Serling Edit: The Outro to “To Serve Man”

Rod Serling’s scripts were nearly always so smooth, even poetic, that it’s easy to assume they just came out of his head that way. But no. Like any good writer, he edited himself — sometimes quite extensively.

“A Thing About Machines”

I don’t mean he simply cut lines. He would also reword certain passages, often more than once. That way, he wound up with a polished product he could be proud of — one that, we can see with the benefit of hindsight, has a timeless appeal.

Consider his closing introduction to one of the most iconic episodes, “To Serve Man”. The final product goes like this:

The recollections of one Michael Chambers with appropriate flashbacks and soliloquy. Or more simply stated, the evolution of man, the cycle of going from dust to dessert, the metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone’s soup. It’s tonight’s bill of fare … on the Twilight Zone.

But Serling’s original “outro” went like this:

The very explicit and very specific differences in points of view. To the wee ones … the little folk called man … it’s a marvelous adventure, a voyage to another planet. An exciting sojourn in another section of the galaxy. But to the very large, granite-faced inhabitants known as Kanamits … it’s nothing more than a cattle car, a very comfortable provisions ship bringing food from the other end of the universe. Like I say, it’s all in the point of view.

Not bad, but it isn’t nearly as tight and smooth as the final draft. It’s longer, for one thing (and Serling always had to work hard to shoehorn his words into the allotted 25 minutes). But more importantly, it lacks his usual flourishes — the alliteration of “from dust to dessert”, and that marvelous reference about going “from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone’s soup”.

And that “bill of fare” pun? Perfect. Much better than the clunky last line of his original outro.

Do you agree? Let me know in the comments. After all, as Serling said, “it’s all in the point of view”.

***

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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 08/27/2018, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I almost always marvel at his intros and closings. The scripts are so good, so complete, and yet he offers a new twist.

    The thing that amazes me is I never feel like he’s telling me something he thinks I might have missed. He never makes me feel stupid yet he always adds something. He reveals his take, his perspective but in a way that leaves me comfortable with mine. I think he was a true artist in that regard. He never looked good at the audience’s expense, but he always looked good.

    I’m rambling now, well over time. I’ll see about a rewrite 🙂

  2. Wow. The rewrite is a definite improvement and for all the reasons you mentioned. I love the “dust to dessert” line and the human race becoming an ingredient in their soup. It’s humbling and chilling.

  3. The first version is fine, but it doesn’t have any style, and it could almost apply to any episode — so many of them are about a matter of perspective. First drafts are often just placeholders for later revision, when you have a clearer idea of what the story is, or maybe just a little more time to refine your prose; I’d definitely be interested to see any intermediate drafts between these two! So fascinating and inspiring to see a legendary writer like Serling had to put in the work just like anyone else. :) Thank you for sharing this!

    • You’re welcome! And I couldn’t agree more. The initial intro IS more generic. Surely it is a placeholder, yes. Serling often wrote so quickly that he must have routinely pounded out what he could when inspiration struck, then returned at a later date to pare and refine his work.

      Someone on Twitter made another good point: Much of it is him simply summarizing what we’ve just seen, whereas the edited one is a sharp, lean commentary on the episode itself. And yes, it’s heartening to see that even the greats had to put in the work!

  4. galacticjourney.org

    Editing often takes as long as, if not longer than, the original work. One gets faster over time, but the editing is an essential part of the process.

    • Absolutely. The initial draft is really the artist just getting the clay onto the table; editing is shaping the clay. It’s indispensable.

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