Rod Serling

Rodman Edward "Rod" Serling (December 25, 1924June 28, 1975) was an American screenwriter, best known for his live television dramas of the early 1950s and his science fiction anthology TV series, The Twilight Zone.


The second of two sons (his brother Robert J. Serling later became a novelist), Rod was born in Syracuse, New York to Samuel and Esther Serling, but was raised in Binghamton, New York, where he later graduated from Binghamton High School. Though brought up in a Jewish family, Serling became a Unitarian Universalist.

Military service

Rod Serling served as a U.S. Army paratrooper and demolition specialist with the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific Theater in World War II from January 1943 to January 1945. He was seriously wounded in the wrist and knee during combat and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Serling's military service deeply affected the rest of his life and informed much of his writing. Due to his wartime experiences, Serling suffered from nightmares and flashbacks for the rest of his life. During his service in World War II, he watched as his best friend was crushed to death by a heavy supply crate dropped by parachute onto the field. Though he was rather short (5'4") and slight, Serling was a noted boxer during his military days [1].

Early writing career

Upon leaving the military, Serling entered Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He graduated in 1950 with a bachelor's degree in literature. He got his start as a writer after winning second prize in a contest for the radio show Dr. Christian in 1949, while still a college student. Serling and his wife Carol (married in 1948) moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he took a job as staff writer for WLW Radio.

Biographers note that throughout his career, Serling was inspired by legendary radio and television playwright Norman Corwin. Both men would trace their careers through the WLW broadcasting franchise to eventually find homes at CBS, and both would be honored for weaving pivotal social themes into their scripts.

In 1951, Serling started to break into television by writing scripts for The Doctor, Fireside Theater, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Lux Video Theater, Kraft Television Theatre, Suspense and Studio One. He also worked for local Cincinnati TV station WKRC (Channel 12), where he wrote a series of live TV shows titled The Storm. The program was a precursor to The Twilight Zone, as was one of the scripts: Requeim for a Heavyweight.

In 1955, Kraft Television Theatre presented another of Serling's scripts, the seventy-second to reach the air. To the Serlings, it was just another script, and they missed the first live airing. The name of the show was Patterns and it changed Rod Serling's life. Patterns dramatized the power struggle among a corporate boss, an old hand running out of ideas and energy, and a bright young executive being groomed to take the older man's place. It was a huge hit, and was re-aired the following week, which was nearly unprecedented at the time. The script established Serling as a rarity: a television playwright.

More acclaimed teleplays followed, including The Rack, about a Korean War veteran and the effects of torture, the legendary Requiem for a Heavyweight (from CBS's Playhouse 90 series), and several others, some of which were adapted to the big screen. Requiem, like Patterns, was honored as a milestone in television drama. The installment's producer, Martin Manulis, noted for a PBS biography of Serling that after the live broadcast, CBS chairman William S. Paley called the control room to tell the crew that the show had advanced TV by 10 years. The show's director, Ralph Nelson, wrote and directed a television drama four years later for the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse about writing Requiem for a Heavyweight called The Man in the Funny Suit, in which Serling appeared as himself.

Tired of seeing his scripts butchered (removing any political statements, ethnic identities, even the Chrysler Building being removed from a script sponsored by Ford), Serling decided the only recourse for avoiding such artistic interference was to create his own show.

The Twilight Zone

In 1959, CBS aired the first episode of a groundbreaking series, The Twilight Zone. Serling fought hard for creative control, hiring writers he respected (such as Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont) and launched himself into weekly television. He stated in an interview that the science fiction format would not be controversial and would escape censorship unlike the earlier Playhouse 90 [1]. In reality the show gave him the opportunity to communicate social messages in a more veiled context.

Serling drew on his own experiences for many episodes, with frequent stories about boxing, military life and aircraft pilots, which integrated Serling's firsthand knowledge. The series also incorporated Serling's progressive social views on racial relations and the like, which were somewhat veiled by the sci-fi/fantasy elements of the shows. Occasionally, however, Serling could be quite blunt, as in the episode I Am The Night--Color Me Black, where America's racism and hatred causes a dark cloud to form in the South before eventually spreading elsewhere. Serling was also progressive on matters of gender, with many stories featuring quick-thinking, resilient women, although he also wrote stories featuring shrewish, nagging wives.

The show lasted five seasons (four using a half-hour format, with one half-season using an hour-long format), winning awards and critical acclaim for Serling and his staff. While having a loyal fan base, the program never had huge ratings and was twice canceled, only to be revived. After five years and 156 episodes, 92 of them written by Serling himself, Serling wearied of the show. In 1964, he decided to let the last cancellation be final.

Serling sold his rights to the series to CBS. His wife later claimed that he did this partly because he believed the studio would never recoup the cost of the show, which frequently went overbudget. In hindsight, this move proved to be a costly mistake.

Night Gallery

In 1969, NBC aired a Serling-penned pilot for a new series, Night Gallery. Set in a dimly lit museum, the pilot film featured Serling (as on-camera host) introducing three tales of the macabre, unveiling canvases that would appear in the subsequent story segments.

Enlarge picture
Serling as host of Night Gallery.
The series, which premiered in December 1970 (its brief first season rotated as one spoke of a four-series programming wheel titled Four in One), focused more on gothic horror and the occult than did The Twilight Zone. Serling, no longer wanting the burden of an executive position, sidestepped an offer to retain creative control of content — a decision he would come to regret. Although discontented with some of producer Jack Laird's script and creative choices, Serling maintained a stream of creative submissions and ultimately wrote over a third of the series' scripts.

By season three however, Serling began to see many of his script contributions rejected. With his complaints ignored, the disgruntled host dismissed the show as "Mannix in a cemetery." Night Gallery lasted until 1973.

While the series has its own cult following, it is not as successful as The Twilight Zone and is generally regarded, sometimes unfairly, as a pale shadow of Serling's previous series.


Serling wrote a number of short stories in the science fiction and horror genres, which were collected into three volumes of Twilight Zone stories (1960, 1961, 1962), two of Night Gallery stories (1971, 1972) and a collection of three novellas, The Season to be Wary (1968).

A critical essay on Serling's fiction can be found in S. T. Joshi's book The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004). Joshi emphasises Serling's moralism and the streak of misanthropy imbuing his work, and argues that, far from being merely rewritten scripts, many of Serling's stories can stand as genuinely original and meritorious works of prose fiction.

Later years

Subsequent to The Twilight Zone, Serling moved onto cinema screens. He wrote a number of screenplays with a political focus, including Seven Days in May (1964) about an attempted military coup against the President of the United States; Planet of the Apes (1968); and The Man (1972) about the first African American President.

Serling had taped introductions for a limited-run summer comedy series on ABC, Keep on Truckin', which was scheduled to begin its run several weeks after his death; these introductions were subsequently edited out of the broadcast episodes.

He also wrote the pilot episode for a short-lived Aaron Spelling series called The New People in 1969.

Serling returned to radio in 1974 as the host of a new mystery/adventure series called The Zero Hour.[2] The show aired for two years and Serling wrote several of the scripts. It failed to find a large audience due to its radio serial format and lack of promotion. [3]

Late in his life, Serling taught at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York where he resided for many years, and did voiceovers for various projects. He narrated documentaries featuring French undersea explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and (uncredited) performed the narration for the beginning of the Brian De Palma film Phantom of the Paradise.

In 1975, Serling had two severe heart attacks before entering Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester for heart bypass surgery. He had a third heart attack during the operation and died the following day. He is interred at the cemetery in Interlaken, New York, an area of upstate New York featured prominently in some 'Twilight Zone' episodes.

After his death, several Serling scripts were produced. In 1988, J. Michael Straczynski scripted Serling's outline "Our Selena Is Dying" for the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone; Rod Serling's Lost Classics (1994), was a TV movie based on a Serling script and an outline for another story (the latter was expanded and scripted by Richard Matheson); In the Presence of Mine Enemies (1997) was set in the Warsaw Ghetto; a science-fiction remake of A Town Has Turned to Dust (1998) and A Storm in Summer (2000) followed.

Awards and honors

During his lifetime, Rod Serling received six Emmys, and his biggest successes in writing include:

Legacy in television

When casting for the role of the shady Mr. Morden for the television series Babylon 5, creator J. Michael Straczynski chose Ed Wasser - who had played a bit part in the series' two-hour pilot TV movie - for the role because of his slick looks, charm, and vocal mannerisms reminiscent of a young Rod Serling.

Serling was ranked #1 in TV Guide's list of the "25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends" (in the 1 August 2004 issue).

More than 30 years after his death, Serling was digitally resurrected for an episode of the TV series Medium that aired on November 21, 2005. The episode, which was partially filmed in 3-D, opened with Serling introducing the episode and instructing viewers as to when to put on their 3-D glasses. This was accomplished by using footage from The Twilight Zone episode "The Midnight Sun" and digitally manipulating Serling's mouth to match new dialogue spoken by impersonator Mark Silverman. The plot of the episode involved paintings coming to life, a nod to both Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.

Legacy in other media

Over the years, a number of pop/rock songs have included tributes and references to Rod Serling and/or The Twilight Zone.
  • The Canadian progressive rock band Rush also did a song called "The Twilight Zone" on the other side of their 2112 album, released in 1976.
  • In 1979, the vocal group The Manhattan Transfer scored a big hit with "The Twilight Zone / The Twilight Tone" a jazz-rock variation of the classic Marius Constant theme from the television series (from their Extensions album; their promotional video clip even had lead singer Alan Paul standing beside a door floating in space, mimicking Rod Serling for the introduction.
  • The English heavy metal band Iron Maiden included a song called "Twilight Zone" on the US version of their Killers album, released in 1981, and which may reference The Twilight Zone episode "Night Call".
  • Dutch group Golden Earring had the 1982 hit "Twilight Zone".
  • In the early 1990s the European pop group Ace of Base also had a song called "Twilight Zone" as did the South Korean pop group S.E.S. for their third album released in the spring of the year 2000.
  • On "Threatened", a track from his 2001 album Invincible, pop superstar Michael Jackson used samples of Rod Serling narrations from The Twilight Zone as introduction and conclusion to the song, as well as a montage of clips to make Serling rap in the middle section of the tune.
  • There have been numerous parodies and references to the episode "Nightmare at 20000 feet," which starred William Shatner in his pre-Star Trek days.
  • The Twilight Zone was parodied in an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, in which the episode was themed for. It was called "The Billy Zone." During the show, you can see a cartoon version of Rod Serling, and ends up getting beat up at the end.
On April 5, 1993, Midway introduced The Twilight Zone pinball machine[4] which featured a backglass portrait of Serling surrounded by his creations.

In 1994, the Walt Disney World resort opened its premier free fall attraction titled "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" at the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida. The ride places guests into an unaired episode of The Twilight Zone, where they are introduced to the story by Rod Serling. The story is that at the height of the Hollywood golden age, a famous landmark hotel holding a gala event is struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. Passenger elevators carrying 5 guests mysteriously vanish after plummeting 13 stories, and the tower has stood derelict since that fateful night. Guests board "freight elevators" that carry them upwards and then laterally into the free fall shaft, where they visit the "5th Dimension" room which references the opening TV title sequence. (Footage from "It's a Good Life" was combined with voiceover work of impersonator Mark Silverman). It is a misconception that Serling's trademark cigarette is absent from his hand due to the family-friendly atmosphere of the ride, as it is actually absent in the original footage, as well.[5]
A similar version of the ride appears in California at Disney's California Adventure. The ride differs in aspects of pacing and tone, but none the less, Serling is part of the attraction. The Florida and California editions of the ride feature props from various Twilight Zone episodes.
Tokyo DisneySea has their own version of the Tower of Terror, however the "backstory" departs from the California and Florida versions, erasing all ties to "The Twilight Zone" including any reference, mention, or appearance of Rod Serling.
Disneyland Paris is scheduled to open their version of the ride in January of 2008 and will feature Serling as well as retain "The Twilight Zone" theme.

Other filmography

  • The Loner (TV series)
  • Encounter with the Unknown (1975) (narrator)
  • Narrated many of the TV specials of the "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" produced by Alan Landsburg in the 1960s and 1970s.


1. ^ Rod Serling - Man From the Twilight Zone Clifton Unitarian Church; 2000.
2. ^ The Zero Hour Radio Log
3. ^ History of Mutual Radio's Zero Hour
4. ^ Internet Pinball Database - Twilight Zone. Retrieved on 2007-02-15.
5. ^ Interview with Mark Silverman. (October 2006). Retrieved on 2006-12-25.

External links

The Twilight Zone
    [ e]
The Twilight Zone (1959 TV series) | The New Twilight Zone | The Twilight Zone (2002 series)
Key People
Rod Serling | Buck Houghton | Charles Beaumont | Richard Matheson | Jerry Sohl | George Clayton Johnson | Earl Hamner Jr. | Reginald Rose | Ray Bradbury
See Also
Playhouse 90 | List of The Twilight Zone episodes | List of The Twilight Zone (1959 TV series) guest stars | The Twilight Zone (pinball) | | The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
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