Serling, Lear & Goldman

 

No, this is not a law firm.  As far as I know.

These are the names of three show business icons better known as Rod Serling, Norman Lear and William Goldman.

It’s not a good idea to trot out words like icon or legend too often.   You sound like a syndicated talk show host whose sole purpose in life is to overpraise someone more famous in the hopes that it’ll do you some good.

Think Mike Pence whenever he’s in the presence of the Electoral College POTUS.  (Note: And how could you not?)

Let’s hope that’s all he is #Mueller?

Still, there are some cases where the word icon feels exactly right, especially if we are to believe the dictionary definition:

Icon: A representative symbol of something.  Synonym,  idol, paragon, hero. 

Certainly Mr. Serling, Mr. Lear and Mr. Goldman are all of the above and more to most everyone in the writing trade, the entertainment industry and by extension, through the reach of their life’s work, the world.

Hyperbole?  I think not.

Thank you Stefon

In the last several days I was reminded of the gargantuan achievements of these three writers, all born within 10 years of each other, for completely different reasons.

William Goldman, who died this week at the age of 87, was for years the most respected and highest paid screenwriter in the business.  Consider the movies from over 40 years, beginning with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then on to All The President’s Men, Marathon Man and The Stepford Wives and then back around to The Princess Bride, Chaplin and Misery and you might begin to get some idea.  If not, you can throw in tons of uncredited rewrites on things like A Few Good Men and Good Will Hunting and perhaps it will get clearer.

The Real Deal

It was William Goldman who introduced the infamous phrase follow the money into the lexicon of political writing via his Oscar-winning screenplay for All the President’s Men.  Peruse his other scripts and you will no doubt find many others.

Just ask Wallace Shawn  #asyouwish

Though none of them will even come close to his three-word perfect summation of the movie business:  Nobody knows anything.

For those not directly involved in the industry, here’s a full sentence of his  elaborating on that thought:  Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work.

That and a lot more were written by Mr. Goldman in his 1983 seminal book on navigating Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade.  But more than anything else, those three perfect words – NOBODY. KNOWS. ANYTHING. gave hope, courage and permission to a generation of people starting out in the business, myself included, to soldier on and persevere.

Cheers to you Mr. Goldman

His screenwriting work was brilliant, and he wrote a bunch of fine novels (on some holiday vacation read his first, Boys and Girls Together).  But his ability to so bluntly tell the truth about what he experienced and observed extended far beyond fiction or the movies.  He gave so many of us who had our noses pressed up against the glass the belief that the people we thought we had to impress didn’t have all the answers – we did.  All we had to do was to tell the truth through our work and we had as good of a shot at making it as he did.

Rod Serling and Norman Lear might not seem a natural combination at first mention but when you give it some thought it’s exactly right.  They were born within two years of each other in the 1920s and though Mr. Lear, now 96 and still active, has lived twice as long (Note: Mr. Serling died prematurely at the age of 50,) each writer changed the face of television by being fearless in their own very specific ways.

.. and both have a signature look

By his early thirties, Rod Serling was already an accomplished playwright and Emmy award-winning writer devoted to telling meaningful stories that touched on social issues.  Still, he was known in the biz as a bit of an upstart who had grown weary of battling corporate sponsors and executives too timid to support the kind of tales he wanted to tell.

That was when he got the idea to write in the more commercially appealing science fiction genre, grounding his characters in a way so relatable it would enable him the ability to tackle such timely themes as war, racism, class, politics and censorship.

Like you’d ever forget these faces

One can hardly imagine when The Twilight Zone first aired in 1959 that even he could foresee the enduring legacy of that groundbreaking anthology series.  Not only does it still run all over the world more than half a century later, it has been reinvented as a feature film, in numerous television spin-offs and remakes, as well as homaged in the music world.

Most recently, Jordon Peele was announced as the host of a new CBS reboot of The Twilight Zone set to air in 2019.

But perhaps even more impressive is the fact that those three wordsTHE. TWILIGHT. ZONE. – are now embedded as a permanent part of language and pop culture as we know it (Note/Nee: Being an American these days is like living  in The Twilight Zone) that will forever be associated with its writer and onscreen narrator.

It was in that spirit this past week that Ithaca College presented Norman Lear with its annual Rod Serling Award for advancing social justice through popular media.   (Note: Serling taught at the college in the 1970s and his archives are housed there).  As a professor and Chair (Note: Ahem) at the school’s L.A. program, I got to be part of that evening and had a front row seat to Mr. Lear’s sharp as ever comic timing and humility as he got up to the podium at L.A.’s Paley Center to accept.

The man himself, pictured here with Ithaca College’s Park School Dean Diane Gayeski, and One Day at Time colleague Mike Royce

Anyone who has watched television comedy in the last fifty years has likely seen one of Mr. Lear’s shows and the majority of we baby boomers came of age on them.

To watch a first-run episode of All in the Family in the actual era it came of age was to see for the first time in half-hour prime time TV an unvarnished version of ourselves and our extended families in all of our inglorious prejudices, ignorances and, ultimately, humanity.  No one had ever used THOSE WORDS before on the Big Three networks despite the fact that they used them and we heard them every day of our lives.  Heck, no one had ever even heard a toilet flush on TV before the series did it in 1971!

Archie is not that impressed

Mr. Lear also gave us the first upwardly mobile Black family (The Jeffersons), the first TV comedy episode to ever deal with abortion (Maude) and the first divorced prime time mom of the era (One Day At A Time).  (Note: The latter also recently rebooted on Netflix). The fact is if we don’t see an immediate connection between the subjects tackled by the fictional law partners, Serling and Lear, it is merely due to our own shortcomings, not theirs

Among the unplanned comic gems during Mr. Lear’s acceptance speech at the Paley was the moment when his iPhone began to audibly ring.  He stopped mid-speech, instantly reached into his pocket and saw it was a family member, began a conversation with her, and, without missing a beat, put it on speakerphone so the rest of us NOT at the podium could hear.  Most actors, not to mention us non-96 year old pros and non-pros, couldn’t rehearse this and get it right (especially the speaker part) never much less be funny in our ad-libs to a faceless voice.

More skillful, however, was what came next. After he said of his TV work: I didn’t do it alone  he went on to reassure his many admirers that he really is only a person who gets up in the morning, eats, goes to the bathroom and then goes to sleep at night – just like they do.

Don’t mind me.. getting emotional over here

Then suddenly he, and then the room, fell dead silent as he contemplated this for a few VERY long moments.   As we all got concerned something was wrong, he finally looked down, then right back out at us, and said:

You know, everything in life led me to this moment.  Isn’t that something?

At which point he let some more time go by, evoking more silence once again, until he reiterated:  And to this one.

Then once more again, echoing:

And that one.  Everything you have done before has brought YOU right here…..Think about it.

One couldn’t help but wonder if what he was really telling us was that taking in the moment, really feeling it, and then sharing those feelings with others, was not only the key to his art but the secret to life.

Of course whether that’s true or not is in the eye of the beholder. Since, let’s face it, nobody knows anything.

“Those Were The Days” –  Theme from All in the Family

 

 

 

 

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Buh-Bye 2016

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-9-45-13-am

There is a Yiddish/English expression called kenahora, which when loosely translated means putting a curse or the evil eye on something.   Of course, in usage it generally means the opposite – that is warding off fate from even glancing in your direction in a negative way.

How would this happen with mere words? Well, we Jews don’t like to tempt fate so our thought is that it usually occurs if we were to brag about even the tiniest of good fortune.

For example, at the holiday dinner table your mother says:

You know, I haven’t gotten sick all year. How great is that!

At which point her mother, your grandmother, quickly interrupts and shouts, Kenahora! And then goes one step further and throws salt over her shoulder.

giphy

The latter is a second more drastic step in warding off evil though in truth it actually means blinding the Devil, who we Jews don’t even believe in. So no, that makes no sense but well, historically, once again, better safe than sorry.

Why bring this up? Well, because I was going to open this piece with this declarative statement:

Could 2016 have been any worse????

And then quickly decided against it. With only less than a week left and given my heritage and what’s already happened in 2016 there is no point in taking what clearly is the very real risk of destroying us all. And yes, OF COURSE my mere words have every power to do so. Every religion teaches us that – doesn’t it???

So instead of pushing our luck and asking for any more trouble, kenahora, let’s look back to the year that is almost at its end (Note: No editorializing there) and try to focus on the best and worst of what each of us, in our own special way, have lived through and probably wrought. It’s a limited list, but so probably is our time left here. If you look at it objectively. Kenahora.

MOST SURPRISING POP CULTURE MOMENT OF THE YEAR:

Death

Not a great year for celebrities

Not a great year for celebrities

Let’s get this out of the way first. I mean, George Michael died on CHRISTMAS DAY, 2016 (and then Carrie Fisher dies two days later????). Counting back in no particular order we’ve also lost David Bowie, Edward Albee, Muhammed Ali, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Florence Henderson, Patty Duke, Phyllis Diller and even Zsa Zsa friggin’ Gabor who held on till 99! To say nothing of PBS’s Gwen Ifill, CBS’s Morley Safer, PGA’s Arnold Palmer, NASA’s John Glenn and Everyone’s Doris Roberts. There will also be no more future Alan Rickman performances, Pat Conroy books, Leon Russell songs or Phyllis Schlaffly lectures (thank the Devil). Not to mention, we no longer have the flesh and blood Elie Wiesel to turn to as a historical touchstone at a time when we may need him most.

Am I forgetting anyone? #shade

Am I forgetting anyone?

It also felt 2016 marked the death of logic, of science, of civility and most of all – TRUTH. Though unlike human beings, those last things can once again get reborn. And if you believe human beings can too, please re-read that last things list one more time and reconsider.

MOVIE/TV SHOW/PLAY I CAN’T BELIEVE I SAT THROUGH:

Tie: Nocturnal Animals & Jackie (in no particular order)

Ugh. Not again.

Ugh. Not again.

Both of these movies have absolutely no reason for being other than the egos of the filmmakers. Of course, that would apply to the majority of movies so perhaps it’s not a valid criticism. So let’s put it this way.

Nocturnal Animals has not a real emotion in its seemingly endless two plus hours and is an homage artifice – of human behavior, of reality and of depth. No one is saying that a designer can’t write and direct great films, just like I’ve never heard anyone claim that there is not some writer somewhere that couldn’t conceive and manufacture his or her own fabulous designer suit or even clothing line on demand. It’s just that it takes a great deal of skill and has not ever happened. Though we spring ever hopeful for 2017 and beyond – it’s doubtful.

Maybe stick to making JT look this dapper? #stayinyourlane

Maybe stick to making JT look this dapper? #stayinyourlane

As for Jackie, it’s the first pornographic film I’ve ever seen with nary a sex scene. Rather, it’s a leering, unjust, seedy little dance on the grave of one of the few American icons left who deserves better. Telling a no-holds barred story on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis will make a fine film one day but this isn’t it. Unless you call watching her roam around the 1963 White House to the tune of Richard Burton singing Camelot as she tries on formal gowns, smokes cigarettes and drinks, some sort of new, cutting edge, cinema verite drama. Natalie Portman is terrific playing a construct of someone who looks and sounds a lot like the former First Lady as skewed fictional doppelganger trapped in the filmed pretention of a cinematic fun house mirror.

 

BEST INSURGENT

Keith Olbermann – GQ Videos The Resistance

Help me, KO, you're my only hope. #forreal

Help me, KO, you’re my only hope. #forreal

Once upon a time there was a sports commentator who became the host of a political show on a fledgling cable network called MSNBC and proved he was not only as smart and incisive as his contemporary counterparts but a lot bolder, uncensored, outrageous and articulate. This all happened during the George W. Bush presidency where he is often credited with being the first and longtime sole credible anti-Dubya voice of American outrage.

Keith eventually left politics and returned to sports casting but once the Pres. Elect who lost the popular vote by 2.85 million surfaced this year as the unleashed GOP candidate for the White House he listened to all my tweets to him and eventually stepped forward once more in a series of brilliantly researched, unvarnished and truth-telling 6-11 minute weekly ongoing video segments. Quite simply, he’s the best around at distilling the past, present and potential future horrors of our Birther-in-Chief and vows to continue to do so until such time as someone else steps up to heed the call. That doesn’t seem likely any time soon. Nor even possible at this point. Here’s a sample:

Click here to watch #RESIST

Click here to watch #RESIST

BEST COMEDIAN OF THE MOMENT

Wanda Sykes

It Girl

It Girl

It’s not only because she’s an out black lesbian married to a white woman in LA. raising kids in a house where one day she woke up and realized she is still and ever will be – “a Black woman who waits on White people.” Though moments like that certainly help.

It’s because she is another one of those people who can’ t help but be a truth teller and will do it at all costs. Like several months ago during a benefit standup performance in Boston where she told the crowd – This is not the first time we’ve elected a racist, sexist, homophobic president. He’s just the first confirmed one.

And when a small but loud group in the crowd booed she had the backbone to tell them to fk off and presented a bunch of examples to prove her point. At which time, they…Well, watch for yourself. Comedy, like tragedy, happens in the moment. It’s just that the take and the tone is different, depending on your audience.

BEST COOKBOOK

Small Victories by Julia Turshen

#DROOL

#DROOL

This cookbook was on the NY Times bestseller list for months this year but I would never have known about it had my friend Howard not got it for me as a birthday present. What makes it great? It’s the simplicity and depth of flavors all done in a homey, readable and self-effacing style.

Julia Turshen spent years as a personal chef and co-authored any number of well-known cookbooks with others. But in this solo effort she shows us the possibilities and accidents to be found either in our cupboards or with a perfunctory shopping list and the numerous choices and variations those foods and flavors hold. You often think – this sounds so simple and easy, how can that be? Well, it can – try the Turkey Ricotta Meatballs and Tomato Sauce.   Or you resist and say to yourself, that’ll be the day I spend any time roasting radishes, much less serving them to guests (Note: You should, with her Kalamata olive dressing Pg. 114).

Did i mention DROOOL?

Did i mention DROOOL?

No, I don’t know her and I don’t get commission. But I do know what’s good.

PERSON WE COULD SEE LESS OF IN 2017 (aka TOO MUCH OF THEM IN 2016)

Kellyanne Conway

Maybe I should have just put in a pic of Jon Hamm?

Maybe I should have just put in a pic of Jon Hamm?

She is the first woman to both manage a major candidate presidential campaign and emerge with a president-Elect. Winning – well, that’s in the eye of the beholder.

There is something about the Cheshire Cat grin, the constant verbal use of the word “Hashtag,” followed by her 49 year old self’s snide, self-satisfied, whiny delivery of the phrase He’s Your President Too, that makes me know she’d be the only one to cast as Lucy Van Pelt in a D.C. revival of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.

But I love Peanuts too much to seriously suggest that. Just know that it is likely we will see less of her in the New Year. She’s poised to be working behind the scenes of what now looks to be key advisor to her Oval Office elect guy – a role similar to the one Valerie Jarrett played to President Obama.

God (or whatever you believe Him or Her to Be) Help Us.

MOST REVISITED SHOW (Netflix, Cable, or DVD)

The Twilight Zone

... but I'll take good care of my glasses #trumpamerica

… but I’ll take good care of my glasses #trumpamerica

See above, as well as #1 above. Need I say more? There’s something about it that, well, explains everything. And that’s soothing.

BEST VIRAL VIDEO OF THE YEAR

Chewbacca Mom

She just gives me hope for humanity. Such joy, such humanity, such…hysteria!!! For the longest time I wasn’t sure what it was. The joy of laughter? The ridiculousness of the mask? The iconography of Star Wars, suburbia, motherhood and mayhem?

That is for much bigger brains than me to decide, analyze and then write about in media journals. Here’s what I know – it was the top viral video of the year and was viewed more than 8 million times.

Stay with it.

And don’t pretend you did not laugh once.

And if you didn’t…you’re lying.

BEST GAY THING OF THE YEAR

Moonlight

YES

YES

Three time periods in the course of the life of a young, gay Black man. That’s the logline. But as any artist will tell you, a logline says little about the work it describes.

The majority of critics are calling it the movie of the year and certainly that’s debatable – as any choice would be. What’s inarguable is that it breaks new ground and is something we’ve never seen before – a chronicle of the type of young life in a segment of society that has never been seen onscreen and will be much needed in the 2017 and beyond days to come.

HEALING POP CULTURE MOMENT OF THE YEAR

What was it that Alan Alda’s character posited in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors –

Comedy is tragedy plus time

Well, screw that. And not only because this quote is also separately on record from both Steve Allen and Carol Burnett in printed interviews decades before.

Sometimes – well, actually rarely – do comedy and tragedy come together in one perfect moment to equally express the SADNESS AND HILARITY of what we’ve just endured. This solar eclipse-like occurrence is called true IRONY and when it happens it is truly lightning in a bottle on the pop cultural landscape.

This is what Kate McKinnon and SNL wrought several days after the shocking results of #Election2016. Almost THREE MILLION more in the country were equally devastated that Hillary Clinton would not become president and that an uncertified lunatic would. And a significant number of those SNL watchers were still upset at the recent passing of genius balladeer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, whose seminal Hallelujah has for decades emerged as the bittersweet parable of loss.

But it was not only KM at the piano singing that tuneful dirge with a tear and glint in her eye that brought it home. It was the one line message she delivered when the song was over when, clad in the iconic HRC white pantsuit and perfectly coiffed twelve shades of blonde helmets of hair, she turned to the camera and said:

I’m not giving up and neither should you. Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night (Live).

Amen to both statements.

And #HAPPY2017.

Ahead of Your Time

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 1.11.21 PM

It’s a sort of a tradition at our house on holiday weekends to at some point excitedly tune the television in to a Twilight Zone marathon.  (Note:  That would be the original black and white series first broadcast from 1959-1964, in case you were wondering, rather than any subsequent remakes or sequels).

What is unusual is not so much that we here are consistently entranced by the inventive storytelling and enduring themes of a classic television show – almost anything artistic that lasts has those qualities and more.  Rather, what stands out is that on any other particular day of the year we would only have to walk several feet over to our shelves of DVDs to watch any one of those episodes on our big screen TV, desktop or laptop computers at any time of the day or night.

These days we all have to be reminded of what’s really good from time to time, don’t we?  Yes, we’re living in a new golden age of television but sifting through it all has become a challenge that most of us simply don’t have the time for.  I don’t know about you, but too often I am willing to settle.  I think – all I want is to be entertained a little, or laugh a little or even be prodded to think a little bit more on a subject I hadn’t considered by what I’m watching.  And have it last in my mind a little bit longer than the time it takes to suck down a single Mentos.

... or really if it involves any home design with these two.

… or really if it involves any home design with these two.

We read and hear constantly about how a continuing explosion of networks and a myriad of new streaming opportunities make this the optimum moment to be what the entertainment biz calls a content creator.  And how privileged this new generation of Millennials (along with everyone else who is older, not dead and still working) are to be among those whose stuff is getting read, seen or generally played with via those or any other venues.  But…well….. here is what the top 1%/chattering class of those bull crappers are really saying:

You young people who are writers, directors, actors and even producers?!  Yeah you! Do you know how LUCKY you are?  There are so many places where all that stuff you make can now be seen.  So don’t complain to us about how difficult it is to get views or how much you’re not getting paid.  This is the LAND of opportunitythe wild west of new media landscapes.  Don’t you all realize how GOSH DARN fortunate YOU ALL ARE to even be a part of this????

original

(Note: I might add that the same goes for middle-aged and older creative people.  It’s just that the top 1%/chattering class chooses not to include the rest of us among the content creators because, with some exceptions, they are not quite as interested in the types of content that we are creating).

So – here is both the really ugly and really reassuring truth about all of this:

It is no easier or difficult to be a writer, director, actor, producer or any other type of artist than it ever was.  The same blank canvas still exists and it still takes the same single-minded leap of faith, ingenuity and ever so slight craziness to believe that anything you have to say will prove interesting to anyone else or even be listened to.  That is both the challenge and, when it really works and lasts, the ultimate reward.

Twilight Zones don’t happen without a gigantic leap on everyone’s part  – the hardest and longest being from its creators. Nor does something light and classic on the other side of the spectrum like…well…I Love Lucy.  A 1950s television show about a Manhattan housewife married to a foreign musician we can’t understand, played by a “B” movie star and her real-life, non-actor foreign musician husband who we also can’t understand?  Are you kidding?  Well, this better be the funniest thing we’ve seen in years.

Still America's sweethearts

Still America’s sweethearts

Ah, yes – and lucky for them and for us it was.  In the same way that the unique idea of dealing with the timeless dramatic themes of conformity, prejudice, sexism and totalitarianism in a futuristic and alternate universe has also kept The Twilight Zone alive all this time.

One could go on and on with examples from the artistic discipline of one’s choice.  I simply chose The Twilight Zone and inserted I Love Lucy in the back-up position because they were most easily at hand and on the tube this holiday weekend.  And we’ve already established how much I – and we – enjoy easy.

It is not the wrong time for those of us in the Business of Show, or in any other business, to remind ourselves that the viability of one’s new idea can’t be measured so much against what’s out there but by what’s in there – meaning in your heart and soul and mind. Oh, pooh pooh that idea all you want – or as Bette Midler said several decades ago on her fine comedy album, Mud Will Be Flung Tonight – “hiss and boo your own selves” – it’s true.  Too many of us are not willing to go there nowadays, myself included.  There’s an emotional risk to failure and that is rejection, embarrassment, shame and depression.  There is also a financial risk and that’s loss of home, status or just plain poverty.  And certainly it’s no more fun that it ever was to be poor these days.  Probably less.

Still, the ugliest and tritest truism about art, and its even higher counterpart, innovation, is that nothing great is ever accomplished by dwelling on the what will happen instead of concentrating on the what could be.  That means taking a risk and going with what really moves you or gnaws at you.  No, this does not mean living in an artistic cocoon without taking in reality or the rest of the world.  That’s the kind of thing the top 1%/chattering class and all the other naysayers in your life and brain say to get you off track.

Not your ideal working environment

Not your ideal working environment

Take The Twilight Zone, for example.  At the time of its conception Rod Serling was a long form dramatic writer for live television who had served in the military and was married and had children.  It was the 1950s and he had a family to support and he didn’t have a chance to live in an artistic garrote and WRITE merely for himself.  So what did he do?  He embraced the most popular art form of the day but wrote about subjects he cared most about in just about the most commercial structure imaginable.  What were those subjects?  Oh, simple ideas fit for mainstream consumption in the escapist times of the fifties and early sixties.  (Note: Insert sarcasm here). Ideas that were ANTI-GOVERNMENT, ANTI-WAR, explored SEXISM TOWARDS WOMEN and addressed that popular old subject we’re still all always so willing and anxious to talk about – DEATH.

As I viewed Twilight Zone this weekend I was once again amazed to rediscover the timeless themes Mr. Serling managed to feature that few of us have the nerve to tackle today.  For example, Time Alone At Last in season one dealt with a bookish bank teller who loved to read classic literature but was perpetually ostracized for being strange and behind the times in then contemporary 1950s America.  Season 2’s The Obsolete Man went a step further and centered on the execution of one of the last thinking intellectuals living in a now totalitarian state where only people who are of direct use to the whims of its corporate-run government entity have the value to live.  Coincidentally, the leads in both episodes were played by veteran character actor Burgess Meredith, who gained greater fame the following decades as the original Penguin in the Batman television series and as the grizzled old trainer of Rocky in the first of all 22 of those films.  Hey, as Peter Fonda once told me his father Henry once told him: You go where the work is.

Meredith in Time Enough At  Last

Meredith in Time Enough At Last

Mr. Serling was also probably one of the first male dramatic writers on television to so prominently focus on feminist themes and address the devaluing of women in American society.  Season 2’s Eye of Beholder, first broadcast in 1960, is one of his most classic.  A woman with a bandaged face has endured her 11th and final (per legal limits) plastic surgery to make her face not necessarily beautiful but simply what is considered for the times to be normal – or at least not as ugly as the horrible features she was genetically cursed with.  But when her surgeon finally unmasks her he and everyone else cries out in horror that there has been no change at all while simultaneously we in the audience see for the first time that the woman is not only blonde and beautiful but everyone else in the room – and in society for that matter – are all hideously and literally pig-faced.  Look around at all of the surgically mangled faces of 2014 humans worldwide – especially those of women, who still face more stringent societal standards of beauty than men – and one can’t help but long for a fictional Twilight Zone limit of a mere eleven surgeries when the subject of voluntary facial augmentation comes up.

Are you sure we're not on Santa Monica Blvd?

Are you sure we’re not on Santa Monica Blvd?

Interestingly enough, as the 1960s continued and the feminist movement began to take root, along with The Twilight Zone, the series chose not to play it safe but to go even deeper.  One Serling-produced episode in Season 5, Number 12 Looks Just Like You, focused on a young, futuristic woman with a pleasant face who is refusing to go along with the government mandated surgical transformation all young women and men of 17 must endure. Forsaking their own genetics, each must decide which of several scores of prototypically beautiful yet perfectly vapid faces, bodies and minds they will choose to transform into.

Being like everybody, isn’t it the same as being nobody?, questions the young woman. To which her perfectly transformed doctor can only reply, Hey, what you need is a nice instant cup of Smile.

A nice instant cup of Smile, if such a thing existed, might be what any number of commercial production companies and their vast audiences would prefer nowadays. But that does not mean that it has be what we content creators make for the selling.  In fact, it is really up to the creator – the first line of defense for the integrity of the artistic endeavor, to fess up and take responsibility for the creation much in the way Mr. Serling did in his storytelling for not only that episode but the entire series.

Preach, Rod.

Preach, Rod.

On that note, this might be a good time to mention that the genesis of The Twilight Zone actually came from the extreme censorship Mr. Serling had to endure at the hands of the networks and sponsors who chose to cut and then severely edit much of the work he had done before it.  The final blow came on a drama he wrote that was broadcast in 1956 called Noon on Doomsday. Inspired by the real-life case of Emmett Till – a young Black man of 14 whose eyes were gouged out as he was brutally beaten and then shot to death for merely speaking to a White woman in Mississippi one year prior – Mr. Serling persevered as first the setting of his story was taken out of the South – and then his young Black male lead was changed to a Jewish pawnbroker – until the final, watered down product focused merely on the actions of a generic foreigner in an unknown town.

But had Mr. Serling thrown up his hands in disgust and walked away right then and there, or just simply thrown up, we would never have The Twilight Zone.  It was only when he decided to beat the marketplace at its own game and partnered with another producer who liked his idea of using a science fiction setting to tackle all of the timely yet difficult subjects he aspired to write about (in other words – owning the idea of that foreigner in that unknown town but making him anything but generic) that any television network or sponsor would come onboard.  Which is not to say they did so without continued rancor or distress at just how timely and topical Mr. Serling would choose to be.

We should all be wary of countering the lesson of The Twilight Zone with comments like – oh, but times have changed, it’s not so easy to do that stuff these days, or even thoughts like, well, for every Serling there are hundreds of those who don’t make it and, quite clearly aren’t geniuses, but could do decent work, what about them?  To say this is to miss the point entirely.  No great or even good idea happens on the first try and most geniuses are merely just hard-working people relentlessly going about their jobs with dogged determination in a self-created world where giving up is not an option.  People like Serling have no idea if and when they will ever be successful – or if their new idea will ever be accepted.  They just keep going.  And that is the recurring theme of creation whether it’s digitized, computerized or merely presented  – for your approval –  in black & white.