Engines of Our Ingenuity

No. 2503
ROD SERLING

by Andrew Boyd

Today, a story — submitted for your approval. The University of Houston’s College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them..

Whose name comes to mind when we think of great storytelling? Certainly Scheherazade, whose stories so gripped a king’s imagination that he spared her life for a thousand and one nights. Scheherazade’s story isn’t so different from that of today’s storytellers. TV writers, for example, get to tell their tales just as long as the audience keeps listening. When that stops, the show is “killed.” Rod Serling was one of television’s great storytellers. He was the creative force behind the black-and-white classic, The Twilight Zone. He was also on-screen narrator.

Picture of Rod Serling

[Audio: Eye of the Beholder]

When The Twilight Zone debuted in 1959, Serling was already a celebrated television writer, known for serious drama. But he was tired of petty censorship by sponsors, who routinely edited his scripts. Goodness knows, an appliance maker couldn’t possibly risk the public associating shiny new ovens with Nazi gas chambers.

Picture of The Twilight Zone Logo

With The Twilight Zone, Serling fought for, and won, creative control over what was considered a harmless fantasy and science fiction show. But it was hardly that. War. Race relations. Conformity. Oppression. Serling tackled them all, but in worlds only “imagined.” Serling also gave his stories a twist — a twist that could go unresolved until the last few lines of a show. We see a vision of heaven where a person’s every need is attended to, until we learn that it’s actually hell. We’re introduced to a hideously ugly woman who, when we at last see her, is beautiful — at least, by our standards. We encounter friendly aliens and their treatise entitled “How to Serve Man,” recognizing too late that it’s a cookbook. The show’s theme song became synonymous with eerie twists; its introductory monologue a Pavlovian invitation to sit down and watch for the next 30 minutes.

[Audio: Season Two Introduction]

Unlike Scheherazade, Serling found his show cancelled after 156 episodes. But like Scheherazade, Serling’s story had a happy ending. The Twilight Zone remains popular to this day, with old — and new — audiences.

I’m Andy Boyd at the University of Houston, where we’re interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)


M. S. Zicree. The Twilight Zone Companion. Second edition. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 1992.

For a good collection of Twilight Zone audio clips, see the web site, Submitted for Your Perusal: http://www.rod-serling.com. Accessed June 9, 2009.

The Picture of The Twilight Zone logo is from the Wikipedia entry for the show: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twilight_Zone. Accessed June 9, 2009.



The Engines of Our Ingenuity is Copyright © 1988-2009 by John H. Lienhard.