Twilight Zone @ 50
The WSKG program OFF THE PAGE is designed specifically as “a forum for writers from our region”. Since its inception in January, 2000 it has presented hundreds of novelists, poets, playwrights, historians, essayists… (the list goes on and even includes farmers and a playground designer who wrote books). With very few exceptions (mostly authors of books with special regional interest) they are people living and writing within the WSKG coverage area.
For the first time OFF THE PAGE presents a program devoted to an author who is no longer with us. If, as Walt Whitman said, the proof of a poet is that his people absorb him as affectionately as he has them, we can apply that idea to playwright Rod Serling. He belongs to Binghamton as much as the city was a part of him. Even at his most fanciful or bizarre, in works destined to a mass audience, there are signs that Rod Serling never left home.
“Everybody has to have a hometown, Binghamton’s mine. In the strangely brittle, terribly sensitive make-up of a human being, there is a need for a place to hang a hat or a kind of geographical womb to crawl back into, or maybe just a place that’s familiar because that’s where you grew up. When I dig back through memory cells, I get one particularly distinctive feeling-and that’s one of warmth, comfort and well-being. For whatever else I may have had, or lost, or will find-I’ve still got a hometown. This, nobody’s gonna take away from me.” — Rod Serling
On the 50th anniversary (October 3, 1959) of his creation of “The Twilight Zone” on CBS Television Rod Serling is being remembered and in some ways reconjured in the communities he called home. There will be seminars and conferences at Antioch College in Ohio, where he and his wife Carol studied, and at Ithaca College, where he taught. In Binghamton, the Rod Serling Video Festival will be screening the PBS American Masters program “Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval” and at the Forum Theatre there will be a 12-hour “Twilight Zone” Marathon. There will also be walking tours of places that played a role in Serling’s plays, including the carousel at Recreation Park that is the scene for “Walking Distance”. And on Saturday, October 3rd at 8:00 PM WSKG-TV will present live performances of two “Twilight Zone” episodes set in Binghamton: “Walking Distance” and “Mirror Image”, and a new half-hour documentary on Serling’s life by Brian Frey.
OFF THE PAGE will highlight the events of TZ@50 and the celebration of Rod Serling’s life and work. Joining Bill Jaker will be Larry Kassan, director of special projects for the Binghamton City Schools and the Rod Serling School of the Arts and founder and director of the Rod Serling Video Festival, which annually honors the best video work by children in grades K-12, and Anne Serling-Sutton of Ithaca, who is presently writing a book about her father entitled “Another Dimension”, to be published in spring 2010. Also on the program is , Martin Grams Jr. author of the encyclopedic new work “The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic”.
The program also includes an excerpt of an OFF THE PAGE interview from January 2004 with Robert Keller, professor emeritus of art history at Broome Community College, author of the book “House Proud” and a boyhood friend of Rod Serling. He tells of playing imaginative games with Rod in the city’s cemeteries, but also about the serious editorials that Rod wrote for the Binghamton High School newspaper as the Second World War was expected to soon take them away.
After returning from service as a paratrooper in the Pacific in World War II, Rod Serling enrolled in Antioch College in Ohio and his future began to take shape. As part of Antioch’s work-study curriculum, Rod spent his first few months of college at radio station WNYC, which was then owned by the City of New York. Thanks to the WNYC archive we can hear excerpts from a couple of programs that reveal Rod Serling was already a skilled radio actor. He later did an internship at WMRN in Marion, Ohio, from which OFF THE PAGE re-creates a deliberately silly portion of a teenage record show. Serling’s first fully professional job in radio was at station WLW in Cincinnati (“The Nation’s Station”) and his assignments as a staff writer left him dissatisfied and caused him to turn to writing serious drama in his hours away from work. The documentary report on Serling’s radio career includes interviews with John Michael Kittross, broadcast historian and Antioch classmate of Rod Serling; Saul Marmer, a friend and neighbor of Rod and Carol Serling during their Cincnnati days; and Professor Michael Sanders, director of electronic media communications at the University of Cincinnati.