Rod Serling hated when ''The Twilight Zone'' went into syndication

"You wouldn't recognize what the series was."

In the same way that Rod Serling was a major part of The Twilight Zone from beginning to end, both on-screen and off, the series had an incredible impact on his life, professionally and personally.

According to Anne Serling's book, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling, the series had an impact on Serling even after it went off the air. She wrote, "Shortly after it goes off the air, The Twilight Zone begins its eternal life in syndication. My father sees what syndication does to each episode."

Serling worked hard to discuss heavier and more socially conscious topics in episodes of The Twilight Zone, and it's arguably the reason that so many moments throughout the series still have an impact on viewers after all of these years.

According to a Detroit Free Press article, Serling once stated of the show's move to syndication, "You wouldn't recognize what the series was. Full scenes deleted. It looks like a long, protracted commercial separated by fragmentary moments of indistinct drama." Anne Serling wrote, "It is tremendously frustrating for him to watch the dissection of his stories."

It was a tension that existed between Serling and the network even before The Twilight Zone went into syndication. An article in the Kingsport Times remembered Serling having said, "It's a crime, but scripts with social significance can't be done on TV." and that he was "tired of fighting the fight."

It was also something that Serling's entire family was aware of, not just his daughter. According to an interview with the Associated Press, Serling's widow, Carol Serling, said of her husband, "Through parable and suggestion, he could make points that he couldn't make on straight television because there were too many sacred cows and sponsors and people who said you couldn't do that."


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17 Comments

StrayCat 21 days ago
While there may have been some scenes that the networks determined might be offensive or upsetting to today's ultra sensitive easily offended viewers, most of the time the episodes were trimmed to make room for more commercials. Virtually all TV shows produced from the 50s to the 70s have had their run times chopped to make room for additional commercials. For example: most Perry Mason episodes had around 10 minutes removed.
WilliamJorns StrayCat 20 days ago
Correct! Time allotted for commercials has increased dramatically since "The Twilight Zone" first aired. I have a DVD that has all four episodes of "The Ed Sullivan Show" featuring the Beatles' first appearances on American TV. These are complete episodes, with all the variety acts included, not just the Beatles. They even include the commercials! Each episode has four (4) one-minute commercial breaks - one at the beginning of the show; one at the fifteen-minute mark; one at the 30-minute mark, and one at 45 minutes. Each break had two 30-second ads, then back to the program. Four minutes out of each hour left 56 minutes of programming content. Compare that to today's hour-long program slots, where you only get 42 or 43 minutes of programming, with the rest devoted to commercials. And I've seen other rerun shows "get the ax" to make way for commercials, too; one local channel absolutely butchered reruns of "Star Trek" back in the 70's to fit in more ads. Sometimes whole scenes were chopped out - scenes which I wouldn't see again until I watched those episodes on home video (tapes, DVDs) years later. So I can understand why Mr. Serling felt that way.
Coles 1 month ago
Serling was brilliant. He wanted to make social commentary. He should be applauded for that at a time when not many had the guts to do it. The people here saying they don't need that and just want to be entertained are just the ones who need social commentary! And guess what? If you've been watching Twilight Zone, you've been getting it whether you wanted it or not! Lol. Hope you've learned something over the years because of Rod.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 2 months ago
Rod Serling
Hosted The Zero Hour.
Runeshaper 2 months ago
I’m sure that must have been very frustrating for Serling.
TempoNick 2 months ago
People get famous and they can't leave well enough alone. We watch Twilight Zone for the quirky surprise endings. We don't watch it to be preached to, Norman Lear style.
ColorTVisapassingfad 2 months ago
The age old battle between Art and Commerce goes back to the Renaissance Masters. Rod had a lifelong problem with the commercial end of the business and deeply resented his parables being interrupted. However he also enjoyed the financial benefits and fame that commercial TV gave him. Hitchcock resented Sponsoras well but in those very touchy days actually got away with ridiculing them.I seem to recall Serling selling his TZ rights fairly soon after its initial run therefore forfeiting control. It's still happening today with musicians selling their old tunes on the open market then kvetching that they're used in dog food and ketchup commercials.
McGillahooala 2 months ago
If you are not there to entertain but to inject material that in your opinion has “social significance” perhaps the best place to be is the Soviet Union 50 years ago. I really dislike entertainment that is infused with propaganda by a paragon of virtue who has decided they have the whole world figured out and know all the right answers. When you head down the slippery slope of telling others what to think, there are always unexpected negative consequences.
justjeff McGillahooala 2 months ago
I tend to think that yes, Serling used the Twilight Zone to express his opinions, but in a way that offered the viewer a chance to think and rationalize for themselves about if his point of view made sense to them or not.

Serling never touted himself as any paragon of virtue... he editorialized, and in a free society, the ability to express one's opinion - even if it meets with the disdain or rejection by others, is what we always cite when speaking of our First Amendment rights.

The very ability to post your point of view on this forum is a pure example of this... and although I may disagree with your take on the show, I certainly respect your right and privilege to feel as you do. Equally, I admired Serling's ability to make people think about their actions and behavior, and what consequences might result from taking anything too far afield.

I found many of the episodes thought-provoking and even timely to this day... and perhaps you felt just the opposite... but neither of us should ever fall into the trap of invalidating the other's point of view.

Dissention in any productive form is a positive tool that [hopefully] leads to a better understanding of people, and perhaps even promotes reasonable compromise where neither party gives in, but both parties gain from their contrasting opinions...
TempoNick McGillahooala 2 months ago
Ditto. I don't watch your TV show to hear a sermon on some social subject. Just entertain me and shut up.
Coles justjeff 1 month ago
Very eloquently stated. I just hope the educationally stunted commenting here who responded to this article with ridiculousness about Russia, royalties, and just 'wanting to be entertained' are understanding what you were trying to say. 🙄 How horrifying to read comments like those. It's like we're living in a world of dummies who don't want to learn anything. They shouldn't be watching
Twilight Zone. They should be watching a show where you don't have to think. Like "Sesame Street".
justjeff Coles 1 month ago
Thank you, Coles... but I won't be *that* harsh on the writer. He probably just prefers light entertainment over deeply ironic and moralistic story lines. That would leave out Dragnet, The Rifleman, Perry Mason, Star Trek and dozens of other shows... but to each their own...

I just wanted to show him that these stories do not have to be a "soapbox" in order to open someone's mind to a perspective that teaches a moral or point *without* being preachy... but only the perspective of the writer/producer/director, etc.
BorisK 2 months ago
Rod hosted an L.A.-based cable show in the late 60s called 'The Liar's Club' -- the premise I remember was he'd have guests on who took an object each made-up a story of what the object did, was used for etc. It was a short-lived show but my brother and I had an old Philco TV in our bedroom, we were 8 and 10, and we'd watch it about 11:30 p.m. Serling was great.
cperrynaples BorisK 2 months ago
Actually, it was on a local broadcast station as cable wouldn't exist for another decade! It was a game show where contestants had to guess who told the truth! Later it was done in syndication with Allen Ludden as host and Larry Hovis [Hogan's Heroes] on the panel! A Serling episode is on YouTube!
He also attempted to redo TZ episodes as a radio series due to the popularity of Radio Mystery Theatre. They didn't translate well to radio and was very short lived.
No, the radio TZ was many years later with Stacy Keach as host! You can hear those on YouTube!
Coles cperrynaples 1 month ago
Yes! I believe it was on KTLA in Los Angeles.
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