Twilight Zone Day: The Strange World of Rod Serling

In honor of Twilight Zone Day today, we look at some interesting facts on the creator of the famous sci-fi supernatural television series, Rod Serling.
Rod Serling Photo

Rod Serling, 1959 publicity photo for 'The Twilight Zone,' [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Rod Serling was a screenwriter, TV producer and narrator most famous for his sci-fi anthology series The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). Having conducted dangerous Air Force experiments and serving valiantly in the U.S. Army during World War II, many of the show's episodes dealt with issues around airplanes, war, life in the military and even boxing, of which he competed as a flyweight while training in the Army.

When he transitioned into Hollywood as a screenwriter, Serling was labeled the "angry young man" of Tinseltown, fighting against censorship and pushing to discuss more taboo issues like racism and war, which made TV executives skittish.

Here are some interesting facts about Serling and his big influence on the small screen.

Serling got his big break with a TV program called 'Patterns.'

In 1955 Serling was a freelance writer who wrote a script called Patterns, a story about a corporate boss' power struggle with a young executive. It was his 72nd script, and he really didn't think much of it, yet Kraft Television Theatre chose it for a live broadcast and it changed his television writing career forever.

Serling's favorite 'Twilight Zone' episode was 'Time Enough at Last.'

Of the 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone, Serling wrote 92 of them. One of his most favorite that he penned himself was "Time Enough at Last," a story about a small-minded bank teller who loved books but lived in a world where he was prevented from reading them. The episode touched on themes of anti-intellectualism and aloneness vs loneliness.

Author Ray Bradbury felt slighted by Serling.

Unable to pen all of the scripts on his show, Serling sought the help of sci-fi authors like Ray Bradbury. The Fahrenheit 451 author wrote several scripts for Serling, but only one made it to air — "I Sing the Body Electric" — an adaptation of his short story. Commenting on how he felt about Bradbury's work, Serling would admit that it “seems to lend itself to the printed page, rather than spoken language.” Perhaps hurt by his comments, Bradbury went on to accuse Serling of plagiarizing. Serling would later tell the press he only had respect for Bradbury, but it's unknown whether the two ever reconciled.

Serling and his mistake of the "sixth dimension."

For the opening narration of the show's pilot, Serling recorded himself discussing the exploration of "a sixth dimension." Thankfully, a CBS executive interrupted him and asked why he skipped the fifth dimension (since, according to physicists, there are only four dimensions of the universe). Serling realized he made a mistake and quickly re-recorded to avoid embarrassment.

'The Twilight Zone' was canceled twice.

While The Twilight Zone accrued critical acclaim, racked up many awards and had a cult following, the show's ratings were modest. As a result it was canceled and revived two times during its five-year run. When it got the pink slip for the third time in 1964, Serling did not fight to keep it alive.

Serling was the only writer who could use the word 'God' in his scripts.

Although he and Serling worked well together, fellow sci-fi screenwriter Richard Matheson never quite understood why Serling held the rule that among the writing team, he was the only one who could use the word "God" in his scripts. “I used to get ticked off at Rod because he could put ‘God’ in all his scripts,” Matheson said. “If I did it, they’d cross it out.” Matheson never explored this puzzling mandate and was never given an explanation, either.