By George Basler
Fans of Rod Serling and his classic television program, The Twilight Zone, can learn more about his life and career Wednesday, Oct. 20, in a presentation sponsored by the Broome County Historical Society.
Lawrence “Larry” Kassan, coordinator of special events and theatre for the Binghamton City School District, has researched Serling’s life for years and has given presentations at numerous venues, including the Museum of Television and Radio/Paley Media Center in New York City. Kassan also appeared on the NPR radio program On the Media.
Because of COVID-19 concerns, the presentation will be on Zoom and Facebook livestream beginning at 6:45 p.m. For Zoom, go to www.broomehistory.org/programs. For livestream, visit www.facebook.com/broomehistory.
Serling, an award-winning writer and producer, was one of the pioneers of early television. He grew up in Binghamton after his family moved here when he was 2. A 1942 graduate of Binghamton Central High School (now Binghamton High School), he always called Binghamton his hometown.
Kassan said he was a fan of The Twilight Zone growing up but didn’t know about Serling’s connection to Binghamton until he moved here. Part of his talk will cover Serling’s childhood and service in the U.S. Army during World War II. He fought in the Philippines, an experience that marked him for life.
A second part will cover Serling’s years in television in the 1950s, prior to The Twilight Zone, when he wrote a series of notable teleplays such as Patterns, Requiem for a Heavyweight and The Comedian. His battles over censorship with sponsors and network executives got him labeled “the angry young man of Hollywood” and led to the creation of The Twilight Zone, Kassan said.
With the series, Serling found he could get around censorship by presenting social and political issues — including prejudice, totalitarianism and the risk of nuclear war — in the science fiction/fantasy format, Kassan said. Thus, many Twilight Zone episodes are “mini morality tales.”
Serling was the first writer to also be a producer of a series. That meant he could call the shots, Kassan said. This dual role paved the way for other writer/producers on shows from Hill Street Blues to The Sopranos, he added. After The Twilight Zone went off the air, Serling wrote, or co-wrote, screenplays for movies, including Seven Days in May and Planet of the Apes.
In his job with the Binghamton City School District, Kassan manages all performing arts at the Rod Serling School of the Arts. He also founded the Rod Serling Video Festival and managed it for its first 20 years.
Kassan’s presentation is part of the Historical Society’s series of programs for 2021-22. It is free and open to the public. For more information, call the Historical Society at (607) 778-3572 or (607) 778-2076.