Saturday, November 21, 2009

TV Rebels: Rod Serling - Submitted For Your Approval

It's time another edition of TV Rebels. We originally had special permission to publish the first 6 essays on TV shows and actors that will be featured in the upcoming book TV Rebels: 100 People and Programs That Shaped the Medium by authors Lou Orfanella and Oscar De Los Santos...and then last year we got rights to 6 additional essays (for a total of 12!), so including today's essay, only two essays are left. We soon will give you the last one, which is TV Dinners. The book is in the works and will be released in 2010...so stay tuned for that and look for a review of the book right here before it comes out!

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).

Works Cited
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.


New on DVD/Blu-ray (April/May)

Diff'rent Strokes - The Complete Fifth Season Father Knows Best - Season Five The Wayans Bros. - The Complete Second Season ALF - The Complete DVD Collection The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - The Complete Series

04/04 - Diff'rent Strokes - The Complete Fifth Season
04/11 - Father Knows Best - Season Five
04/11 - Schitt's Creek - The Complete Third Season
04/11 - Silicon Valley - The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray)
04/11 - Veep - The Complete Fifth Season
05/02 - Red, White and Blue Collar Sitcoms - Make TV Great Again
05/09 - ALF - The Complete DVD Collection
05/09 - Divorce - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
05/09 - The Wayans Bros. - The Complete Second Season
05/16 - The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - The Complete Series
More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest


Sitcoms Airing Tonight

Wednesday, May 24

Hollywood Darlings - "She's Not All That" (Pop, 8:00PM ET/PT)
After years of pretending to be her own assistant to avoid saying ``no'' to people, a non-confrontational Beverley finally hires former child star Lori Beth Denberg to be her assistant; Jodie asks a stranger to pretend to be a fan of Christine's.

Return of the Mac - "An Offer Joe Can't Refuse" (Pop, 8:30PM ET/PT)
When Joe is forced to book his own celebrity guests, he finds out there's a daytime mafia controlling the booking of celebrities.

Bunk'd - "Girl Meets World" (Disney Channel, 10:30PM ET/PT)
Xander and Emma learn two of their campers have a crush on one another.

Nobodies - "Devil in a Red Dress" (TV Land, 10:00PM ET/PT)
Larry, Rachel and Hugh, at their most fractured, turn to another writing team for help: fellow Groundlings alums Jim Rash and Nat Faxon.

Lopez - "Cuck You George Lopez" (TV Land, 10:30PM ET/PT)
George’s friends have him worried that Lori wears the pants in their relationship. Pfeiffer complicates Olly’s work life, and Manolo gets laser eye surgery to please Wendy.

Complete TV Listings


Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of May 22)

Wednesday, May 24

  • Zoe Lister-Jones (Life in Pieces/Friends with Better Lives/Whitney) - Watch Zoe on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon at 11:34pm on NBC.
  • Hannibal Buress (Broad City) - Hannibal appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
  • Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt/The Office) - Ellie is a guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
  • Ed Helms (The Office) - Ed visits The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
  • Topher Grace (That '70s Show) - Topher stops by Last Call with Carson Daly at 1:35am on NBC.
  • Gabourey Sidibe (The Big C) - Gabourey is a guest on a repeat of Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Trevor Noah at 11pm.
  • Andree Vermeulen (Angie Tribeca) - Andree appears on a repeat of @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
  • Steve Agee (The Sarah Silverman Program) - Steve is a guest on a repeat of @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
  • T. J. Miller (Silicon Valley/The Goodwin Games/Carpoolers) - T. J. appears on Conan at 11pm on TBS.
  • Lennon Parham (Playing House/Best Friends Forever/Accidentally on Purpose) - Lennon appears on Conan at 11pm on TBS.
  • Eric Stonesteet (Modern Family) - Eric drops by Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
  • Sarah Hyland (Modern Family) - Sarah is a guest on LIVE! with Kelly and Ryan, so check your listings.
  • Michael Keaton (Working Stiffs/All's Fair) - Michael appears on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, so check your local listings.
  • Abigail Breslin (Scream Queens) - Abigail is a guest on Harry, so check your local listings.
  • Jake Smollett (On Our Own) - Jake throws down spicy honey chicken on Rachael Ray, so check your local listings.
  • Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle) - Bryan talks about Wakefield on CBS This Morning sometime between 7-9am.
  • Morris Chestnut (Out All Night) - Morris and trainer Obi Obadike have tips to lose ten pounds in ten days on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT.
  • Hank Azaria (Brockmire/The Simpsons/Free Agents) - Hank talks about his new hit, Brockmire, with Clinton Kelly on ABC's The Chew at 1pm ET/12pm PT/CT.
  • Jamie Foxx (The Jamie Foxx Show) - Jamie talks about Beat Shazam on ABC's Good Morning America sometime between 7-9am.