Rod Serling: The Early Life and Career of TV's Genius "Twilight Zone" Creator

Herbie J Pilato
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The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959-1964) presented weekly excursions into an unknown, yet familiar territory, which showcased morality plays and controversial topics, presented under the guise of science fiction. Characters with dimension were introduced to the audience with arresting aplomb, many of whom were granted a second chance against the odds — much like Serling himself. Though almost canceled twice before its original network demise, The Twilight Zone stayed afloat due to Serling’s tactful maneuvers around Hollywood minds that were uncertain of anything — and everything — related to Zone — except Serling’s undying passion. In the end, however, Serling himself died young, at 50 years old, never reaching the twilight of his years, though not before he explored, unobtrusively, the senior mentality, and other untapped areas of legitimate topics of conversation, with several, very-real trips into The Twilight Zone.

A Closer Look at Serling's Pre-"Twilight" Life

Rod Serling was born Rodman Edward Serling in Syracuse, New York, on December 25, 1924, to father Samuel Lawrence Serling, a wholesale meat dealer, and Esther Cooper Serling. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to Binghamton, a small city in Upstate, New York. As a youth, Rod, along with older brother Robert (a novelist, best known for The President’s Plane Is Missing), became enamored with the science fiction and fantasy articles published in magazines such as Astounding Stories and Weird Tales. He enjoyed all sports, and his approach to life became somewhat more realistic when he later joined the U.S. Army 11th Airborne Division Paratroopers.

Serling began boxing, winning 17 out of 18 bouts — during the last of which he earned what came to be his trademark broken nose. He was discharged from the Army in 1946, and enrolled at Antioch College of Yellow Springs, Ohio because he was interested in “working with kids.” He majored in Physical Education but switched to Language and Literature, during which he wrote, directed, and performed in radio productions for the Antioch Broadcasting System that was transmitted over radio WJEM, Springfield.

While still in college, he experienced two life-altering events. In 1948, Serling married Carolyn Louise Kramer. And in 1949, he sold his first teleplay, “Grady for the People,” for a mere $100.00, to NBC’s Stars Over Hollywood.

Post-College, A "Pattern" Was Beginning to Form

Upon graduation from Antioch College, Rod Serling moved to Cincinnati to become a staff writer for WLW radio, pursued his career as a freelance writer, and collected more than 40 consecutive rejection slips as a reward for his efforts. Those early signs of disapproval did not hinder his persistence in seeking additional approval of his work.

From 1951 to 1955, Serling penned over 70 teleplays, one of which was his 72nd script, titled, “Patterns,” which aired on January 12, 1955, on the Kraft Television Theatre.

“Patterns” was about a power struggle between a ruthless president of a major organization, an aging vice-president who’s pressured into resigning, and a new young executive brought in to replace the vice-president. (Ironically, that development seemed to foreshadow the frequent producer replacements that later take place behind the scenes of The Twilight Zone?)

The Next "Element"

Serling followed the success of “Patterns” with scripts for one some of TV’s most respected anthology series, including “The Time Element” for Desilu Playhouse and “Where Is Everybody?” for Playhouse 90.

First, “Element” debuted on Desilu. Serling originally penned it as a time-travel story for “The Storm,” back in 1951. He then expanded the story to sixty minutes and submitted it to CBS in 1957. CBS purchased it, only to shelve it until Bert Granet, producer of the Desilu Playhouse, buys it for use on his show. Granet essentially begged the sponsor to allow “Element’s” filming. It finally aired on November 24, 1958, and became the most popular production aired this year.

Thanks to that and the positive reviews by the critics, CBS finally surmised Serling’s genius.

"Where Is Everybody?"

Another one of Rod Serling's pre-Twilight Zone scripts was “Where Is Everybody?” which aired on Playhouse 90 during the 1958–59 season. It ultimately showcased a somewhat unique, almost mystical story that unabashedly arrived at a logical conclusion. Along with “The Time Element,” “Everybody” was an unrealistic, yet believable teleplay that served as a backdoor pilot for The Twilight Zone, for which Serling soon exited Playhouse 90 to establish.


To his family, colleagues, and countless fans around the world, Rod Serling will always be revered as one of the most prolific writers in the history of the entertainment industry

[Note: Certain facts and information in this article were resourced from various entertainment news and media outlets including,,,,, and]

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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