2/23/09 - the twilight zone

In today's excerpt - Rod Serling (1924-1975), his groundbreaking anthology science fiction TV series The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), and the unfamiliar and uneasy loneliness of the suburbs:

"During the postwar years, average Americans in ever greater numbers deserted small towns and big cities to embrace the emergent concept of suburbia. Rod and [his wife] Carol Serling made that move, following commercial success, to a notably upscale aspect of the new American paradigm. But like so many other young adults of the 1950s, Serling experienced an uneasy sense of dislocation.

"Something essential, however hard to define, had been lost en route; some aspect of innocence, perhaps, that at least to a romantic imagination, once existed in our towns. Each such place had been unique, organically created over decades, taking on a shape and style all its own. Suburbia, in comparison, was defined by Pulitzer-prize winning author David Halberstam as 'the new social contract according to Bill Levitt.' Reacting to rampant blandness, residents began to yearn for the good old days, if less the reality of a bygone lifestyle than what Richard Schickel called 'an imagined past.' Our growing hunger for this mythic America shortly informed 'much of the new popular culture.' What would eventually come to be called The Nostalgia Craze would prove essential to [The Twilight] Zone from its earliest episodes. ...

"On [this dislocation the myth of normalcy the dehumanizing effects of commercialism the angst of the nuclear age and] other subjects, Rod spoke truthfully and fearlessly. One early observer of TV hailed him as the medium's 'angry young man.' The only other contender: Edward R. Murrow, whose interview show followed Zone on Friday nights (1959-1960). What Murrow achieved in CBS's newsroom—integrity!—Serling pulled off at that network' entertainment arm.

"Earlier in the decade, Serling and other top talents openly addressed important issues during TV's brief 'golden age.' Colleagues included Reginald Rose (Twelve Angry Men), Paddy Chayefsky (Marty), and J. P. Miller (The Days of Wine and Roses). All turned out smart scripts for 'live' anthologies that dominated TV drama from 1948 to 1955. Then the price of sets lowered and TV became big business for mass entertainment. Serious drama was out; predictable potboilers were in. From that point on Serling necessarily presented politics and philosophy in a foxier manner. ...

"Casting a seductive smile, Serling alone continued to convey on TV what every other serious writer wanted to say but wasn't allowed to. High-profile sponsors now acted as self-appointed censors, making certain that their products were presented in a context that offended no one. So Serling 'said something' by doing so indirectly, dropping confrontational realism for parable. During The Twilight Zone's five-year run (1959-1964), he employed imaginative/allegorical fiction to comment on (and sharply criticize) postwar America. 'On Zone,' Peter Kaplan claimed, 'the nightmare side of American life was opened up' ... all the more frightening because stories took place close to home rather than in distant Transylvania. ... What initially seemed to be out-of-this-world dreams of darkness reflected a shadow-world existing on the edge of our brightly lit suburbs."


Douglas Brode and Carol Serling


Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone


Barricade Books, Inc


Barricade Copyright 2009 by Douglas Brode and Carol Serling


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