August 31, 2014

Watch Twilight Zone Creator Rod Serling Discuss His Philosophy on Creativity

Back in the day, before I was a teenager, and possessed neither status nor a pager, I stayed in every New Year's, because New Year's Eve is probably the least child-friendly holiday going (other than Administrative Professionals and Secretaries Day). While others froze in Times Square, I got to watch the 24-hour Twilight Zone marathon on Channel 11, aka WPIX. In retrospect, as a kid (okay, maybe a weird kid), what appealed to me most in the show was its uncanny allegories and just off-kilter aesthetic, its plots that were almost, but not quite, cheesy. 

Rod Serling's all-American appearance made what he said, and how he said it, that much weirder, and though the show followed a Law and Order-like fidelity to its template (i.e., an uncanny, usually science-fiction based story with, almost always, a twist ending), the show's 156 episodes, 92 of which were written by Serling himself, still hold up today. This episode, with Jack Klugman, has just one pool hall for a location and two actors, but the performances, the story, and the mood, make it, justly, a classic (best Serling entrance, 2:14).

These episodes are also marvels of economical, arguably indie-spirited production. Without a large budget at his disposal, Serling and the writers and directors he supervised managed to craft worlds from story, mood, and always a piercing psychological lense bent; it was TV, but it was smart, and never pandered. Serling, who for years I thought was just an actor hired to say weird things at the beginning and end of the show, thought of himself primarily as a writer, and in this video, he explains his philosophy of creativity in just one minute (also, anything said in Rod Serling's voice is pretty great):

The rest of the parts of his interview are up as well, and provide a fascinating look into the mind of someone who either wrote or was responsible for some of the finest television in the history of the medium. Of writing, paraphrasing Ernest Hemingway's oft-quoted, Hemingway-esque observation that, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Serling's point that ideas are everywhere, and that inspiration is there for the taking, but the execution, the discipline of sitting down every day and writing, whether you feel like it or not. After all, this is a man who once remarked that, “Coming up with ideas is the easiest thing on earth. Putting them down is the hardest," and said, of writing:

 Writing is a demanding profession and a selfish one. And because it is selfish and demanding, because it is compulsive and exacting, I didn't embrace it. I succumbed to it.

Rod Serling believed that humanity's greatest threat and enemy was itself, and that is the driving force behind almost everything he produced. The unique way he examined the human condition, the conditions under which he produced such quality work, and the excellent performances and filmmaking make The Twilight Zone one of the 20th centuries most important TV shows and Serling one of the most important writers in Hollywood history. Below, check out audio of Serling speaking at UCLA in 1971.

More than that guy in the suit, Rod Serling was an activist, a thinker, and a pioneer for everyone who works in any speculative genre. He wrote many rules, even as he acknowledged the difficulty of writing in the first place. But we're all the richer that he did, and hearing to his words like this is a singular experience. 

Your Comment

7 Comments

This man was pure genius. He could write around a living room and engage you for 22 mins.

August 31, 2014 at 6:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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THAT was so cool. Great story lines and photography. Anyone know who did the eye work?

August 31, 2014 at 8:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Michael

Kudos to Justin for bringing this genre back to our attention.

August 31, 2014 at 8:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Michael

Every read "The Twilight Zone Companion?" Back in the early 80s I lived in a house with some friends and we enjoyed many late evenings watching “The Zone.” One of my roomies had this book and it became a fixture during those hazy beer & pizza nights. A great reference on individual episodes, it also contains a lot of background information on the actors. I recently found the audiobook version and so I decided to give it another “read.”

Each episodic chapter begins with Rod Serling’s opening narration, a brief synopsis of that episode, and the closing narration. The chapter’s main body describes the human story behind the episode with input from the writers, producers, and actors. Vastly more comprehensive books on the Twilight Zone have been published in recent years, but this has the benefit of the author’s access to many of the show’s writers and producers. It’s not for everybody, though; you really have to be familiar with the show (and be a fan) to enjoy reading about every episode.

Serling was a genius. I love hearing him discuss writing, art, and creativity in general.

August 31, 2014 at 11:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Aaron VanAlstine

Night Gallery is his great work.

September 1, 2014 at 5:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Anonymo

Where do ideas come from? If you have to ask, you'll never have any.

September 2, 2014 at 5:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jerry

Thank you very much for posting this interview with Rod Serling. I read his biography a while ago and have seen all the Twilight Zone and Night Gallery things, grew up watching this stuff and have always loved his writing and what he accomplished in TV. I loved this interview in how articulate he was and so directly honest. Post more of this kind of thing - many new young filmmakers will not remember icons like this and this really brings it around.

September 2, 2014 at 5:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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