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Rod Serling explains how censorship led to the creation of ‘The Twilight Zone’
12.24.2014
01:17 pm
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By 1959, Rod Serling had had it with the dumbing down of American television by what he saw as overly sensitive TV sponsors who forced writers to edit scripts with impunity during the boob tube’s early years. Most sponsors wanted zero controversy and nothing to appear in a script that might incline viewers to think “improperly” about a particular brand of cake batter, or car or whatever else was being promoted on a given show. In the fiery discussion below, which aired (according to IMDB) on September 22, 1959, we find Serling on The Mike Wallace Interview talking about his early writing career and the heavy hand of corporate sponsorship that led to his creation of a soon-to-debut science fiction and fantasy television series called The Twilight Zone (the first episode would air a little over a week later on October 2, 1959). A passionate exchange about early TV’s potential, thoughts about what Wallace calls “the battle of the writer to be his own man” and copious on-air smoking ensues.

After spending a few years writing promotional testimonial letters for a Cincinnati television station and making $700 during his best year, Serling was bored out of his mind with the “dreamless occupation.” He set out with his wife for New York City in 1951 to try to make a name for himself as a freelance television scriptwriter. By 1959, Serling had done just that, winning three Emmys and distinguishing himself as being possibly the first television author in history to have a live TV drama (1955’s Patterns) aired twice due to rave reviews and audience demand. 

By the way, Patterns is worth checking out.  It’s not a great copy, but you can watch it here on YouTube. The Kraft Television Theatre production addresses an episode panic-inducing jealousy brought on by the hiring of a new upstart corporate employee while promoting light and fluffy Kraft cream cheese during the station break. 

In the interview with Mike Wallace, Serling discusses being shut down by sponsors for trying to address the Emmett Till case, and receiving many complaints from a “lunatic fringe of letter writers” about an episode of Lassie wherein the iconic collie has puppies. Some wacko viewers felt that the episode promoted sexuality. The complaints lead the station to shy away from presenting the birth of puppies in the future according to Serling. He goes on to talk about the backlash caused by writers using the term “gas chamber” in a Playhouse 90 production of Judgment at Nuremberg (an early version of the 1961 film of the same name) by a sponsor who sold gas stoves. “This, I rebel against,” Serling forcefully declares.

Despite some critics being worried that Serling’s insistence on writing for television (and the money that it provided) was holding him back from making important art (a contention that Wallace brings up on a few occasions), Serling comes across as being deadly serious about his belief in TV’s possibility for greatness. Serious enough, in fact, that he was in the process of trying to get out of a quarter million dollar (obviously big money at the time), three-year writing contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer so that he could devote all of his time to The Twilight Zone where he claimed to have more direct control over the relationship with sponsors. Serling indicates he was only guaranteed 26 episodes of The Twilight Zone, and that he would stand to lose a lot of money if the show didn’t carry on beyond that.  Ultimately, it ran for five seasons and 156 episodes were made. 
 

Posted by Jason Schafer
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12.24.2014
01:17 pm
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Watch every episode of your cult TV favorites playing at the same time

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Why? How? Who cares! This is just rather awesome!

YouTube user Omni Verse has put together ten minute packages of your favorite cult TV shows in an intense “videoggedon,” where all the episodes are played at the same time!

From Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, to Kolchak—The Night Stalker, Planet of the Apes and Doctor Who. This is like a ten minute sugar rush of cult TV heaven!
 

‘Star Trek’ all 80 episodes played at same time.
 

The Twilight Zone’ all 156 episodes at the same time.
 

‘Kolchak—The Night Stalker’ 20 eps all at once.
 

‘Doctor Who’ all 178 Tom Baker episodes.
 
More cult TV all at once, after the jump…
 

READ ON
Posted by Paul Gallagher
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01.07.2014
02:32 pm
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For Your Consideration: Mr. Rod Serling

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Years ago a friend wrote me a story about how we all started talking but in doing so, stopped listening to each other. It was a short and simple story, adapted I believe from its Aboriginal origins, that also explained how our ears developed their peculiar, conch-like shape.

Like all the best tales, it began: Once upon a time, in a land not-so-very-far-away, we were all connected to each other by a long umbilical loop that went ear-to-ear-to-ear-to-ear. This connection meant we could hear what each of us was thinking, and we could share our secrets, hopes and fears together at once

Then one day and for a whole lot of different reasons, these connections were broken, and the long umbilical loops dropped away, withered back, and creased into the folds of our ears. That’s how our ears got their shape. They are the one reminder of how we were once all connected to each other.

It was the idea of connection - only connect, said playwright Dennis Potter, by way of E. M. Forster, when explaining the function of all good television. A difficult enough thing, but we try. It’s what the best art does - tells a story, says something.

It’s what Rod Serling did. He made TV shows that have lived and grown with generations of viewers. Few can not have been moved to a sense of thrilling by the tinkling opening notes of The Twilight Zone. The music still fills me with that excitement I felt as a child, hopeful for thrills, entertainment and something a little stronger to mull upon, long after the credits rolled.

Serling was exceptional, and his writing brought a whole new approach to telling tales on television that connected the audience one-to-the-other. This documentary on Serling, starts like an episode of The Twilight Zone, and goes on to examine Serling’s life through the many series and dramas he wrote for TV and radio, revealing how much of his subject matter came from his own personal experience, views and politics. As Serling once remarked he was able to discuss controversial issues through science-fiction:

“I found that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say.”

His work influenced other shows (notably Star Trek), and although there were problems, due to the demands of advertisers, Serling kept faith with TV in the hope it could connect with its audience - educate, entertain and help improve the quality of life, through a shared ideals.

As writer Serling slowly “succumbed” to his art:

‘Writing is a demanding profession and a selfish one. And because it is selfish and demanding, because it is compulsive and exacting, I didn’t embrace it, I succumbed to it. In the beginning, there was a period of about 8 months when nothing happened. My diet consisted chiefly of black coffee and fingernails. I collected forty rejection slips in a row. On a writer’s way up, he meets a lot of people and in some rare cases there’s a person along the way, who happens to be around just when they’re needed. Perhaps just a moment of professional advice, or a boost to the ego when it’s been bent, cracked and pushed into the ground. Blanche Gaines was that person for me. I signed with her agency in 1950. Blanche kept me on a year, before I made my first sale. The sale came with trumpets and cheers. I don’t think that feeling will ever come again. The first sale - that’s the one that comes with magic.’

Like Richard Matheson, Philip K Dick, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Serling is a hero who offered up the possible, for our consideration.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.19.2012
08:27 pm
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‘Lost’ Rod Serling video interview, 1970
03.13.2012
10:58 pm
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Growing up in the sixties, I was not the kind of kid who watched cartoons or TV shows involving horses, dogs or puppets. I was the kind of twisted little kid that watched The Outer Limits, Thriller and, of course, The Twilight Zone. These were my fairy tales, my fables, my mythology and my introduction to the alternative realities that I would later explore with psychedelics, mysticism and art. The Twilight Zone was a cathode ray jolt to my budding imagination and Rod Serling was the chainsmoking, black-suited Doctor of Darkness who administered my weekly dose of electric medicine.

These “lost” interviews with Serling are a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of television’s few visionaries.

From the Youtube description:

In 1970 University of Kansas professor James Gunn interviewed a series of science fiction authors for his Centron film series “Science Fiction in Literature”. This footage from an unreleased film in that series featuring an interview with Rod Serling, which wasn’t finished due to problems with obtaining rights to show footage from Serling’s work in television. This reconstruction is based on the original workprint footage that was saved on two separate analog sources since the audio track was separate. Re-syncing the footage was a long involved process as the audio track didn’t match the film and there was substantial sync drift. While not perfect, there’s a lot of interesting information on writing for television in the dialogue with Serling as well as a prophetic statement about his health at the beginning.”

You’re traveling through another dimension—a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!
 

 

Posted by Marc Campbell
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03.13.2012
10:58 pm
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He Is Legend: It’s Richard Matheson’s Birthday

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Richard Matheson, the author and screenwriter, celebrates his eighty-sixth birthday today. Few writers have been as original or, as influential as Mr. Matheson, whose novels, stories, and screenplays have infused our cultural DNA. Watch / read any sci-fi / horror / fantasy entertainment and you will find Matheson’s genetic code somewhere in the mix.

Over a career that has spanned 6 decades, Matheson has produced a phenomenal range of novels and short stories, many of which have supplied the basis for such films as I Am Legend (the version with Vincent Price is better than Will Smith’s, though Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man is best), The Incredible Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, The Legend of Hell House, Duel (Dennis Weaver has never been better), Button, Button (read the story, forget the film version The Box) and of course Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

I’m a big fan of Matheson’s writing and firmly believe that if ever the Nobel Prize committee should think about reflecting talent rather than paying political lip service to short term causes, then they should seriously consider giving Richard Matheson the award for literature, as few writers, other than say Ray Bradbury or Stephen King,  have inspired so many young people to write, and more importantly, so many to read.

Happy Birthday Mr Matheson! And to celebrate, here is the classic Twilight Zone episode of Mr Matheson’s superb short story Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Enjoy!
 

 
With thanks to Tim Lucas
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.20.2012
06:59 pm
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