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.
New on DVD/Blu-ray (January/February)
01/03 - Girls - The Complete Fifth Season (Blu-ray)
01/10 - Broad City - Season 3
01/17 - I Love Lucy - Superstar Special #2 (Colorized)
01/17 - The Love Boat - Season Three - Volume One
01/17 - The Love Boat - Season Three - Volume Two
01/24 - Hooperman - Season One / Review
01/24 - Hooperman - Season Two / Review
01/31 - Ballers - The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)
02/07 - Sabrina, the Teenage Witch - Sabrina Down Under
02/07 - So Little Time - Volume 1 - School's Cool - Boy Crazy
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
More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest
Sitcoms Airing Tonight
Friday, February 24
Last Man Standing - "Take Me to Church" (ABC, 8:00PM ET/PT)
Mike and Vanessa become increasingly worried their daughters don’t attend church anymore, so they decide to take it upon themselves to make church more interesting for everyone involved. When Ryan has Kyle as his guest on his podcast, they don’t expect their wives to hear their conversation.
Dr. Ken - "Allison Finds a Lump" (ABC, 8:30PM ET/PT)
During a self-exam, Allison finds a suspicious lump in her breast, causing Ken and the HMO gang to rally around her for support while she anxiously waits for the doctor’s diagnosis. Meanwhile, Dave has questions for how he will portray the character he’s playing in the school play, and Pat and Damona share an unexpected moment.
Stuck in the Middle - "Stuck in a Slushy War" (Disney Channel, 8:00PM ET/PT)
A slushy war breaks out when Harley's Slushy Shack faces new competition.
Friday, February 24
- Nathan Lane (Modern Family/Charlie Lawrence/Encore! Encore!) - Watch Nathan on Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 11:35pm on ABC.
- Allison Williams (Girls) - Allison visits The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
- Zosia Mamet (Girls) - Zosia is a guest on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
- Woody Harrelson (Cheers) - Woody appears on a repeat of The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
- Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory/Roseanne) - Johnny is a guest on Last Call with Carson Daly at 1:35am on NBC.
- Malin Akerman (Trophy Wife/Sin City Saints) - Malin stops by Harry, so check your local listings.
- Hayley Orrantia (The Goldbergs) - Hayley gives a musical performance on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT.
- Bradley Whitford (Trophy Wife) - Bradley joins the Chew Crew on ABC's The Chew at 1pm ET/12pm PT/CT.
- Craig Robinson (The Office/Mr. Robinson) - Craig is a guest on The Talk on CBS at 2pm ET/1pm CT-PT.
- Kenan Thompson (Kenan & Kel) - Kenan appears on Steve Harvey, so check your local listings.
- Jerry O'Connell (We Are Men/Carpoolers/My Secret Identity) - Jerry guest co-hosts LIVE! with Kelly, so check your listings.