Serling’s Imitators Miss a Key Reason for His Success
Why do so many attempts to emulate Rod Serling fail? People have tried over the years to duplicate the success of “The Twilight Zone,” and it nearly always falls flat. Why?
Many writers and producers make the mistake of assuming that a weird story, or a clever twist, is all you need. But as I’ve tried to show in several previous blog posts, it’s not that simple.
And I recently read something that reminded me of another major reason Serling succeeded: his optimism.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Serling was a realist who leveled some devastating social critiques throughout his career. The author of “The Shelter“, “Deaths-Head Revisited” and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” clearly wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses.
But unlike many modern writers, he clearly intended to pull us back from our worst excesses. A man who saw unspeakable horror in World War II, saw the Cold War at its hottest, and lived through a time of high-profile assassinations, knew that while men and women possess a lamentable capacity for evil, they also have a capacity for good.
Television’s “Angry Young Man” wasn’t angry because he saw us as irredeemable. He was angry at the wasted potential — at what George Harrison in the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” called “the love there that’s sleeping.”
Which brings me to what I read. Anne Serling posted it on Facebook. It’s from a speech her father gave in 1969:
“When three astronauts left this earth and circled the moon and took pictures of our small sphere, it must have conjured up in more than one mind the fact that ours is a brief and temporal moment. And it follows that those things that divide us and tear at us and bleed us — these, too, are temporal.
This may not be the promise. It may be only the wish. But to wish for less and expect less and strive for less would be to deny the one major strength that the frail human has: his spirit. And I’m not about to deny that.”
Unfortunately, many of us would deny it. We become disillusioned. We mutter in cynical tones. Trust erodes. Which is why I’m grateful that someone as talented as Serling experienced the same discouragement, yet refused to give up. Indeed, he stamped some of his greatest work with it.
I think we all want to respond to that attitude, no matter how hardened we become. That’s why Serling’s work continues to exert a unique magic on us, even today.
He never stopped calling to the “better angels of our nature,” in President Lincoln’s words. And we can’t help but admire him for it.
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