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Beyond the 5th Dimension – Twilight Zone and Rod Serling, The Man in the Suit

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

Editor's note: This text was originally performed as a lecture by Tom Carruthers.

There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fear and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call... The Twilight Zone”

On October 2, 1959, Rod Serling spoke these timeless words and changed the television landscape forever. Known frequently by those in the industry and out of it as the “Angry Young Man” of Hollywood; playwright, screenwriter, author, narrator, actor and producer – Rod Serling may very well have been the greatest writer of his generation.

Serling’s greatest achievement of course was that of The Twilight Zone. The Twilight Zone never really lost its touch to powerfully deliver episodes filled with horror, science, always suspense, sometimes great fear and sometimes great humour. The show truly did stand aside from its contemporaries in regards to pure quality. The relatively simple half hour program (one hour in its fourth season) would take us into the world of The Twilight Zone, a place that inhabits the darkest stories known to man. Stories were written largely by three of the greatest writers of the time, in any medium; Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson and the creator and narrator himself, Rod Serling. These three would write 127 of the 156 episodes of the show’s five season run, with Serling penning 92, albeit sometimes adapting others short stories. The series was a true smash with critics, however never found its footing with general viewers in its time. By the end of its run, the show only had moderate ratings and was twice cancelled. In 1964, Serling decided he would not attempt to oppose the show’s third and ultimately final cancellation.

In their article What The Twilight Zone reveals about Today’s Prestige TV, Colin Marshall in 2022 described Serling as exactly what he was, an auteur. “The auteur of The Twilight Zone was Rod Serling, whose onscreen persona – dark suit, lowered cigarette, introductory words delivered from one side of his month – remains so oft-parodied as to be more recognizable than the content of the show itself”.

I would like, if I may to elaborate one key point that I think makes all this legacy that bit more important. One can’t really emphasise to what extent TV was quite the disposable medium at the time. Sure, some shows went into syndication, but those earliest episodes of Twilight Zone were being made with the full care, craft and brilliance that they were in the possible knowledge that they would have no second life at all. When I watch my limited edition Blu-rays in pristine high definition of the show it’s hard to recreate in my head the context of watching the show on a blurry, shoddy small TV knowing that I may never see these episodes ever again.

Rod Serling was born in Syracuse, New York to a Jewish family. Esther and Samuel Lawrence Serling. Samuel Serling built for his children a stage for their basement, where a young Rod Serling would often be found mounting his plays, sometimes with neighbourhood children, sometimes simply by himself. Even in his earliest years Serling was a wordsmith and performer. One particular two hour trip from Binghamton to Syracuse, his family remained wholly silent for the whole journey, why? As a test to see if Rod would ever notice. He passed their test and talked non-stop the whole journey.

Serling enlisted in the U.S army just after his High school graduation, along with his brother Robert. He knew that would be fighting against the Japanese, which disappointed him in a way as for him as a young Jewish man he had a hope to help in some way to fight Hitler. Serling was eventually transferred to the 511th’s demolition platoon, known as “The Dead Squad” for its intensely high casualty rate.

Two war episodes that stand out from Twilight Zone in particular for me are The Purple Testament (Episode 19 of the 1st season), and A Quality of Mercy (Episode 15 of the 3rd season). Not only do they both take their names from Shakespeare plays, but also they both do what the show did best, highlight the horrors and truths of a matter, through a twisted supernatural angle. Testament works on many levels; as a ghost story in war-time, as a profound comment on the fear of the death, but also as the closet thing we got to a written piece from Serling about his experience within the second world war, which no doubted affected him as profoundly as it affected every other service man. This episode directed by Richard L. Bare features William Reynolds as a U.S army lieutenant with the haunting ability to see a glowing white light upon the faces of the men in his platoon who will die next. Two words are spoken later in the episode; “War stinks”, which it of course does, but Serling offers a more haunting commentary throughout the episode, with the ability of Reynolds not just being that of a cheap supernatural gimmick, but the albatross of a man already close to breaking. From the opening and closing narration from Serling, these concepts are cemented for the audience. “These are the faces of the young men who fight, as if some omniscient painter had mixed a tube of oils that were at one time earth brown, dust gray, blood red, beard black, and fear—yellow white, and these men were the models. For this is the province of combat, and these are the faces of war.” Then from the closing, Serling reiterates. “From William Shakespeare, Richard the Third, a small excerpt. The line reads, 'He has come to open the purple testament of bleeding war.' And for Lieutenant William Fitzgerald, A Company, First Platoon, the testament is closed. Lieutenant Fitzgerald has found the Twilight Zone”. In actuality the quote is from Richard the 2nd, not third. Dean Stockwell, the star of A Quality of Mercy was actually set to star in The Purple Testament, linking the episodes once more.

A Quality of Mercy mirrors Serling’s war experience further, setting itself in the Philippine islands where Serling spent his time as a paratrooper. The episode concerns an American soldier dropping his binoculars, only to pick them back up to find he is now a Japanese man on the other side of the fight. Like many of the later episodes of the show, the metaphor isn’t exactly subtle, but the performances and writing do make the conceit grounded for its running time, despite its undoubtedly problematic nature with its use of yellow-face. The episode concludes with Serling quoting Shakespeare once more. 'The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.' Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, but applicable to any moment in time, to any group of soldiery, to any nation on the face of the Earth—or, as in this case, to the Twilight Zone”. Another not so subtle Serling penned episode was that of The Shelter (Episode 3 from Season 3), a show rushed into production during the Berlin crisis of 1961 – an episode in which a group of amicable friends grow savage as they attempt to make their way into the nuclear shelter of a doctor friend of theirs. Serling ends the episode in a terribly dry manner by stating first in an unintentional rhyme “no moral, no message, no prophetic tract, just a simple statement of fact”, before then immediately stating a moral and message, “for civilisation to survive, the human race has to remain civilised”. On the nose, but certainly to the point.

A memory that stuck with Serling all his life was that of the freak death of another Jewish Private during his military service, Martin Levy. Levy was delivering a comedic monologue for his fellow troops, when a food crate was dropped from an above plane, decapitating him instantly. Serling led the funeral himself and placed a Star of David upon his grave. This constant haunting from his war years perhaps undoubtedly effected most everything he wrote, even in the most seemingly light-hearted of episodes, glimpses of death and the afterlife frequently creep in.

Private Rod Serling during his service was awarded the purple heart, the bronze star and the Philippine Liberation medal. These awards were no consolation for the nightmares and PTSD flashbacks that plagued me, like so many men, for the rest of his life. Serling commented once that he “was bitter about everything at a loose ends when I got out of the service, I think I turned to writing to get it off my chest”.

With the money from his disability payments and GI bill’s educational benefits, Serling enrolled in the P.E program at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, before eventually changing his major in to literature, earning him in the end a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1950. His writing continued, as well as directing and acting, mainly in radio programs. It was here in college that he would meet Carol Kramer, a fellow student who would become his wife, after her initial resistance to date him changed. This resistance was due his reputation on campus as being quite the Ladies man. They married in 1948 and went on to have two daughters, Jodi and Anne.

In his earliest years as a writer Serling was rejected for a litany of reasons as broad as “heavy competition”, “not what our audience prefers to listen to” and “this script lacks professional quality”. Carol Serling in a Los Angeles times interview from 1990 commented on her husband’s timing when getting into the world of writing; “I think Rod would have been one of the first to say he hit the new industry, television, at exactly the right time… It was a very propitious time to be graduating from school and getting ready to find a profession”. Serling commented once in his full-time free lance days that “writing is a demanding profession and a selfish one. And because it is selfish and demanding, because it is compulsive and exacting, I didn’t embrace it, I succumbed to it”.

Serling’s first major successes as a writer were with two feature length play’s for television. Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight, both earning rave reviews from critics and major popularity with audiences. Jack Gould of The New York Times as a matter of fact called Patterns, the story of a hierarchical change in a corporate business between a veteran and a young up-start, “one of the high-points in the TV medium’s evolution”.

The world of television that Serling made his name in was one, not unlike today, where advertisers and sponsors ran the whole thing more or less. The biggest difference between then and today was the level of influence that these integral sponsors could have on the writing and actual production of the scripts. These ranged from the most small and seemingly inane changes such as in Heavyweight where the line “Gotta match?” was removed due a sponsor being that of Ronson Lighters, to larger and more societally focussed changes. In 1956 the initial storyline of Serling’s teleplay Noon on Doomsday concerned the lynching of a Jewish stockbroker, influenced greatly by the real events and violent racism that led to the lynching murder of Emmett Till. Following a radio interview where Serling cited these Till based influences changes were requested and made. By the time the studio were threw noting the piece it had become the tale of the murder of a completely unknown foreigner, with no religion or race attributed and much of the grit of the text removed too.

Talking to Mike Wallace Serling said “I don’t want to fight anymore. I don’t want to have to battle sponsors and agencies. I don’t want to push for something that I want and have to settle for second best. I don’t want to compromise all the time, which in essence is what a television writer does if he wants to put on controversial themes”. Even in his final interview Serling was commenting on censorship, in particular with words such as ‘hell’ and ‘damn’. Serling stated in 1975 that “it’s going to reach a point where you’re going to do a travelogue on Holland and you’ll say ‘well, here we have Rottergosh and Amsterdarn!’”Colin Marshall wrote of another Serling censorship tale regarding a senate floor drama in which all references to actual political parties and issues were requested to be removed. Marshall quotes Serling commenting “In retrospect, I probably would have had a much more adult play had I made it science fiction, put it in the year 2057, and people the Senate with robots. This would probably have been more reasonable and no less dramatically incisive”. In so many words Serling was in effect pitching Twilight Zone. Serling submitted The Time Element to CBS, intending it to be a pilot for his new weekly show, The Twilight Zone. Element was an hour long sci-fi time travel piece focussed around Pearl Harbour. The show was such an immense success as a production on the Desilu Playhouse that CBS commissioned Twilight Zone and on October 2, 1959 the first episode, Where is Everybody premiered to immediate rave critical reviews.

Despite its immense acclaim and legacy status in the world of television, when The Twilight Zone was in its initial run, it’s quite fair to say that the audiences just weren’t there. Nowadays we can list the achievements; with episodes like To Serve Man (Episode 24 of Season3) and It’s a Good Life (Episode 8 of Season 3) being ranked at 11 and 31 in TV Guide’s 100 greatest episodes of all time, amongst so many others awards of note. The acclaims and endless awards and recognitions are indeed just that, endless, but back then, many saw it as simply another anthology show churning out a new tale a week, almost blissfully ignoring the craft and talent setting it distinctly aside from the other shows of the time.

There was critical acclaim at the time, however just not the audiences. For instance Terry Turner for the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote at the time “Twilight Zone is about the only show on the air that I actually look forward to seeing”. With Daily Variety cutting more to the chase stating it is “the best that has ever been accomplished in half hour filmed television”. Even from the first series Serling was creating indelible and timeless classic episodes of his show, whether it be with The After Hours (Episode 34 of Season 1), with a woman finding herself in an abandoned non-existent top floor of a department store, only to find the horrid truth has something to do with the mannequins. Or with The Monsters are Due on Maple Street (Episode 22 of Season 1), with a suburban street falling into chaos following the possibility of alien life corrupting the town, of course they find the truth to be that man is the greatest enemy of all. Or of course with Burgess Meredith in his first of four appearances in Time Enough At Last, (Episode 8 of Season 1), the story of a sight-troubled veracious reader who finds himself in the aftermath of nuclear disaster as the only person in the world, on the brink of suicide when he finds a library, finally giving him all the time in the world to read all he’d ever want. Only for his glasses to break.

Even in its first season Serling won a then unprecedented fourth Emmy award for dramatic writing, a producers guild award for Serling’s creative partner Buck Houghton and a Director’s Guild of America Award for John Brahm. Over its run the list of guest stars is in many ways wholly incomparable. Charles Bronson, Carol Burnett, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Martin Landau, Dennis Hopper, Ron Howard, Jack Klugman, Cloris Leachman, Julie Newmar, Art Carney, Elizabeth Montgomery, William Shatner, Jack Warden, Dean Stockwell, George Takei, Burt Reynolds and Robert Redford. To quite literally only name a few.

Mathew Weiner, creator and head-writer on Mad Men, described Twilight Zone as “the most cutting edge, socially relevant, subversive show ever”. When presenting two of his favourite episodes of all time for the Austin Film Festival, It’s a Good Life (Epsiode 8 of Season 3) and A Stop At Willoughby (Episode 30 of Season 1), Weiner commented on the differences between a fantastical show like Serling’s and the other more quote-un-quote realistic TV fare of the time, “No one thought Leave it to beaver was a real family, people thought it was hilarious”. Whereas the realism instated into the science fiction and fantasy of Serling’s show ended up creating more truth than the most ‘realistic’ fare of the time ever did.

For every Twilight Zone fan there is their favourite episode, I am in the very fortuitous and common position of sharing my favourite episode of all time with none other than Serling himself. Walking Distance (Episode 5 of Season 1) follows Martin Sloan. Martin finds himself around 20 years in the past, walking into his hometown as if nothing has ever changed. Nobody recognises him naturally and as Sloan grows to realise the truth of his current situation he becomes obsessed with taking advantage of it and relaying to his younger self all that he has always wished he could have the chance to say. Gig Young as Martin Sloan is playing 36 here, but was actually 46 in real life. I have always wondered why Serling didn’t simply change the number, for I’ve always thought that having Sloan be older would enrich the pathos of the piece further. However I think that Serling was more clearly using Young and Sloan as a conduit for himself, who would have been 35 at the time of airing, a few months off his own 36th birthday on Christmas day of 1959.

Whereas it is with most episodes of the show that the twist is the final chord, I find that in some of the best episodes the twist comes around five minutes before the end and we do spend some time after, remaining in it, instead of cutting straight to Serling’s final narration. Eye of the Beholder (Episode 6 of Season 2) remains after the bandages are revealed for instance. Walking Distance is another prime example, allowing us to then move into a scene between Martin and his father and a return to the present. Serling’s inspiration for the episode was his own home town of Binghamton, New York. The episode was written during a stretch of his life where his workloads were extensive and he was knocking out scripts for the show, along with other television scripts, aswell as writing for novels, and so for one to correlate Martin Sloan’s weariness to Serling would not be too inappropriate.

It was around this time in his script process that Serling would dictate the scripts into a tape recorder by his pool, before a secretary would transcribe them and he would then make notes and additions based on those pages. And although the town of Homewood where the film is set is wholly fictitious, all of the other locations that are referred to are real places from Serling’s home state of New York. The park from the episode is in fact directly inspired by Recreation Park in Binghamton, which has a similar Carousel and bandstand.

Censorship of ideas was something that plagued Serling an immense amount prior to Twilight Zone and you can see in many cases his earliest rejected ideas influencing his work when he had more creative freedom. An idea submitted by Serling for a weekly radio show with a plot regarding the ghosts of a young boy and young girl killed in the second World War, looking through train windows and commenting on everyday human life as they moved country to country. In perhaps the earliest example of major censorship in Serling’s career, the story was adapted almost entirely into the child-friendly drama that was produced from 1950-1951 for Adventure Express, as instead now the story of a girl and boy who travel by train with their uncle, each week with a new town as the focus. Long gone were the elements of ghoulish deceased child war victims.

The ghosts of war were ever-present in Twilight Zone. In the episode The Passerby (Episode 4 of Season 3) Serling locates us in the ruins of a plantation as a sergeant and a southern belle watch as ghostly figures from the Civil War pass by her ruined house. In his opening narration Serling describes “This road is the afterwards of the Civil War. It began at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and ended at a place called Appomattox. It's littered with the residue of broken battles and shattered dreams”. One of the more haunting and horror based episodes that Serling ever wrote, whilst being simultaneously imbued with the spirit of a nation in-between wars lamenting and contemplating the wars that they have ventured before and will venture soon after. The episode was in actuality first aired one hundred years after the beginning of the American Civil war that offers it’s bleak and horrific landscape as it’s setting for this tale of the afterlife and ghosts walking the plain. Serling’s final reveal of the final passerby, that of the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, could be met with laughter or comments of absurdity, however the power of Serling’s writing is that such a moment which could be perceived as ridiculous is filled with as much pathos and sadness as any of the other moments in this beautifully elegiac episode. One needn’t state the obvious that the concept of war dead is timeless, but the episode was adapted and remade for the 2002 revival of the show, now named Homecoming and focussing on the Iraq war.

However the ghosts of war are never more present on the show than in arguably one of the show’s most poignant episodes Deathshead Revisited (Episode 9 of Season 3). Deaths-head Revisited is a powerful piece on the holocaust from a Jewish writer, Serling, exploring the plague of intolerance and murder that will haunt us a species until the end of the time. On its base level this is an exceptional two hander episode between the ghost of an executed Jew, played extraordinarily well by Joseph Schildkraut, and Oscar Beregi Jr, who is frighteningly gleeful in the beginning of the story and torn apart excruciatingly by the pains of an entire nation by the end, as a Nazi who returns to Dachau to reminisce only to be haunted. Serling here is demonstrating an ungodly talent and aptitude for exploring the darkest of themes with the most precise and thoughtful of touches. The episode ends with a doctor character commenting on the ruins of Dachau, “Why does it still stand? Why do we keep it standing?” Answering his own question and concluding his work, Serling answers the doctor. “There is an answer to the doctor's question. All the Dachau’s must remain standing. The Dachau’s, the ‘s, the ‘s, the Auschwitz’s – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shovelled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth.”

When Anne Serling, Serling’s daughter, talked of her father’s writing, she spoke of human issues above all else. “There was a lot of pain in a lot of his stories, a lot about loneliness and loss. He evoked themes of prejudice and love and war – the issues that are in our society. So he encompassed a lot of subjects that were all part of what he had dealt with for most of his life”.

Serling’s focus on race in his work punctuated many of the most effecting and timeless pieces Serling ever wrote. Serling’s eloquence in his writing was best used in his open letter following the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. “Sir. There is a bitter sadness and special irony that attends the passing of Martin Luther King. Quickly and with ease, we offer up a chorus of posthumous praise – the ritual dirge so time honoured and comfortable and undemanding of anything but rhetoric. In death, we offer the acknowledgement of the man and his dream that we denied him in life. In his grave, we praise him for his decency – but when he walked amongst us, we responded with no decency of our own… he asked only for equality and it is that which we denied him”. Violent racism became the central focus of the fourth episode of Season Four He’s Alive! This very heavy-handed but ultimately wholly effective episode was considered by Serling, who wrote it, to be the most important episode of this series. The episode followed a 1960’s Nazi being spurned on by the ghost of Hitler. With its themes of contemporary Nazism rearing its ugly head again after the war, it certainly is important and will never not be important. Serling’s closing narration will forever not be unfortunately timeless.

Where will he go next? This phantom from another time, this resurrected ghost of a previous nightmare... Anyplace, everyplace where there’s hate, where there’s prejudice, where there’s bigotry. He’s alive. He’s alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when comes to your town. Remember when it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind unreasoning assault on a people or a human being. He’s alive because, through these things, we keep him alive.

The episode reportedly received four thousand pieces of hate mail directed to Serling and his staff.

Even from the first episode of Season 2, King Nine Will Not Return, Serling was adapting previous ideas, with the opening of Season 2 from 1960 effectively being a remake in conceit and formula of the original pilot episode Where is Everybody? A more bombastic and less subtle take. Much the same can be said for the change in theme tune with the introduction of the almost instantly iconic title theme by Marius Constant, the classic doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo guitar and bongo theme, as opposed to the more languid Bernard Hermann first season theme, which in many ways I ultimately prefer.

Other changes season to season included that due to the show’s inflating budget and general expenditure outweighing its viewership, six of the episodes were filmed on videotape, as opposed to the beautiful film recordings of the other episodes. Although three of these episodes don’t suffer too much in quality, it still really highlights the power of George C. Clements’s photography of the other episodes. The show went on to create more classic episodes, including Eye of the Beholder (Episode 6 of the 2nd Season), Nick of Time (Episode 7 of Season 2), The Invaders (Episode 15 of Season 2), as well as the show earning the Unity Award for “Outstanding Contributions to Better Race Relations”.

The show was even mentioned as an exception in Newton Minow’s iconic 1961 speech “Television and the public Interest”, the speech in which he referred to the current world of TV as a “vast wasteland”. However from the point of Season 2 onwards, the immense strain of the work already began to take hold on Serling, he commented on his exhaustion “I’ve never felt so drained of ideas as I do at this moment”, the man was 37 and he couldn’t have felt more creatively sapped. Serling would comment later around the fifth season of the show that he “was writing so much, I felt I had begun to lose perspective on what was good and what was bad”.

Despite continuingly facing adversity delivering Serling continued to deliver exceptional and timeless episodes, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, Living Doll, On Thursday We Leave For Home, To Serve Man, It’s a Good Life and The Silence but to name a few – the show kept facing immense internal and external issues. The main of these came with the 1963 fourth season of the show which featured a truly calamitous decision on the end of CBS. When one talks about what makes the show the high quality product it is, one may comment upon the snappy endings, the exceptionally taut and well crafted writing, the grand performances. All of these elements do remain in the fourth season, effected profoundly by one key difference. Forced by a studio still longing to cancel his show, Serling had to expand his episodes to an hour in length. Serling’s simple response was that the show “is the perfect half hour show... if we went to an hour, we’d have to fleshen the stories our stories, soap-opera style. Viewers could watch fifteen minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse”. The frank truth is of course that some half-hour episode struggle to fulfil their running time, this then was of course the minority amongst lesser episodes, but in the fourth season almost every episode was plagued by padding and scripts that just can’t justify their length. The minority became the majority and the exception became the rule.

When it came to the fifth season further issues ensued. Charles Beaumont was succumbing to a crippling brain disease that would later take his life, at this time he was still delivering episodes for the show, however largely ghost written by Jerry Sohl and John Tomerlin. Perhaps the biggest issue regarded the change in producer from Bert Granet (who’d replaced Buck Houghton) to William Froug. Froug’s decision making was largely unpopular, frequently in the realm of alienating the writers who had built up the steady body of work beyond Serling’s contributions. In particular shelving a Richard Matheson script, which Granet had purchased under his term, only for the script to later in 1986 be produced as an Amazing Stories, going on to be nominated for a Writer’s Guild of America award. The fifth series overall had many oddities, perhaps the strangest was the purchasing of the French short film An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, which was modified for broadcast with a Serling intro and outro recorded. The episode would also later that year win the Academy Award for Best Short Film.

These decisions and Serling’s overall weariness led in the end to the show’s final cancellation. Froug would say “for one reason or other, Jim Aubrey decided he was sick of the show… he claimed that it was too far over budget and that the ratings weren’t good enough”. Serling however stated instead that he had “decided to cancel the network”. The pains and struggles of Serling dealing with other creative’s can be seen in the Season 3 episode It’s a Good Life, according to Mathew Weiner. This ingenious adaptation by Serling of Jerome Bixby’s short story, directed by James Sheldon, tells the story of Anthony Freemont, a little boy played by Bill Mumy. Little Anthony is one of the most horrifying creations ever put to a screen and this episode milks every brutal ounce of horror that can be milked from the concept. The story of a little boy whose powers of the mind render him a complete monster placing everybody in the town, including even his mother and father into intense fear for the entirety of their lives. Weiner believes (as paraphrased by Michael Agresta in 2014) that “the allegory should be immediately comprehensible to any writer of television. The infantile needs of the audience must always be served. Not least among these is the need to be told that life is good, happy and pleasant. This is the “tyranny of the audience”.

In his final interview, with Linda Breville, held in march 4, 1974, speaking without the knowledge that he had less than four months to live, Serling spoke much of death in a very eerie fashion. “I’ve never planned ahead. I just sort of go through life checking the menu of three meals that day. I never worry about tomorrow. It’s only since I’ve gotten older than I’ve begun to wonder about time running out… Maybe next Thursday won’t come one day… But that’s not uniquely the writer’s concern, that’s the concern of every middle-aged man who looks in the mirror”. The links between these comments and Walking Distance are what make every frame of that episode to me all the more powerful with every watch. In this final interview Serling spoke even more directly about death. “Death is with us in such abundance and hovers over us in so massive a form that we don’t have time to invent a mythology… Whether it’s an old man with a scythe or a pale rider on a horse or what it is. Now it’s become so omniscient and so constant that our major battle is warding it off”. Within four months Serling’s warding would be to no avail. He would die in 1975 after having a heart attack and open-heart surgery. Mike Doll for Serling’s Binghamton, New York obituary put into writing the fantastical thought that many fans hold dear. “Perhaps his death, as the stories he wrote and the audiences he enthralled, took him into that mysterious place that he called during his life The Twilight Zone”.

When Carol Serling, Rod’s long-time wife and partner passed in 2020 her New York Times obituary called her “the tender of The Twilight Zone flame”. As she said so often herself she has “made a business out of his legacy”. She told Cemetary Dance that Serling’s work gave her “an entry into the world that [she] wouldn’t have had otherwise”. Carol was the associate producer and consulting editor of Twilight Zone magazine, was a consultant on the 1980 Twilight Zone: The Movie, was an executive producer on the most recent reboot of the show, in 2009 and 2010 edited anthologies of stories inspired by the show and in 1994 found two unproduced Serling Twilight Zone scripts and sold them to CBS, they would later be televised as “Rod Serling’s Lost Classics”. Carol’s tender of the immense flame of the Twilight Zone is undoubtedly a chief aspect of why we’re still talking about the show and him today.

The first "Twilight Zone" series aired on CBS for five seasons, from 1959 to 1964. CBS later revived the show in 1985 for two seasons, starring Charles Aidman as host. "Twilight Zone" was revived for a third time in 2002, with host Forrest Whitaker. The third revival lasted only one season. With yet another revival in these past five years led by Academy Award winner Jordan Peele. The legacy of the show can be seen everywhere. Mathew Weiner described the legacy of the show in this way, “if there is a message from The Twilight Zone its aim high. They don’t all work, but they all aim high. They don’t think the audience is stupid”, this ethos profoundly effected Weiner and so many other TV and film creative’s of the many years after.

In his final interview Linda Breville asked Serling squarely about legacy…

BREVILLE: And what do you want them to say about the writer Rod Serling a hundred years from now?

SERLING: I don’t care. I just want them to remember me a hundred years from now. I don’t care that they’re not able to quote any single line that I’ve written. But just that they can say ‘oh, he was a writer. That’s sufficiently an honoured position for me.

BREVILLE: Then that’s all it boils down to really?

SERLING: I guess we all have a little vaunting itch for immortality, I guess that must be it.

To say Serling is immortal is an under-statement of blinding size. Without Rod Serling’s pen and vision then the world of TV would be an entirely different landscape and perhaps would be a place where stories were still surface level and characters had no depth. Serling breathed life into a medium and began the first step toward the prestige world of TV that we are in today. True, one might say we are in the golden age of television now, but there is a small part of me that wishes I was in 1960 and I was sitting down in front of a very small TV, viewing a Twilight Zone episode for the first time and no knowing a damn thing about what I was going to see. For no matter whether the bandages are coming off, or we are strolling through a library, or even strolling through our old hometown... we are in The Twilight Zone, and what a perfect place that is to be in. And what a tour-guide we had in Mr Rod Serling, the man in the suit, somewhere beyond the 5th dimension, in a place that felt more familiar than we could have ever imagined. For… There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fear and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call... The Twilight Zone.

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