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.


Sitcoms Airing Tonight

Thursday, November 23

The Big Bang Theory - "The Holiday Summation" (CBS, 8:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Sheldon and Amy visit Leonard and Penny for the first time since the holidays and share details about their terrible trip to Texas. Laurie Metcalf returns as Sheldon’s mother, Mary.

Young Sheldon - "A Solar Calculator, A Game Ball, and A Cheerleader's Bosom" (CBS, 8:30PM ET/PT)
Sheldon struggles with newfound popularity after utilizing statistics to help the football team.

Mom - "Fancy Crackers and Giant Women" (CBS, 9:00PM ET/PT)
Bonnie suffers withdrawal after giving up cable TV to help Christy pay for her law school applications, and the women rally around Jill after she has a breakdown in her favorite department store.

Life in Pieces - "Testosterone Martyr Baked Knife" (CBS, 9:30PM ET/PT)
When Heather, Clementine and Jen offer to save Joan from the stress of preparing the Thanksgiving meal, the free time leaves Joan even more frazzled. Also, Greg has a boost of self-confidence after learning he has high levels of testosterone; Samantha keeps a secret from her family during Thanksgiving dinner; and John is determined to continue the tradition of using his old, unsafe knife to carve the turkey.

Complete TV Listings


Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of November 20)

Thursday, November 23

  • Tracy Morgan (30 Rock/The Tracy Morgan Show) - Watch Tracy on a repeat of Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 11:35pm on ABC.
  • Paul Shaffer (A Year at the Top) - Paul is a musical guest on a repeat of Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 11:35pm on ABC.
  • Jerry Seinfeld (Seinfeld) - Jerry appears on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon at 11:34pm on NBC.
  • Tig Notaro (One Mississippi) - Tig is a guest on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
  • Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) - Stephanie appears on a repeat of Last Call with Carson Daly at 1:35am on NBC.
  • Kaitlin Olson (The Mick/It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) - Kaitlin chats on a repeat of The Talk on CBS at 2pm ET/1pm CT-PT.
  • Anna Camp (The Mindy Project) - Anna is a guest on a repeat of LIVE! with Kelly and Ryan, so check your listings.
  • Jussie Smollet (On Our Own) - Jussie appears on a repeat of Harry, so check your local listings.
  • Valerie Bertinelli (Hot in Cleveland/One Day at a Time) - Valerie reveals her favorite, good-for-you dessert she swears by on a repeat of The Dr. Oz Show, so check your local listings.