Writing advice from the Twilight Zone.

28 Apr

One of the most intelligent men to have ever written for the screen, Rod Serling has recently become something of a cult icon. It was Serling who penned the classic television show The Twilight Zone, a series regarded in its time as reasonably controversial.

It’s no secret that Serling was a controversial individual. An outspoken opponent of America’s wars and a passionate advocate for racial equality, many believed he had no place writing for television. Remember that this was a time when huge television studios paired with major corporate sponsors to produce shows with mass appeal. The sponsors, always large American companies, would never choose to align themselves with a hellion like Serling or his unconventional views.

Serling was growing tired of the constant compromise, tired of his scripts being butchered by the studios. He had a notorious temper, which he unleashed frequently on those who employed him.

And then at some point, he found his way around the issue entirely.

He pitched a pilot script called The Time Element to CBS executives. They lapped it up. It contained powerful anti-war sentiments, but framed as a piece of science fiction, those ideas were carefully embedded in the work. No sponsor could say the script was unpatriotic – it was too far-fetched to claim anything of the sort. Eventually this pilot would lead to the inception of The Twilight Zone, a project that gave Serling the creative freedom he had always sought.

In his lifetime, Serling would become one of the first television screenwriters to have a concept turned into a feature film. His career also spanned the introduction of the commercial break, upon which he famously remarked:

“How can you put out a meaningful drama when every fifteen minutes proceedings are interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits with toilet paper?”

Although he died in 1975, Serling was revived recently to appear in the television series Medium. By manipulating old archive footage, his reincarnation instructed the audience on how to use the special 3D glasses required to view one segment of the show.

He may now have a glamorous cult status to exploit, but his legacy is an important one. Every writer could benefit from this series of brief writing tutorials (you’ll find the rest in ‘related videos’). They’re primarily focused on writing for television, but the advice is invaluable whatever your medium.

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One Response to “Writing advice from the Twilight Zone.”

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  1. CFS Loves 59 - May 3, 2010

    […] Writing advice from the Twilight Zone. […]

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