Posts Tagged ‘Rod Serling’

A nice segue from my recent Rod Serling posts (and even my golf/movie related posts from a couple of weeks ago) is the following quote by Oscar-winner screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Serling was born in Syracuse, New York and Sorkin went to Syracuse University.

“I have a lot of experience with failure, and I hate it. It’s going to happen again, but it’s like electroshock therapy. So combined with the pressure that you put on yourself, that’s pretty much the jet fuel for writing. You know when you’re not [writing well], when you’re slogging through it and it’s all coming like molasses, you know something’s wrong. But when you’re writing well, there’s nothing like it. It’s like the golfer who hacks his way around a golf course all day long, but then for some reason, you don’t know why, just hits a beautiful shot. That’s the reason they keep coming back to the golf course.”
Aaron Sorkin (West Wing creator)
Emmys Roundtable—The Hollywood Reporter 

Bonus failure quote from the same article:

“When I’m being really honest with myself, the only thing I ever learn from is failure. Because Breaking Bad is the rare success I’ve had in my career.”
Vince Gilligan

Related posts:

J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure
Commitment in the Face of Failure
Spectacular Failures
Rod Serling on Rejection
Winning. Losing and Little Miss Sunshine “From my perspective, the difference between success and failure was razor-thin…”—Oscar-winning Screenwriter Michael Arndt
Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (Part 3) “Anybody who goes into film has to be a little crazy. And has to be ready for every kind of disappointment and defeat.”—Welles

Scott W. Smith

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You’ve heard the story about how basketball great Michael Jordan once got cut from his high school basketball team, right? This is kinda of like that—The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling recounting some early stuggles in his writing career.

The writer in any field, and particularly the television writer, runs into ‘dry periods’—weeks or months when it seems that everything he writes goes the rounds and ultimately gets nowhere. This is not only a bad moment but an endless one. I remember a five-month period late in 1952 when my diet consisted chiefly of black coffee and fingernails. I’d written six half-hour television plays and each one had been rejected at least five times. What this kind of thing does to a family budget is obvious; and what it does to the personality of the writer is even worse. The typewriter on my desk was no longer a helpmate; it took on the guise of an opponent. The keys seemed stiff and unyielding. The carriage seemed bulky and sluggish, and the wastepaper basket would get crammed by the hour with discarded pages—a testimonial to my unsureness as to what to write and how to write itToward the end of this, I got a letter from Mr. Worthington Miner. He was a major-league, top-drawer television producer. And to get a letter from him, particularly a letter asking to see scripts, was like a third string pony-league pitcher getting a telegram from John McGraw telling him to come up and pitch for the Giants. I flew into New York to see him, my briefcase bulging with manuscripts. Tony read them, and during our second meeting informed me that he’d like to buy at least six of them. He was putting together a new show to be sponsored by an auto company, and my work impressed him. The feeling I got in that given moment was something akin to what a person feels when he is notified that he’s just won the Irish sweepstakes. The knees begin to give out and there’s a roar that begins some place down deep in the gut and starts to travel toward the throat. Fifteen minutes later I was on the telephone calling my wife and guzzling a Scotch on the rocks I ordered from room service (tipping the bellboy a whole buck), and adding up in my mind know very well by now how prophetic were his words, how much are six times six or seven hundred dollars. One week later, back in Ohio, I got another letter from Tony Miner apologizing and explaining that the show he was putting together had been shunted off to another agency and he would not be producing it. The guy who had won the Irish sweepstakes couldn’t find his ticket stub. It was that kind of feeling. For some perverse reason I saved Tony’s second letter; my wife put it into a scrapbook. And sometimes I take a look at it as a piece of memorabilia to document a bad moment that on the scale of a career’s ups and downs represents the bottom of the barrel. A writer’s career is studded with the near sales, the close hits, the almost-but-never-wases. And afterward, when he becomes accustomed to eating a little higher off the hawg, the bad moments get remembered. And no matter what you eat, it tastes like pheasant under glass.”
Rod Serling
1957 Introduction to the Bantam Paperback Patterns

P.S. Patterns was broadcast live on January 12, 1955 and was so popular it was broadcast live again with the same cast less than a month later.


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“In 11-12 years of writing I can lay claim to this—I’ve never written beneath myself. I’ve never written anything I didn’t want my name attached to.”
Rod Serling in 1959

“No one could know Serling, or view or read his work, without recognizing his deep affection for humanity … and his determination to enlarge our horizons by giving us a better understanding of ourselves.”
Gene Roddenberry

If I could arrange for a dinner  with special guests in The Twilight Zone I love to sit at a table with Rod Serling, Francis Ford Coppola, Tennessee Williams, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody. (You can invite who you want to your Twilight Zone dinner, but these are who I invited.)

These all happen to be writers who have written and/or spoken quite well about success, struggles, and spirituality in the context of creativity and culture.

“What I tried to suggest dramatically [in The Velvet Alley] is when you get into the big money—particularly in the detonating, exciting, explosive overnight way that our industry permits—there are certain blandishments that a guy can succumb to and many do. A preoccupation with status, with the symbols of status, with the heated swimming pool that’s ten feet longer than the neighbors.With the big car. With concern about billing. All these things. In a sense really minute things really in context, but that become disproportionately large in a guy’s mind. ”
Rod Serling

When Mike Wallace asked Serling when those preoccupation with the symbolism of status becomes large what becomes small, here’s what Serling said in that 1959 interview:

“I think probably the really valuable things. And I know this sounds corny,  but  things like having a family, being concerned with raising children, being concerned with where they go to school, being concerned with a good martial relationship–all these things I think are the essence. Unfortunately, and what I tried to dramatize in The Velvet Alley was that the guy who makes the success is immediately assailed by everybody. And you suddenly find you have to compromise along the line giving so many hours to work and a disproportionately number fewer number of hours to family. And this is inherent in our business.”

Serling went on to say that he worked on The Twilight Zone 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week.

When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then
Cats in the Craddle lyrics written by Harry Chapin

Below is a opening from The Velvet Alley that first aired in 1959 on Playhouse 90 with a cast that included Art Carney, Leslie Nelson, Jack Klugman, Micky Dolenz, Dyan Cannon, and Burt Renyolds. And directed by Franklin J. Schaffner who won an Oscar for directing Patton. You can rent the whole program on Amazon. (I wonder if you go to clip six on the You Tube link you may wonder if Cameron Crowe saw this scene before he wrote Jerry Maguire.)


Related posts:

“The Catastrophe of Success” (Part 1)
“The Catastrophe of Success” (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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Leave It to Beaver is probably the most classic TV show ever. There’s just something so wholesome about it.”
Kurt Cobain interview with Kurt Saint Thomas

Who knows how long this will last
Now we’ve come so far, so fast
But, somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
The End of the Innocence 
Written by Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby

I always enjoy hearing from people who’ve been to the top of the mountain. Their experiences and stories help give one perspective on life.  Just a few months before Rod Serling died he was asked, “If you could live in another time, another era, what period would that be?”

“That’s a good one. Well, if I had the means, I think I would like to be in Victorian times. Small town. Bandstands. Summer. That kind of thing. Without disease.  I think that’s what I would crave, a simpler form of existence. When you walked to a store and sat on the front porch.”
Rod Serling
Rod Serling’s Final Interview

Related posts:

Rod Serling’s Binghamton Roots
Movies from Main Street

Scott W. Smith

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“Well somewhere along the line your drinks caught up with you and you got lost…”
The Twilight Zone episode Stopover in a Quiet Town

On this repost Saturday, I’m tapping into a post I originally wrote in 2009. Of course, Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone are ageless:

All filmmaking is embracing limitations because you always have to draw the line somewhere on running time and expenses.

The Twilight Zone was no exception. Now considered one of the best programs ever produced for television it had trouble finding an audience in the early sixties an actually only ran for a few years. Rod Serling wrote 49 original programs in three years which is an amazing output. According to The Twilight Zone producer Buck Houghton, Serling came up with a pattern that became the standard for all programs.

According to Houghton in his book What a Producer Does here are a few of the patterns they used.

Find an interesting character, or a group, at a moment of crisis in life, and get there quickly; then lay on some magic.

The character(s) must be ordinary and average and modern, and the problem facing him (her, them) must be commonplace. (The Twilight Zone always stuck people as identifiable as to whom it was about, and the story hangups as resonant of their own fears, dreams, wishes.)

The story must be impossible in the real world. A request at some point to suspend disbelief is a trademark of the series.

Embrace your limitations.

Scott W. Smith

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Writing Quote #47 (Rod Serling)

“I don’t have any system. I dictate a lot, through a machine, and I also have a secretary. But I used to type just like everybody else. I find dictating in the mass media particularly good because you’re writing for voice anyway; you’re writing for people to say a line and, consequently, saying a line through a machine is quite a valid test for the validity of what you’re saying. If it sounds good as you say it, likely as not it’ll sound good when an actor’s saying it. The tendency when you dictate is to overwrite, because you’re not counting pages, you don’t really know what the hell the page count is. But in terms of standing up when I write, what hour I write, that all relates very specifically to the individual. Writers vary tremendously. Was it Tom Wolfe who stood up or was it Hemingway who had to stand up? I don’t know.  And I think Wolfe wrote in longhand. You know, it depends on the animal, particularly who’s doing it. In my case, the only thing I would say was part of the discipline is that I have to start writing quite early. I write much better in the nonconfines of the early morning than I do the clutter of the day.”
Rod Serling
1975 interview with Linda Brevelle

Related post: The Breakfast Club for Writers (2.0)

Scott W. Smith


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“Somehow, some way, incredibly enough, good writing ultimately gets recognized. I don’t know how that happens but it does. If you’re really a good writer and deserve that honored position, then by God, you’ll write, and you’ll be read, and you’ll be produced somehow. It just works that way.”
Playwright/screenwriter Rod Serling (Requiem for a Heavyweight, Planet of the Apes)
1975 interview with Linda Brevelle

In the post Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany I wrote about the time when Serling was 27 or 28 years old and working as an advertising writer for a Cincinnati, Ohio  television station. If you met Serling at that point in his life—when he was “making up testimonial letters”—you might not think he was destined for greatness as the creator of The Twilight Zone. 

But if you happen to be writing screenplays in some unlikely place—in between “making up testimonial letter”—memorize Serling’s words, “Somehow, some way.” But that only happens when you’re cranking out scripts and sending them out—or making your own films.

That Ohio Epiphany  post was written four years ago and in the comments section there was a reply by “Loyd” which I said at the time officially put him in the “Screenwriting from Iowa” Comment Hall of Fame.  Loyd was Loyd Boldman and he died last month. I’d known him for probably 15 years and he was a true Renaissance man, and one of the most creative people I’d ever met.

He also happened to be from Cincinnati. I didn’t learn until Loyd’s memorial service that he inspired his younger brother Craig Boldman to became a cartoonist. Craig’s worked on the DC Comic’s Superman and Bazooka Joe.

Here’s Loyd’s comment written in 2010 after the Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany post:

“I remember Serling as a striking presence, a ghost that haunted each Twilight Zone episode. His wry sense of humor, rugged good looks and cool demeanor were an odd idea for the host of a fantasy/sci-fi series, but in a strange way, perfect.

When is the last time TV had a writer who could command such attention? Harlan Ellison has tried it and come close, but he lacks the temperament–you always feel his rage. Serling exuded a sense of control. Ellison is always one turn from flying off the rails.

Serling was a great moralistic writer, something he shared with Mark Twain, O. Henry and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Each Twilight Zone episode was a fable with a moral twist at the end. Serling also connected with so-called “common men” and understood their ambitions. He also had a hatred for the pettiness of small dictators clutching for power that always slips through their fingers.

The only name that even comes close to the output, consistency and supervisory skill that Serling demonstrated is Aaron Sorkin, who wrote The American President, A Few Good Men, The West Wing and Sports Night, and even the well-written but doomed Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sorkin lacks the range and imagination of Serling, however. In the arena that Serling created, he is still the champion.”


Related links:
Writers Breaking In
Writers Not Breaking In (Part 1)
Writers Not Breaking In (Part 2)
The Myth of “Breaking-In” (Tip #58)
There are no rules, but… (Tip #93+)
Keep Your Head Down

Scott W. Smith

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