So without further adieu, we bring you the eleventh essay of TV Rebels:
Rod Serling: Submitted For Your Approval
by Lou Orfanella
In the early years of television, science fiction, terror, and horror all graced the small screen with various degrees of success. Boris Karloff's Thriller ran for two seasons in the early '60s. Science Fiction Theater was seen in syndication in the mid-1950s. Local stations around the country programmed A and B list horror movies with low budget wrap-arounds and creepy hosts, notably John Zacherley in Philadelphia and later in New York.
When the Rod Serling hosted Twilight Zone premiered on CBS in October of 1959 the science fiction anthology genre reached a new level. The Twilight Zone was a unique combination of terror, suspense, mystery, and irony that raised the sci-fi television bar to a new intellectual level. This likely surprised no one familiar with Serling's work. He was a well respected writer who had success in radio and with scripts for television anthology series like Playhouse 90 for which he wrote "Requiem for a Heavyweight," arguably his most famous piece. The scripts, many written by Serling, were often ironic slices of life and its often dark side and resonated in viewers' minds long after the final credits rolled. "Most of Serling's comrades had long since left television for other less censorious and more 'artistic' media, but Serling refused to abandon video: he believed in television. And-unquestionable-Serling liked the limelight" (Sander xix).
The combination of Serling's skills as a writer coupled with his desire to be in front of the camera is likely what helped The Twilight Zone achieve legendary status. His on camera introductions to each episode, delivered in a dry monotone, became as popular as the teleplays themselves. The content of the stories often shed light on cultural ills and human frailties. In "Escape Clause" a man granted immortality in exchange for his soul decides to challenge the death penalty only to be sentenced to life in prison instead. Aliens arrive on earth "To Serve Man" according to one of their books translated by earthlings, yet it turns out to be a cook book. In yet another of the series' most enduring episodes, "Time Enough at Last" the lone survivor of a nuclear attack believes he will finally achieve his dream of having ample time to read all he wants, only to break his glasses. Serling would return from the shadows at the end of each episode to offer a comment on mankind and society.
The Twilight Zone ran until 1964 with both the title and theme song becoming an indelible part of popular culture. To be "in The Twilight Zone" came to mean in a strange or inexplicable situation, and all one needs to do is vocalize a few notes of the show's spooky theme music to indicate danger on the horizon. Rod Serling, long a proponent of intelligent, literate television never replicated the success he had with The Twilight Zone. He returned as host and frequent writer of Night Gallery on NBC from 1970-1973 but audiences did not embrace it as they had his earlier program. The Twilight Zone was revived in the years after Serling's death (at age fifty in 1975) first on CBS, then in first run syndication and later on the UPN network, but never to the same popularity as the original.
When all is said and done, Rod Serling was The Twilight Zone. "As Stephen King wrote in Danse Macabre, a collection of his meditations on horror that was excerpted in TV Guide in 1982, The Twilight Zone 'generated a kind of existential weirdness that no other series has been able to match'" (Lasswell 150). Eulogized in TV Guide in 1975 Serling was called, "an angry crusader, pleading the cause of quality television...he was a charming man-involved, concerned, restless-and he made a great contribution to television. We are all in his debt" (Harris 231).
Harris, Jay S. TV Guide: The First 25 Years. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978.
Lasswell, Mark. TV Guide: Fifty Years of Television. New York: Crown, 2002.
Sander, Gordon. Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man. New York: Plume, 1994.
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02/07 - So Little Time - Volume 2 - About a Family - Hangin' Out
02/07 - 227 - The Complete First Season (Mill Creek)
02/07 - Vice Principals - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
02/14 - Beavis and Butt-Head - The Complete Collection
02/14 - Grace and Frankie - Season Two
02/28 - Fuller House - The Complete First Season
03/03 - The Dick Van Dyke Show - Now... In Living Color! (Blu-ray)
03/07 - The Jamie Foxx Show - The Complete Second Season
03/07 - Mama's Family - Mama's Favorites
03/07 - That '70s Show - The Complete Series - Flashback Edition (Blu-ray)
03/07 - What I Like About You - The Complete Second Season
03/07 - You Me Her - Season One
03/14 - Newhart - The Final (Eighth) Season
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Sitcoms Airing Tonight
Thursday, March 23
Superstore - "Mateo's Last Day" (NBC, 8:00PM ET/PT)
When Mateo (Nico Santos) faces complications with his transfer to a Cloud 9 Signature store, he becomes desperate to resolve his undocumented status. Meanwhile, Amy (America Ferrera) helps Glenn (Mark McKinney) battle an Internet troll, Jonah (Ben Feldman) and Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom) try to give Mateo legal counsel, and Dina (Lauren Ash) and Garrett (Colton Dunn) take issue with corporate.
Powerless - "I'm a Friend You" (NBC, 8:30PM ET/PT)
When Emily (Vanessa Hudgens) learns that Jackie (Christina Kirk) is in need of some extra cash, she can't help but try and do what she can to help her out. Meanwhile, Van (Alan Tudyk) is on a witch hunt and has his eyes set on Teddy (Danny Pudi), Ron (Ron Funches) and Wendy (Jennie Pierson).
Baskets - "Circus" (FX, 10:00PM ET/PT)
Christine turns to Arby's after Chip joins the Russians.
Thursday, March 23
- Anthony Anderson (black-ish/Guys with Kids/All About the Andersons) - Catch Anthony on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon at 11:34pm on NBC.
- Connie Britton (Spin City/The Fighting Fitzgeralds/Lost at Home) - Connie is a guest on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
- Whitney Cummings (Whitney) - Whitney visits Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
- Jenna Elfman (Imaginary Mary/Accidentally on Purpose/Courting Alex/Dharma & Greg) - Jenna appears on The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
- Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) - Stephanie is a guest on @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
- Matt LeBlanc (Man with a Plan/Episodes/Joey/Friends) - Matt visits LIVE! with Kelly, so check your listings. He will also be on a repeat of Conan at 11pm on TBS.
- John Leguizamo (The Brothers Garcia) - John guest co-hosts LIVE! with Kelly, so check your listings.
- Zosia Mamet (Girls) - Zosia is a guest on Harry, so check your local listings.
- Kristen Bell (The Good Place) - Kristen chats with the ladies of The View on ABC at 11am ET/10am CT-PT.
- Craig Ferguson (The Drew Carey Show) - Craig joins the Chew Crew on ABC's The Chew at 1pm ET/12pm PT/CT.
- Nick D'Agosto (Trial & Error) - Nick is a guest on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT.
- Emma Roberts (Scream Queens/Unfabulous) - Emma talks about The Blackcoat's Daughter on NBC's Today in the 9am hour. She will also be on the AOL Build Show at 11am.
- Woody Harrelson (Cheers) - Woody talks about Wilson on NBC's Today in the 9am hour. Woody and Laura Dern will be on People Now at 8:30am.
- Marcia Gay Harden (Trophy Wife) - Marcia is a guest on Access Hollywood Live, so check your local listings.