From The Archive: Interview with Rod Serling (1970)

We've been digging through the video archives here at AboutSF and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, and we've found some real treasures that we want to share with readers and viewers, especially those interested in the history of SF in other media. The first offering we have for you all is a real treat: an interview with Rod Serling conducted by CSSF founder James Gunn, back in 1970 at the CSSF offices at the University of Kansas. Many thanks to Joel Sanderson, who initially recovered the video and audio for the interview and paired it together, and who has been hosting it over at the Internet Archive in the meantime.

As you can see, this is a somewhat incomplete interview, but nevertheless what we have for the video and audio here is a strong, revealing interview with one of the foremost practitioners of SF on television. It would be difficult to imagine encountering anyone who hadn't ever even heard of The Twilight Zone. Of course, Serling was responsible for much more than that, being a seasoned TV writer and producer by the time he created TTZ back in the 60s, and he went on to be involved in other shows after, such as the more horror-tinged Night Gallery. (Maybe sometime in the future, AboutSF can pull together a list of our favorite TTZ and Night Gallery episodes!)

Nonetheless, Serling is a giant of the genre, which is what makes his demeanor in this interview somewhat surprising, and refreshing as well. For starters, he seems to consider himself a lesser writer compared to what he sees as working practitioners of “pure,” print SF and feels he is better at adapting SF for TV than he is at writing it from scratch. He also sees a lot of limitation in the TV format due to what could be accomplished at the time with the “optical” element, as he puts it. And he also thinks that TV is, among other things, better at tackling near-future SF than far-future SF because of the rate of technological change and the problems with reaching audiences that may be indifferent or even hostile to SF.

As a modern fan of SF in print and non-print media, I can’t help but think of the gulf in time between TTZ episodes’ original airing, and this interview, and the time we inhabit now, a span of 45 years to be precise. It’s easy to think about how far televised SF has come in that time, from the stage-bound interiors of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise to the 2004 iteration of the eponymous Battlestar Galactica. The difference in the rendition of those shows’ outer spaces is even more pronounced. If Serling could have seen today’s televised SF, would he have been impressed and proud of today’s creators, or would he have been miffed by the continued struggle at times between fans and practitioners and corporate network entities who still sometimes undervalue the knowledge and experience of those coming from the SF community?

Regardless, viewing this interview now, in the year 2015, with everything that has transpired in SF media since then, gives us plenty of food for thought, educational and otherwise. Watch it for yourself; come to your own conclusions about how far we’ve come now in SF media, and of course share this video, and your conclusions, with others.