Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Rod Serling: A Literary Genius

Someday, long after we're gone, certain television pioneers will be regarded as true literary talents. Not the grudging, "pop culture" respect we show talented entertainment writers today, but Charles Dickens/William Shakespeare levels of respect.



One of those literary geniuses is Rod Serling. I wasn't alive when The Twilight Zone originally aired in the late 50s/early 60s. I remember watching it in reruns on Saturday mornings in the mid-80s.



The show was sheer brilliance. Many of the episodes were written by Serling himself. He's known for being among the first writer to clash with network executives over issues like censorship and racism.



In my 20s, I finally watched all five seasons of The Twilight Zone, thanks to SyFy. I watched them again a couple of years ago. You can find four seasons on Netflix and all seasons on YouTube.



Recently I noticed Night Gallery among my recommended shows on Hulu. Night Gallery was a later series of Serling's, airing in the early 70s. The pilot for the show aired in 1969 and featured a segment directed by Stephen Spielberg in his directorial debut. Spielberg's segment starred worst-mom-ever Joan Crawford:



Once I saw Night Gallery out there, I had to watch. But only after asking my mom (a Twilight Zone fan) if it was worth it. She said yes, so I started with episode one and just kept going. One of the spookiest was this one, about a woman who keeps having a dream about a certain house:



There was also one about a doll that was scary to look at...even 46 years later! As I was watching the episodes, I thought, "Something tells me this episode was pretty impactful." Sure enough, a basic Google search found that horror director Guillermo Del Toro saw the episode as a child and calls it, "as scared as I've ever been in anything."



Stephen King is said to be a Rod Serling fan, a fact he mentioned in Danse Macabre. In fact, the episode Fright Night (which aired in 1973) seemed eerily similar to the book The Shining (which was published in 1977). Writer and wife isolated in a home where he gradually succumbs to possession...and where he eventually tries to kill his wife. Sound familiar?



Then came the third season, which kicked off with an episode where Vincent Price and Bill Bixby have dinner with a goat. And Vincent Price explains that the goat is his father. Take the goat as a bad omen and stop watching. Trust me on that!


Dinner with a goat kicked off the very bad third season of Night Gallery.
If you have Hulu, check out the first and second seasons of Night Gallery. Rod Serling distanced himself from the show during the third season and you can tell. It was just...BAD. Goatfather-at-dinner bad.

What's your favorite classic TV show?

45 comments:

  1. I've seen all of the episodes of both shows, but I'd have to go back to catch all the young actors and directors that were involved. I didn't know it was Spielberg's first gig.
    My favorite classic show was Wild Wild West. I was really disappointed with the movie.

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    1. Spielberg's segment was part of the show's pilot, which isn't included in the Hulu episodes. I haven't been able to find the pilot on YouTube, but I may not be searching correctly. Spielberg's segment is called "Eyes" and is about a woman who gets her sight back, only to have a city-wide blackout happen.

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  2. Making a note of Night Gallery!

    I've seen a lot - but not all - of The Twilight Zone episodes, and I think my favorite is a toss up between the man who loves reading/glasses and the one with the man (William Shatner??) on the plane, looking out the window....

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    1. Did you know that the plane episode was written by the same man who wrote Somewhere in Time? Richard Matheson--his name was in the credits on one of the Night Gallery episodes and I knew he'd written quite a few Twilight Zones, so I looked him up!

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  3. The Twilight Zone was my favorite show. I hadn't thought about it in years, but now that you mention it, I want to watch it again. Thanks for the memories.

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    1. Loved that show! I re-watch the whole series every decade or so.

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  4. My, that doll looks creepy! I wouldn't want to collect that.

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    1. It was pretty creepy. Amazing how scary a doll can be!

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  5. My favorite was the Twilight Zone. I remember going to bed after and pulling the covers over my head, lol.

    I'm really not a fan of scary shows or books anymore.
    Hugs,
    JB

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    1. I like them, but only if they leave something to the imagination. Too few scary shows/movies/books do. They feel it has to be graphic for us to be scared. Maybe for younger people, that's true, but what's scariest for me is what my imagination can come up with when they DON'T show those things.

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  6. The Twilight Zone was a favorite of mine (I watched the original episodes). The one I remember most featured Burgess Meredith who loved to read. At the end of the show he was standing in the middle of a huge pile of books but his glasses had been destroyed. Maybe that's why I'm a big fan of audio books now. :) I also remember one with William Shatner afraid of flying because of a gremlin on the wing of the plane. Rod Sterling was amazing.

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    1. Yep, "Time enough at last!" My favorite is one people don't normally name--the one with the mannequin. I loved that one!

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  7. I am a huge fan of Rod Serling and I agree with you that he is a literary genius. His Twilight Zone stories are the best. My favorite, by far, Dead Man's Shoes. I am wanting the entire collection of Twilight Zone now. Also, Night Gallery used to come on Friday nights and I think it was part of Creature Feature. They were probably reruns at that point as well since I didn't start watching them until around 1977 or so.

    Back in the day, they use to also have the Saturday night red eye feature where they played double movies of like films, for instance two Elvis Presley movies or two Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis. I'm getting all nostalgic now, let me stop!

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    1. I liked that one. Now that I've watched Night Gallery, Hulu has all kinds of suggestions for me, including a show called One Step Beyond, which supposedly aired around the same time as Twilight Zone? It featured true stories and legends rather than being pure fiction.

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  8. I loved all things Rod Serling. I love all those kinds of shows too and they scared me to pieces.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. Rod Serling died too soon...shouldn't have smoked so much!

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  9. I adored the Twilight Zone! I also enjoyed The Outer Limits. Episodes of both shows often left lasting impressions; thoughts I considered long after. Like you, I appreciate what they don't show more than what they do;-) Awesome quote at the top!

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    1. I saw The Outer Limits recommended for me on Hulu. I'm not much into the space stories, but it sounds like maybe I should give it a try?

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  10. I never missed an episode of Twilight Zone while it was originally running. I also loved Rod Sterling as an actor and narrator. He also served in WWII and received several notable medals including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

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    1. He was an amazing writer and person.

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  11. I used to watch Twilight Zone as a kid. Found the stories fascinating.

    Mary
    Twitter: @KnottyMarie
    Jingle Jangle Jungle

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    1. Some of the best writing of our time, I think. Some of the points he made were timeless, especially those about beauty and war.

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  12. When I was little, I think both shows were on late night rerun, because they ran one after the other. I would watch Twilight Zone and then race to the TV to shut off Night Gallery because even the promos scared the crap out of me.

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    1. LOL, I could see that. Some of those were spooky--especially the one about the house that I mentioned in the blog post. It just stays with you.

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  13. Oh my gosh, I used to LOVE the Twilight Zone! My very favorite episode was the one with William Shatner where he and his wife go to that diner because their car broke down or something and he becomes obsessed with a fortune telling machine at their table. Sooo good!

    I also went through an Outer Limits phase in high school, but it got really dumb really quickly.

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    1. Oh yeah...season three SUCKED. I tried. I finally just kept skipping to the next episode as soon as each show got stupid (about a minute in, usually) and before I knew it, I'd reach the end!

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  14. The Twilight Zone was definitely one of my favorite shows! That and Tales From the Darkside. I hardly watch scary shoes anymore--maybe because I watched so many growing up!

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    1. I remember watching Tales from the Darkside...it often seemed a little cheesy and I couldn't pinpoint why. Then I saw what happened to Night Gallery without Rod Serling's oversight and I realized he's the important link.

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  15. I love the Twilight Zone. Even more than that, I love the Outer Limits. Which was kind of the same thing, but more Sci.Fi. themed. I never did check out Night Gallery, though I recall seeing it on TV. It just never drew me in.

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    1. I need to try Outer Limits, but I'm more on the scary paranormal side than the space stuff...and I think Outer Limits is on the space side of it.

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    2. You may not enjoy Outer Limits then. They are almost all Sci.Fi. related. And the few on Earth have a sci.fi. sort of theme too. Like being invaded from space or something like that.

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  16. OMGOSH! I'm so glad someone else knows what Night Gallery is. I used to watch that as a kid! Haha. All of this is a big YES to me. Anything scary, weird or sci-fi, I was all about it....I loved all the old and new Outer Limits too.

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    1. I couldn't believe Night Gallery was on Hulu. I just had to watch when I saw that!

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  17. I will now have nightmares for weeks about that doll! Dolls have always freaked me out.

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    1. I am on the same boat as Kelly :( An excellent post, though!

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  18. Twilight Zone totally freaked me out....I still remember the one about a man who was paralyzed and they thought he was dead and were taking him to the morgue until they saw a single tear leak out of his eye. I've never gotten over that one.

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  19. I love watching Mash, I Dream of Jeanie, Bewitched, and Xena on Netflix. I will have to check out Twilight Zone and Night Gallery because I love watching lots of episodes in a row and spooky is right up my alley. :)
    ~Jess

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  20. I remember watching the new Twilight Zone in the '80s. I only saw a few of the original ones. I'd like to watch an entire marathon of them.

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  21. Rod Serling is now regarded as a literary giant. In one of the literature textbooks--7th grade I believe--they have the teleplay of "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street". It's actually taught in class.

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  22. Rod Serling is brilliant and he wrote Requim for a Heavyweight which was filmed for TV and film starring Jack Palance and Anthony Quinn(film version). I love The Twilight Zone....the kid sending people into the cornfield was creepy. I love the one "Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder" as well. There is also the one where a man is dying and his relatives are all eager toget his money but they must wear masks until midnight. I knew about Night Gallery and that Spielberg had to direct Nutty Joan. She liked to drink her "Pepsi" which was 90 proof....he had issues with her. Have you ever seen One Step beyond? If you like The Twilight Zone you'll like this one also. Gosh I loved so many.....loved Bonanza and High Chapperal, Bewitched and Gilligan's Island.

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  23. Always thought Night Gallery was a better creepfest than the Twilight Zone. I find it tough to get into the Twilight Zone now because they've overkilled the same 30 episodes on t.v. so much that I can barely watch the first five minutes.

    You should check out the reboot that was done with Forrest Whitaker hosting. I think it lasted a couple of seasons and it was pretty decent.

    Father Nature's Corner

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  24. You pick the best topics, and now you're bringing back some memories! I remember watching Night Gallery on Friday Nights, and Twilight Zone is a classic! The one where the nurses had pig faces really spooked me, but I remember the ones you've mentioned too. Gonna have to revisit and watch them again. Hugs...

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  25. I grew up watching Twilight Zone and then Outer Limits. I would run to my room and turn all the lights getting there. Then run back to the living room and start turning off lights as I ran to bed. That final jump from door to bed in the dark was spooky. Great shows.

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  26. I am old enough to have watched them both the first time around. Night Gallery was always considered to be the weaker show. The writers on Twilight Zone really were amazing -- Richard Mattheson, Charles Beaumont to name two others.

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