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Rod Serling

December 25, Christmas Day, is the birthday of Edwin Rodman Serling, best known as the creator, writer, and producer of the uncannily surreal television series, The Twilight Zone, which first aired in 1959.  Serling felt that it is the job of a writer to "menace the public consciousness," and he considered television and radio to be the most effective venue for social criticism.

Born in Syracuse, New York, in 1925, Serling served in the Army before entering Ohio's Antioch College as a student on the GI Bill.  He began writing radio and television scripts, selling several of them while he was still an undergraduate.

Upon leaving college, he went to work as a continuity writer for WLWT-TV in Cincinnati and began writing a regular weekly series of live dramas for the anthology show, The Storm, produced by Robert Huber.  Going freelance in 1952, Serling sold scripts to various network anthologies such as as Lux Video Theatre, Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Doctor, Studio One, and Kraft Television Theatre.  It was for Kraft that Serling wrote Patterns (ABC, January 12, 1955), a stinging drama about corporate greed and big business power games.  It was an instant success with both viewers and critics, and it won him the first of six Emmy Awards (for Best Original Teleplay Writing), as well as a Sylvania Award for Best Teleplay.

He followed that up with an adaptation of a Ring Lardner novel entitled The Champion for Climax (1955).  Then came The Rack (1955), Incident in an Alley (1955), and Noon on Doomsday, all for United States Steel Hour (1956), plus Forbidden Area for Playhouse 90 (1956).  Forbidden Area was the premiere episode for Playhouse.  But it was Playhouse 90's second presentation that brought him his greatest success: Requiem for a Heavyweight (CBS, October 11, 1956), the compelling, touching story of a boxer who knows he's washed up but doesn't know how to do anything else except box. 

The story brought Serling instant celebrity status, along with a host of awards, including another Emmy (for Best Teleplay Writing), a Harcourt-Brace Award, another Sylvania Award (for Best Teleplay Writing), a Television-Radio Writers' Annual Award, a Writers Guild of America Award, and the first ever George Foster Peabody Award for writing.

Playhouse 90 and CBS quickly signed him to a contract, and he became one of the hottest writers in all of television.  His next Playhouse 90 script, The Comedian (CBS, February 14, 1957), was based on Ernest Lehman's story about an egomaniacal entertainer.  It garnered for the writer his third Emmy for Best Teleplay Writing.

From 1958 on, conflicts with networks and sponsors over censorship brought Serling increasing frustration.  "I can recall the blue-penciling of a script of mine called A Town Has Turned to Dust," he said in a 1962 TV Guide interview, "in which a reference to a 'mob of men in masks and sheets' was cut because of possible affront to Southern institutions."  In time, his censorship battles led him to jump from live drama to filmed serials, the first of which was his own show, The Twilight Zone.

Stemming from a Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse entry called The Time Element, which aired in November 1958, Serling created, executive produced, hosted, and wrote most of the half-hour science-fantasy anthology, which ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964.  The series not only created a whole new programming genre for television but also offered Serling an opportunity to say things he couldn't say in conventional drama on live TV.  The weekly tales promised the viewer that he would enter "the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition...between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge."

Serling grabbed two more Emmies for The Twilight Zone (Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama).  His sixth and final Emmy came during the 1963 Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre segment, It's Mental Work (Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama, Adaptation).  

In the fall of 1965, CBS premiered Serling's The Loner, a half-hour post-Civil War Western about a wandering, introspective cowboy in search of life's meaning.  It starred Lloyd Bridges.  The story behind The Loner went back almost five years to when Serling believed that CBS was planning on canceling The Twilight Zone.  He came up with the new script as an hour-long pilot about a character he called The Loner, heading West after the Civil War.  CBS turned it down, and they extended The Twilight Zone for another season; so Serling shelved the new series.

In early 1965, when CBS was looking for a half-hour Western for their Saturday night schedules, independent producer William Dozier put together a package consisting of Serling as writer, Bridges as star, and Dozier as producer of The Loner.  The series of 26 episodes (14 of them by Serling) opened to poor ratings and lukewarm reviews.  When CBS demanded more "action" (fewer characters and motivation and more "running gun battles"), Serling refused, creating a rift between himself and the network.  The Loner was dropped from the schedules in April 1966.

For the next few years, Serling occupied himself with various projects and programs.  He served a two-year term as President of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, hosted TV entertainment shows, and returned to screenplay work with adaptations of novels for Planet of the Apes (1968, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle) and The Man (1972, from the novel by Irving Wallace, which had actually started out as a telefilm). 

In 1969, producer Aaron Spelling asked him to write a pilot for the series, The New People (ABC, 1969-70), featuring an assorted group of young Americans stranded on a South Pacific atoll.  Serling delivered the script but later commented on the Lord of the Flies theme that "It may work, but not for me."  

He next involved himself with NBC's horror-fantasy anthology, Night Gallery (1970-73).  The series was based on three stories, including one directed by a fledgling to the small screen, Steven Spielberg.  The Mystery Writers of America presented Serling with their special Edgar award for the suitably suspenseful scripts.  Also known as Rod Serling's Night Gallery (he acted as host and sometime contributor), the series failed to come close to The Twilight Zone's popularity, and it soon degenerated, according to Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, into "the supernatural equivalent of Love, American Style."

After Night Gallery was cancelled in 1973, Serling retreated to Ithaca College in upstate New York to teach writing, which sustained him more than anything else during the last few years of his life.  Today, The Twilight Zone, in worldwide reruns, remains a cultural tribute to Serling's art and craft of writing.

Rod Serling, who once said, "It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper," died of a heart attack in 1975. 

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