Rod Serling was tired of fighting for his success as a writer

Serling was tired of fighting for his right to write.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Years before The Twilight Zone premiered in 1959, writer Rod Serling was engaged in a running battle with agencies and sponsors over his right to say what he wanted when he wanted. For years, this kept Serling fighting for his right to write.

"I'm no longer an angry young man," Serling said in a 1959 interview with The Record. "Now I'm merely a petulant, aging man. I'm not exactly a meek conformist. I'm just a tired nonconformist."

Many consider The Twilight Zone to be a masterpiece, even inspiring the 2019 remake developed by Jordan Peele under the same name. The original series, which ran from 1959 to 1964, offered viewers a chance to escape reality and enter a new dimension. 

The show was a weekly series of odd, spooky, and sometimes eerie tales of adventure in the realm of imagination. 

Serling achieved numerous television writing milestones and set records for many "firsts" within the entertainment industry. The Twilight Zone gave Serling the success he had been chasing without losing his freedom. 

"My philosophy is to please as many people as I can without selling out to them," Serling said. 

Serling wrote 21 of the first 26 episodes of The Twilight Zone himself and also acted as a narrator and host for the series. He even became an executive producer of the series in order to defend himself even further if anyone ever tried to take his creative freedom.

"Writers are going into the production end in order to retain a share of the prerogative over what's done with their work," Serling said. "Television is a collaborative business. A lot of people stick their hands in the soup. When a writer takes over the reins of production, he eliminates a couple chefs. This may not simplify the menu, but it sure improves it."

Serling had been a writer for a long time. According to the article, he won a $500 prize for a radio script while still a student at Antioch College in Ohio (1948). He followed it up by writing 40 scripts that didn't sell. He said he only received $100 for his first half-hour TV script. 

In the later seasons of The Twilight Zone, Serling made about $4,000 to $6,000 per script for comparison.

For Serling, contentment was life's greatest goal. At the end of the day, Serling just wanted to stop fighting for his life and start living it. It's safe to say The Twilight Zone helped make that happen.

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9 Comments

JHP 3 months ago
Too brilliant for the time

WAAAAY too brilliant for the present time
ww245 3 months ago
Rod was like my hero and was and still is my inspiration in writing. I'm not published or anything, but I sure wrote lots of good stories for around the camp fire. Kept everyone's attention - I accredit that to being a fan of Mr. Serling. RIP sir......
JHP ww245 3 months ago
me too - another show I truly enjoy and love
Avie 3 months ago
"[Serling] even became an executive producer of the series in order to defend himself even further if anyone ever tried to take his creative freedom."

Serling had, in fact, and almost unprecedentedly generous and ironclad contract with CBS that prevented the network from interfering with scripts or final edited content of "Twilight Zone" episodes. The ONLY option the network retained was that they could refuse to air what he sent them, though it was never exercised beyond never rerunning the 1964 episode "The Encounter," with George Takei and Neville Brand. It's also the only episode that CBS never put into syndication, though it is in the DVD and Blu-ray sets.
LalaLucy 3 months ago
This is why I have long loved and related to his work. One of the best and most creative writers ever. His keen powers of observation have rarely been matched.
JamesB 3 months ago
Rod Serling was quite clear in his views in this 1972 appearance on Dick Cavett's talk show: https://youtu.be/CTHETbgixzs?si=uXQjjH2TGQsxc0Zr. Too many people in Hollywood interpret creative differences in simplistic ways, such as called Serling "depressed", which he addressed in the interview. His more casual remarks are more telling of his dissatisfaction with Hollywood more than his own well being. Cavett kept baiting topics to create a controversial conversation, but Serling would offer gems such as this description of "The Night Gallery" this way: "It doesn't remotely belong to me, I have no proprietary interest in that at all. Some of the shows are quite good, quite interesting, but it's not science fiction, ceases to be fantasy; it's sort of a quick run through a cemetery..." A brilliant man and talented writer, who would have had much more creative freedom today than in the network sponsor dominated TV world of 1959.
Pacificsun JamesB 3 months ago
Count me in the minority, or just dumb, because I didn't think any of that (commentary) was crystal clear. Serling was a genius in what he envisioned and depicted. But he was a Playwright, an Author, a Visionary, and a (philosophical) Poet to some degree. That collection of talent (individual) has always fancied themselves above the mainstream. And there's nothing wrong with that; being that their expression and presentation elevates our thinking, and if we're lucky, our inspiration. Their task, their job, is to find a way for the ordinary man to become aware of what's beyond the mundane. And when they achieve that, probably through the most memorable of the episodes we've memorized, then they're successful and appreciated. But, they do have trouble dealing with the reality of Television as an Industry. It is not the Theater. Television isn't written "for" the viewer; it is offered to attract curiosity so that the advertising is memorable (instead). Crass, but true.
Pacificsun 3 months ago
I believe (but somebody can check me on this) Rod Serling was a frustrated Playwright. Not that he wasn't more than talented for a monumental challenge. But that he had so much to say, and television was a more fluid medium. Unfortunately he died prematurely comparative to his age, and because of chain smoking, due to a heart attack. I remember newspaper readers were shocked and heartbroken.
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