With the passing of revered journalist Mike Wallace this weekend, a lot of his old interview footage has started popping back into the limelight—including the time he got Rod Serling to put down his most famed creation, The Twilight Zone.
In a 1959 interview that the 60 Minutes vet conducted with Serling, creator and host of the original 1950s Twilight Zone, Serling explains why he opted for sci-fi: because nobody, really, takes it that seriously.
"I wouldn't call them potboilers at all. No, these are very adult, I think, high-quality half-hour, extremely polished films. But because they deal in the areas of fantasy and imagination and science fiction and all of those things, there's no opportunity to cop a plea or chop an ax or anything," Serling said. "I don't wanna have to battle sponsors and agencies. I don't wanna have to push for something that I want and have to settle for second best. I don't wanna have to compromise all the time, which in essence is what the television writer does if he wants to put on controversial themes."
It's actually pretty brilliant. Serling knew sci-fi was considered a fairly lowbrow genre at the time. So he took his nuanced style and used it as a vehicle to write some of the greatest social commentaries—and horror tales—of the modern age. And he got away with every bit of it, because no one (at the time) took him too seriously.
"I have great pride in the show. In 11 or 12 years of writing, Mike, I can lay claim to at least this: I have never written beneath myself," he said. "I have never written anything that I didn't want my name attached to. I have probed deeper in some scripts, and I've been more successful in some than others. But all of them that have been on, you know, I'll take my lick. They're mine, and that's the way I wanted them."
Wallace caught on, as well, and asked Serling point blank if he was playing it safe--in the eyes of the censors—with The Twilight Zone.
"No question about it," Serling said.
And yet the series spawned because Serling was tired of network interference and censorship ended up being the place where he did what was arguably his best, most famous and most important work. Ironic, huh?