Nobody in their right mind can deny the contribution Rod Serling has made to science fiction, horror, and the world of television in general. The Twilight Zone is still quoted and beloved to this day even outside of the SF world while Night Gallery, despite not having as much of an impact to culture as the former, is nevertheless popular with fans of the genre it relished in. By using sci-fi and horror as a tool to comment on events of the day and the human condition it was a show that was able to get a message out without turning off people to that message or insulting people who didn’t agree with it for the most part. (Treat someone as a racist and even if they are they’re going to be insulted…more so if they aren’t.)
Through The Retroist I learned of this 1968 interview with Serling produced by the Library Of Congress. In this discussion, Serling and the hosts discuss the state of television at the time, and while he makes a few good points, there are actually one or two I have to disagree with.
While he’s quick to say that what he’s asking for is a balance of more thoughtful shows (his preference) and simple dramas…and I do agree with him in having a balance of different tones and genres…Serling and the hosts are both quick to put down a show like The Fugitive as something unmemorable. And yet the show was actually very popular and still remembered today even though most talk seems to be on the movie with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. We seem to be forgetting our TV past unless something stands out in a particular genre, especially genres considered more “geeky” like science fiction. We of the geek world have fought to be taken seriously and it took the rise of computers to really do so. Even then we have something like The Big Bang Theory which doesn’t really put us in an always positive light, which is why some geeks really hate the show.
What got me was Serling’s lambasting of Hogan’s Heroes, a show that wasn’t meant to be a record of World War II so much as a look at the failings of the Third Reich through the more palatable lens of comedy, much as M*A*S*H* would do with war, getting “lucky” because their tale of the Korean War came out around the time of the Vietnam War, making the commentary that much stronger. One of my Reviewers Unknown compatriots, Irving of Irving’s Zoo, has been reviewing Hogan’s Heroes episode by episode and noting how it used comedy to show why the Nazis failed and probably would have ultimately failed if they had won the war and controlled Europe until they inevitably betrayed Japan and took over Asia as well. (Don’t think they wouldn’t have. I doubt the Japanese fit into Hitler’s view of the perfect man. Heck, Hitler himself didn’t fit his own description.) I find it odd that someone who used a genre to make social commentary more acceptable to a mass audience would come down against someone else for using a different genre, comedy, for the same ends. He really did look down on shows that to him were mindless but must have had something to still be remembered years later. You really can’t know what people will latch onto, and while I do agree the people want more choice and should be getting so, they may very well not agree with him, or might even choose both for different reasons. You can like Star Trek AND Star Wars, even if what both are currently producing are not inline with what made them popular. That however is another rant altogether.
The Library Of Congress has a bunch of these kinds of past and current culturally significant videos on their YouTube channel so go check them out.