Serling was perhaps the most prolific writer in American television.
It is estimated that during his twenty-five year career, from the
late 1940s to 1975, over 200 of his teleplays were produced. This
staggering body of work for television has ensured Serling's place
in the history of the medium. His emphasis on character (psychology
and motivation), the expedient handling of incisive, direct and
forceful and painfully penetrating dialogue, alongside his moralizing
subtext, placed him in a unique position to question mankind's prejudices
and intolerance as he saw it.
army service Serling entered Ohio's Antioch College as a student
under the GI bill and began writing radio and television scripts,
selling a number while still an undergraduate. Upon leaving college
he went to work as a continuity writer for a Cincinnati television
station, WLWT-TV, and then began writing a regular weekly series
of live dramas for the anthology show The Storm, produced
by Robert Huber for WKRC-TV Cincinnati. Turning freelance in 1952,
Serling sold scripts to such network anthologies as Lux Video
Theatre, Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Doctor, Studio One, and
Kraft Television Theatre. It was for the latter show that Serling
wrote "Patterns" (ABC, 12 January 1955), a powerful drama about
corporate politics and big business power games. It was an instant
success with both the viewers and critics, winning him his first
of six Emmy Awards (for Best Original Teleplay Writing) as well
as a Sylvania Award for Best Teleplay.
followed this with, among others, an adaptation of Ring Lardner's
"The Champion"/Climax (1955), "The Rack"/United States
Steel Hour (1955), "Incident in an Alley"/United States Steel
Hour (1955), "Noon on Doomsday"/United States Steel Hour
(1956), and "Forbidden Area"/Playhouse 90 (1956). "Forbidden
Area" was his first for Playhouse 90 (an adaptation of a
Pat Frank story) and was also that show's première episode. But
it was Playhouse 90's second presentation that brought him
his greatest success: "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (CBS, 11 October
1956). This compelling yet overlong story of a boxer who knows that
he's washed up but does not know anything else than the world of
the ring projected Serling to the top ranks of the TV writing élite
and brought him a gallery of awards, including another Emmy (for
Best Teleplay Writing), a Harcourt-Brace Award, another Sylvania
Award (for Best Teleplay Writing), a Television-Radio Writers' Annual
Award, a Writers Guild of America Award, and the first ever George
Foster Peabody Award for writing. Playhouse 90 and CBS promptly
signed him to a contract and he became one of the show's chief writers
(among such distinguished names as Horton Foote and Reginald Rose).
Serling's next Playhouse 90, "The Comedian" (CBS, 14 February 1957),
based on Ernest Lehman's story about an egomaniacal entertainer,
gave him his third Emmy for Best Teleplay Writing.
then, from 1958 on, his conflicts with networks and sponsors over
censorship of his work became increasingly intense. "I can recall
the blue-penciling of a script of mine called 'A Town Has Turned
to Dust'", he said in a 1962 TV Guide interview, "in which
a reference to a 'mob of men in masks and sheets' was cut because
of possible affront to Southern institutions". Eventually these
censorship battles led to Serling making a transition from live
drama to filmed series television, and his own The Twilight Zone.
from a (Serling-scripted) Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse entry called
"The Time Element" in November 1958, Serling created, executive
produced, hosted and (for the most part) wrote the half-hour science-fantasy
anthology The Twilight Zone, networked by CBS from 1959 to
1964. The series not only created a whole new programming genre
for television, it also offered Serling an opportunity to say things
he could never get away with in more conventional dramatizations.
The weekly tales remain memorable for allowing the viewer to enter
"the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and
superstition..." which lay "between the pit of man's fears and the
summit of his knowledge".
Twilight Zone added two more Emmy awards (Outstanding Writing
Achievement in Drama) to Serling's already impressive collection
of tributes. His sixth and final Emmy came during Twilight
Zone's run for the 1963 Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler
Theatre segment "It's Mental Work" (also for Outstanding Writing
Achievement in Drama, Adaptation). But it was with The Twilight
Zone that Serling reached the peak of his success, for most
of what followed after this period would be below Serling's personal
the fall of 1965 CBS premiéred Serling's The Loner, a half-hour
post-Civil War Western about a wandering, introspective cowboy in
search of life's meaning, starring Lloyd Bridges. The story behind
The Loner went back almost five years to the time when Serling
believed that his Twilight Zone would not be renewed by CBS
and, as an alternative, he came up with a one-hour pilot script
about a character he called The Loner, heading West after
the Civil War. CBS turned it down. However, around the same time,
The Twilight Zone was given the go-ahead for another season
and The Loner script was shelved. When in early 1965 CBS
was looking for a half-hour Western for their Saturday night schedules,
independent producer William Dozier, remembering Serling's The
Loner proposal from his CBS days, sold the package (now consisting
of Serling as writer, Bridges as star, and Dozier as producer) to
the network. The series of 26 episodes (14 of them by Serling) opened
to poor ratings and lukewarm reviews. When CBS demanded more "action"
(meaning less character and motivation, and more "running gun battles")
Serling refused to comply, causing a rift between the writer and
the network. The Loner left the schedules in April 1966.
For the next few years Serling occupied himself with various projects
and programs. He served a two-year term as President of the National
Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, hosted TV entertainment
shows (The Liar's Club, 1969; Rod Serling's Wonderful World of
..., 1970), and turned, once again, to screenplay work with
adaptations of novels for Planet of the Apes (1968; based
on the novel by Pierre Boulle) and The Man (1972; from the
novel by Irving Wallace, which had actually started out as a telefilm).
Not unlike other 1950s TV writers, Serling had based his earliest
screenplays on his own television work: Patterns (UA, 1956),
The Rack (MGM, 1956), Incident in an Alley (UA, 1962),
and Requiem for a Heavyweight (Columbia, 1962).
In 1969 he was approached by producer Aaron Spelling to write a
pilot for a series called The New People (ABC, 1969-70),
featuring an assorted group of young Americans stranded on a South
Pacific atoll. Serling delivered his script but later commented
on the sub Lord of the Flies theme that "It may work, but
not for me". NBC's horror-fantasy anthology Night Gallery
(1970-73) was to occupy his time during the early 1970s, following
the pilot TV-movie (NBC, 1969), adapted from his short story collection
(The Season to Be Wary) published in 1967. Based on the three
stories (one directed by the young Steven Spielberg), the Mystery
Writers of America presented him with their special Edgar award
for the suitably suspenseful scripts. Also known as Rod Serling's
Night Gallery (he acted as host and sometime contributor), the
series failed to come anywhere close to his Twilight Zone
sense of "seriousness", as Serling had hoped, and the show quickly
deteriorated, according to Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, into "the
supernatural equivalent of Love, American Style". There were,
however, two Serling episodes that remain outstanding for their
sense of compassion and morality: "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's
Bar" and "The Messiah on Mott Street"; both Emmy nominated.
Night Gallery was cancelled in 1973, he retreated to Ithaca
College, in upstate New York, and taught writing. Teaching the art
of writing sustained him more than anything else during the last
few years of his life. The Twilight Zone, in constant reruns,
remains a cultural milestone to Serling's art and craft and practice.
SERLING. Born Edward Rodman Serling in Syracuse, New York, U.S.A.,
25 December 1924. Educated at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio,
B.A. 1950. Married: Carolyn Kramer, 1948; two daughters. Served
as paratrooper in U.S. Army during World War II. Worked as writer
for WLW-Radio, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1946-48, WKRC-TV, Cincinnati, 1948-53;
freelance writer, from 1953; producer, television series The
Twilight Zone, 1959-64, and Night Gallery, from 1969;
taught at Antioch College, 1950s and Ithaca College, 1970s. Honorary
degrees: D.H.L., Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts, 1971, and
Alfred University, New York, 1972; Litt. D. from Ithaca College,
1972. President, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences,
1965-66; member of the council, Writers Guild of America West, 1965-67.
Recipient: six Emmy Awards; Sylvania Awards, 1955 and 1956; Christopher
Awards, 1956 and 1971; Peabody Award, 1957; Hugo Awards, 1960, 1961,
and 1962. Died 28 June 1975.
PLAYS (selection, writer)
"Nightmare at Ground Zero" Suspense
1953 "Old MacDonald Had a Curve" Kraft Television Theater
1954 "One for the Angels" Danger
1955 "Patterns" Kraft Television Theater
1955 "The Rack" U.S. Steel Hour
1956 "Requiem for a Heavyweight" Playhouse 90
1956 "Forbidden Area" Playhouse 90 (from Pat Frank's novel)
1957 "The Comedian" Playhouse 90
1959 "The Lonely" Twilight Zone
1959 "Time Enough at Last" Twilight Zone
1965-66 The Loner, 14 Episodes
1966 The Doomsday Flight
1970 "A Storm in Summer" Hallmark Hall of Fame
1971 "Make Me Laugh" Night Gallery
TELEVISION SERIES (producer)
The Twilight Zone
1970-73 Night Gallery
Patterns, 1956; Saddle the Wind (with Thomas Thompson),
1958; Requiem for a Heavyweight, 1962; The Yellow Canary,
1963; Seven Days in May, 1964; Assault on a Queen,
1966; Planet of the Apes (with Michael Wilson), 1968; A
Time for Predators, 1971.
Killing Season, 1968.
Stories from the Twilight Zone. New York: Bantam, 1960.
More Stories from the Twilight Zone. New York: Bantam, 1961.
Stories from the Twilight Zone. New York: Bantam, 1962.
for a Heavyweight (novel). New York: Bantam, and London: Corgi,
the Twilight Zone (short stories). New York: Doubleday, 1962.
Gallery (short stories). New York: Bantam, 1971.
Gallery 2 (short stories). New York: Bantam, 1972.
Rod Serling's Night Gallery Reader. Greenberg, Martin H.,
Carol Serling, and Charles G. Waugh, editors. New York: Dembner
Engel, Joe. Rod Serling: The Dreams and Nightmares of Life in
the Twilight Zone. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989.
Gordon. Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry
Man. New York: Penguin, 1992.
Age" of Television; Playhouse