A “Tired Non-Conformist”

I recently posted a link to the interview Rod Serling did with Mike Wallace in 1959, just before the Twilight Zone debuted. It’s filled with insights, but one moment in particular, I think, stands out for any fan.

rodserlingmikewallace (1)

After Serling details some of his censorship fights with sponsors, he notes that because the stories on his new series dealt with “fantasy and imagination and science fiction,” he didn’t expect such fights in the future. Wallace agrees and adds:

You’re going to be obviously working so hard on The Twilight Zone that in essence, for the time being and for the foreseeable future, you’ve given up on writing anything important for television, right?

Ahem. Thanks for the thinly veiled insult, Mike. Sorry I won’t be living up to your high standards.

Yet Serling doesn’t really quarrel with Wallace’s somewhat harsh assessement. He replies:

Yeah. Well, again, this is a semantic thing—important for television. I don’t know. If by important you mean I’m not going to try to delve into current social problems dramatically, you’re quite right. I’m not.

Serling, fresh off his censorship battles, surely didn’t want to call attention to his stealth strategy: making many of the same pointed social critiques that had gotten him into trouble, but smuggling them into stories about aliens, time travel and alternate dimensions. Why tip his hand, especially when the episodes can be enjoyed as simple entertainment? (And many, after all, were just that; Serling didn’t make every story an elaborate allegory for some serious point.)

Rod Serling in Front of Television

But Wallace’s remark also shows the low regard with which fantasy and science fiction were held in those days. Serling’s decision did strike many as odd. Why, in their view, would the man who had written “Patterns,” “The Comedian” and “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” to name the dramas that won him his three pre-Zone Emmy awards, trade in his adult cred to write, well, kid stuff?

We know now, of course, what he was up to. He was crafting, as he told Wallace, “very adult … high-quality, half-hour, extremely polished films.” Ones that would stand the test of time, and entertain millions of people.

“Somebody asked me the other day if this means that I’m going to be a meek conformist,” Serling told Wallace, “and my answer is no. I’m just acting the role of a tired non-conformist.”

He may have been tired, but he wasn’t about to give up. He was about to launch a television classic — on his own terms. Considering the results, the censors might deserve our thanks.

***

Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress followers, just hit “follow” at the top of the page.

Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 06/22/2011, in Rod Serling, Twilight Zone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. TZ Fan, Ventura

    Great article. “Twilight Zone” was TV at its best. Have the high culture snobs (who are often last to know) finally come to realize that?

  2. Wonderful article, my friend. While Wallace deserved a slap at the time for that snarky remark, he’s certainly eating his words now. As far as I’m concerned, The Twilight Zone is THE most important television series from that time (and perhaps, dare I say, even NOW?). Serling was a clever man, determined and persistent. God bless that man for sticking to his guns and getting his moral, social and political commentaries out into the public eye. We can still learn much from the lessons put forth in TZ. They’re just as relevant (if not MORE relevant) now than they were in the 60s. Thanks for highlighting this little moment of history, my friend. It was an important one.

    • Oh, as far as I’m concerned, you can go ahead and say “even now.” There are several current shows that I’m a big fan of, but for my money, nothing — either old OR new — tops TZ.

      You’re absolutely right, even now, there’s still so much to learn from it. And if that doesn’t prove Serling was a true visionary, nothing does.

      As for Wallace’s remark, I think it says more about the times and the fact that Serling was taking a big chance. Wallace sees this highly successful writer saying he’s going to change his game, leave the acclaimed dramas behind and try his hand at … fantasy? Sci fi? I try to cut Wallace some slack because nobody had seen the show yet. They could only conjecture. Serling knew what he was about to unveil, but no one else did. And Wallace later acknowledged that. So yes, he ate a little crow!

      It was my pleasure to mark this “little moment of history,” my friend. So glad you enjoyed it. :)

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