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 (December/January)
12/06 - Family Guy - Season Fourteen
12/13 - American Dad! - Volume 11
12/13 - Newhart - The Complete Seventh Season
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
01/24 - Hooperman - Season Two
01/31 - Ballers - The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)
More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest
Sitcoms Airing Tonight
Saturday, January 21
The Thundermans - "Better Off Wed" (Nickelodeon, 8:00PM ET/PT)
The kids learn that Dr. Colosso ruined their parents' wedding years earlier, and want to recreate Hank & Barb's dream day as their anniversary gift. However, Dr. Colosso remains a threat, and they must keep their plans a secret.
Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn - "Keeping Up with the Quadashians" (Nickelodeon, 8:30PM ET/PT)
After binge watching their favorite reality TV show, the Quads decide their lives are every bit as "reality TV" worthy, and decide to make a show of their own. Guest Stars: Maddie Ziegler, Mackenzie Ziegler
School of Rock - "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" (Nickelodeon, 9:00PM ET/PT)
Tomika and Zack work on a love song together, leading to a moment that will change their friendship forever. Summer and Lawrence hang out together for the first time, and Freddy helps Mr. Finn with a problem.
Saturday, January 21
- Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show/Cosby) - Phylicia will be featured on Oprah: Where Are They Now? at 10pm ET/PT on OWN.
- NeNe Leakes (The New Normal) - Catch NeNe on Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
- Allison Janney (Mom/Mr. Sunshine) - Watch Allison on a repeat of The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
- William Shatner ($h*! My Dad Says) and Henry Winkler (Happy Days/Arrested Development/Out of Practice) - William and Henry are guests on a repeat of Last Call with Carson Daly at 1:35am on NBC.
- Kevin Nealon (Man with a Plan/Weeds/Hiller and Diller/Champs) - Kevin appears on @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
- Jade Catta-Preta (Manhattan Love Story) - Jade is a guest on @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
- Wendi McClendon-Covey (The Goldbergs/Rules of Engagement/Reno 911!) - Wendi stops by Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
- Cristela Alonzo (Cristela) - Cristela chats with the ladies of The View on ABC at 11am ET/10am CT-PT.
- Tika Sumpter (The Game) - Tika appears on The Real, so check your local listings.
- Justina Machado (One Day at a Time) - Justina will be on New York Live on WNBC in New York at 12:30pm ET.
- Jerry O'Connell (We Are Men/Carpoolers/My Secret Identity) - Jerry and Rebecca Romjin talk about Love Locks on NBC's Today in the 9am hour. Jerry will also be on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT and on Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
- Retta (Parks and Recreation) - Retta talks about Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce on NBC's Today in the 10am hour.