Teaching a college class made Rod Serling up his game
Serling was never happy to rest on his laurels.
By its third season, The Twilight Zone and its writer/producer Rod Serling were incredibly popular. Though it wasn't yet quite the institution it is today, the show was both well-known among audiences and praised by critics. While creative legends like author Richard Matheson and composer Bernard Hermann elevated the anthological horror/sci-fi series with their contributions, The Twilight Zone's success really was attributable to Serling alone. As the host, it was his voice that set the tone for every episode during the opening narration. Serling wrote a total of 92 of the show's 156 episodes. He was the one who ushered viewers into another dimension — a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. Rod Serling is The Twilight Zone. But, he was never content to rest on his past accomplishments and constantly pushed forward.
So, in 1962, Serling returned to his alma mater, Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he was a guest instructor for six months. The subject matter, naturally, was writing. While Serling doubtlessly dropped valuable knowledge for the college crowd, perhaps more interesting — and more important to the history of TV — was what he learned from the students he taught.
In a 1963 interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Serling explained what he gained from the experience. "I learned," said Serling, "that the world doesn't stop at Wilshire Blvd." It seems that getting outside of his Hollywood bubble allowed Serling to reconnect with a wider audience. "Also, the college kids were something less than bowled over by my presence."
Apparently, it took more than a few awards to impress midwest college students in the early Sixties. "Half of them didn't know and couldn't care less what an Emmy is. Eighty-five percent of them don't even watch TV [...] Frankly, I'll admit, these kids had me on the defense — which was good for me — and their attitude whenever I made a statement was 'Alright, Jack, prove it!'"
The experience reaffirmed for Serling that times are always changing. Work he'd considered great was eviscerated as "extended, protracted cliche," and one of his plays was even lambasted as "junk." While there's no accounting for taste, the experience reaffirmed for Serling where his strong suit was.
"This was a graphic reinforcement of my own previous belief. I'm a big believer in style: The writer's truth is his style."