- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
In 1964, weary of railing against censorship and other ongoing battles, creator Rod Serling chose not to oppose the third cancellation of his series The Twilight Zone.
Running for five seasons, the show had garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards, but the ratings were never more than middling, and the program had twice been axed and then revived.
Serling was born into a Jewish family on Christmas Day 1924 and grew up in Binghamton, New York. In high school he earned a place on the debate team, wrote for and edited the school newspaper (establishing himself as a social activist), and spoke at his graduation.
Army enlistment followed in 1943. In the military, Serling was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, although his combat experiences left him with flashbacks and nightmares for the rest of his life.
“I was bitter about everything,” he once admitted. “I think I turned to writing to get it off my chest.”
At Antioch College in Ohio, he became involved in the school’s radio station, where he wrote, directed, and acted in several radio programs on campus.
But Serling could see that such stories were on the decline and being replaced by television dramas. After earning a B.A. in literature at Antioch, he began writing for WKRC-TV in Cincinnati.
Serling soon became a freelance writer and began churning out scripts for major network TV anthology shows. In 1955 Kraft Television Theater broadcast his play Patterns. Critics hailed it as “a creative triumph,” and Serling found himself inundated with requests for more original stories.
Requiem for a Heavyweight for Playhouse 90 added to his growing and highly regarded oeuvre. Encouraged by his success, he moved to California and became a full-time writer for television in 1957.
In the early years, TV sponsors and networks often became editors and censors; Serling was repeatedly forced to make changes whenever power people felt his content was too controversial.
Many of his references to social issues were watered down or eliminated altogether, and he became frustrated by seeing his scripts shorn of meaningful elements. Eventually Serling decided to create his own show — The Twilight Zone.
In October 1959 the groundbreaking anthology series premiered on CBS-TV. Each half-hour episode included studies in fantasy, science fiction, suspense, and horror.
The dramas dealt with paranormal, futuristic, or otherwise unusual or disturbing events, with the characters involved having crossed over into the surreal “Twilight Zone.” The always-gripping stories usually featured a moral and either a twist or a macabre ending.
Serling always wanted to use The Twilight Zone as a vehicle for important social commentaries. In reality, though, he still had to frequently fight for creative control, as his scripts incorporated his views on current events and social concerns, such as war, racism, mass hysteria, politics, and gender issues.
And even though his messages were cleverly veiled within the fantasy and science fiction parameters of the show’s programs, they still managed to make some viewers squirm.
As uncomfortable truths often will.
Although Randal C. Hill’s heart lives in the past, the rest of him resides in Bandon, Ore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.