(Edward) Rod(man) Serling Introduction - Essay

Introduction

(Edward) Rod(man) Serling 1924–1975

American scriptwriter, short story writer, dramatist, and producer.

Serling was one of television's most respected writers. He has been recognized for bringing the maturity and quality of stage drama to television during its early years and for offering provocative entertainment throughout his career. Serling's diverse works address a wide range of controversial issues, including prejudice and political corruption. Critics contend that Serling's iconoclastic attitude, which compelled him to tackle social topics neglected by his peers and to create memorable stories around them, helped move him to the forefront among writers of television's Golden Age.

Serling began selling scripts to radio as a college undergraduate. Like many other radio dramatists, he began to write for television during the early 1950s. In 1955 alone, twenty of his plays were produced on such acclaimed live television drama series as "Playhouse 90," "Studio One," and "Kraft Television Theater." It was on the last-named program that Serling's drama Patterns was first aired. A story of the inhumanity and ruthlessness involved in big business, it made Serling an instant success and won an Emmy Award. It was also the first drama to be repeated by a network in response to popular demand. Serling's best-known teleplay, Requiem for a Heavyweight, was broadcast on "Playhouse 90" in 1956. An account of the descent of a physically and spiritually defeated prize fighter, this drama was awarded an Emmy and, like Patterns, was later adapted for film. Serling won a Peabody Award for outstanding service in broadcasting for Requiem for a Heavyweight, the first time this award was given to a television writer. He won a total of six Emmys during his career, as well as several other awards for outstanding television writing.

Throughout the mid-1950s and 1960s, Serling impressed most critics with the consistently high quality of his work. He was less popular, however, with network managers and sponsors, whom he publicly criticized for their censorship of television scripts and writers. Serling believed that in order for television to function as an art form as well as entertainment, writers had to have the freedom to explore attitudes and draw conclusions regardless of whether the entire audience shared these views. Serling became known as television's "angry young man" for his zealous dedication to his beliefs, gaining the admiration of many of his contemporaries and helping set the tone for future television drama.

When the demand for live drama died at the end of the 1950s, Serling was among the few writers who successfully adapted to television's new demands. His series "The Twilight Zone," which aired from 1959 to 1964, exemplifies Serling's imagination and versatility. Combining elements of science fiction, fantasy, suspense, and horror, "The Twilight Zone" was the first show of its kind to adapt individual dramas to a series format. It was also unique in its significant concentration on the quality of the writing, rather than on the acting or the production aspects, although these too were highly praised. Narrated by Serling himself, the show was generally hailed for its innovations. A later, similar program, "Rod Serling's Night Gallery," which was broadcast from 1970 to 1973, shared "The Twilight Zone"'s eerie tone, but critics contend that it lacked the high quality of its predecessor. Both programs, however, were popular with their audiences, and especially with young people, who continue to appreciate the shows through reruns. Serling's popularity was further enhanced with his screenplays for the films Seven Days in May (1964) and Planet of the Apes (1968), which he wrote with Michael Wilson. Twilight Zone—The Movie (1982) is an adaptation of four favorite "Twilight Zone" scripts, including Serling's classic "It's a Good Life."

Some of Serling's detractors have charged that his works were too slick and overly didactic, concentrating more on their messages than on plot and characterization. It is also noted, however, that Serling brought a strong moral sense to his art and that his creativity and craftsmanship helped shape television during its formative years.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68, Vols. 57-60 [obituary] and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 26.)