Television now demanded celebrity, not literary ability — probably the main reason Serling shifted from scriptwriting to shilling, lending his distinctive persona to the makers of toothpaste and beer and many other products.The article is also good on the censorship that went along with the power of sponsorship. Trying to deal with racism was asking for trouble when so many white American viewers were racist.
“From experience, I can tell you that drama, at least in television, must walk tiptoe and in agony lest it offend some cereal buyer from a given state below the Mason-Dixon.”Good job the US outgrew all that nonsense. Fortunately, thanks to the power of the DVD and online streaming, people today can enjoy Serling's work (and that of writers like Matheson, Bloch, and Beaumont) without the cereal commercials. Brian Murray's article is a good longer read, full of praise for Serling. The man was not without his flaws, but he deserves to be called great because he was well aware of his failings and went ahead and tried to make a work of art anyway. He was sentimental, but so was Dickens. He wrote an awful lot of stuff, not all of it good, but so did Shakespeare. He could moralise to Olympic standard, but so could Mark Twain.
And perhaps his view of television as a genuine art form has been vindicated. I well recall that 'in 1976, just a year after Serling’s death, several of the most popular network shows were, in effect, comic strips — The Six Million Dollar Man,The Bionic Woman, Charlie’s Angels'. The Seventies is often recalled as a golden age of British television by older folk like me. But I'm sure that in part this is because American shows the BBC and ITV bought in were often terrible. Nothing as well-written as I, Claudius or Porridge arrived from the States back then.
Now things are not so clear-cut, and technology has to some extent liberated a new generation of Serlings offering 'high-quality scripted series distributed by cable channels and streaming companies — dramas of a scope that the movies cannot hope to match, shows that viewers can binge-watch at home on giant screens'. Futuristic stuff! No longer merely a possibility in The Twilight Zone.