-By Warner Todd Huston
In 1970 University of Kansas Professor James Gunn interviewed famed "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling and what he said about how badly the subject of race was handled on TV in his day is particularly trenchant.
Gunn, a science fiction writer in his own right having won many awards for his work, asked Mr. Serling if he felt that any current television fiction was relevant to the human condition. Rod was discouraged that it was, especially where it concerns the issue of race.
"Most television fiction that I watch has very little relevance. I think it's one thing to say that we will now have a program called ModSquad, say, and we will have one black man and one oriental and one Hawaiian to show this marvelous melting-pot concept. But I think, Jim, that's altogether phony. I don't think that's... I think at best condescension and at worst exploitation. The fact is that we have so distorted the pure ethnic minority over the years by making every black man a banjo player, and a village idiot, and a coward, that suddenly we are going to reverse switch, he is now a brain scientist or an atomic scientist or any one of an equal distortion at the other end. Needless to say I'd much prefer the distortion on the good side of the scale... but all television fiction I find quite irrelevant and quite unrelated."
That was a pretty dismissive view for Rod Serling to think of the medium that made him famous, but on the other hand it's hard to argue with his logic. For all the ballyhooing about TV it has rarely been relevant to much of anything.
The interview is about 20 minutes long and is quite interesting.
Things haven't gotten much better, have they?
The sad thing about this great bit of film history is to realize that this genius, Rod Serling, had only five more years to live after the shooting of this interview.