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But I don't believe that the new CBS Playhouse is really properly responsive to the problem of legitimate drama where the dearth there of because it's on every three months and that's not regularly scheduled on the documentary which is come very much into its own of late. I think at the moment it is most expressly and uniquely television's contribution and some of them are quite good. The Wilbur series I think were very effective. The the Kremlin thing was a marvelously well done. And I say this with humility that the Jacques Cousteau's underwater thing apart from my own very small contributions the footage of this thing was very exciting tremendously educative. But the problem is that this represents about six percent of television programs and the bulk of it is simply guck. Yes or what. I like it. But.
Thank you. What. Oh my God. Well how does this relate to censorship. I'd like to respond to that it's an interesting question or statement.
Well number one the assumption that an audience is of a 12 year old level I question that statistically and sociologically I seriously doubt that that's the case. I will accept your thesis that the majority of an audience is less disposed toward intellectual pursuits than it is a lung capacity. But mind you my injuries are we're talking now about commercial television which utilizes public air and in the public interest and that's not my phrase that's the Federal Communications Commission phrase public air public interest. Now we're talking about the public the public quote which represents not only the 64 million who would prefer a Lucy. It also represents the 22 million invalid also like to watch Leonard Bernstein. I simply suggest that what we've run out of here is balance. There should be a balance programming in which the tastes of a very intellectual minority and a fairly sizable one when you're talking 18 20 million people should be in part responding to and not be totally excluded as they pretty much are now. Now in terms of the government system in Britain the BBC if I thought that we
could have a comparable BBC here without government interference as they function there I would be delighted with this concept. But I can assure you sir that in the experience I've had either in television and motion pictures when you call upon the government for some support they will blue pencil your script far quicker than Procter and Gamble ever thought they could. Now I'm suggesting if you want to show a young Marine who scratches his ear or has a dirty face it's out you know Marines scratch yours and have dirty faces. You can't get the loan of an M-1 rifle unless they approved down the line of every single thematic point of that script. So I find that government interference is not a whit different than commercial interference in terms of certain timorous areas of concern which they have feel a vested interest in. But I would love to see if we can get a comparable BBC here because despite the fact that they are not as good as we think they are because principally we see most of their good things we don't see they're bad. You know we see three hours of Dickens uninterrupted and we applaud. We don't see
the you know the sizable amount of their programming which is dissection of butterfly wings done in the early morning which your question are not interesting. However your points well taken and I thank you for it. Yes or no. I seriously doubt it because pay deal television is in every true sense a profit making venture. So consequently if you're going to be faced with the challenge of programming material for its most yielding profit you are going to program again downward toward what you think a mass audience likes and if you would indeed have a choice between a two hour good movie of a very highly dramatic theme and hello Dolly you're going to program Hello Dolly. And for that reason I seriously doubt a paid television would have much effect at all except on movie going it'll kill. Exhibition movies. Yes ma'am. Yeah.
Interesting. I hadn't realized that this was the phenomenon of young readership they're interested in plot. I suppose young readers generally are somewhat preoccupied with plot development rather than character and forever have been. But I don't think this necessarily comments at all on what is the potential of drama because you're not dealing in what little serious drama there is in the present stage is very much character. Look at your all be success for one Tennessee Williams the same way and the new marvelous play that came from London called the. I'll never forget a what's his name. I believe it's called a staircase unless I'm mistaken a story of two homosexual barbers and on the face of it it sounds ludicrous but it's the most telling warm and
wonderful piece of work I've seen in a long time I recommended I don't know whether that's the staircase I thought it was yeah. The London production was brilliant Paul Scofield at it here they've got who. You know I was like and somebody I don't recall. Yes. You know. I'll repeat your question I don't think they heard it. Young Writers with a bend toward the suspense science fiction Alfred Hitchcock and myself and Bradman a few others if indeed the shows are off the air does that somewhat limit the market. Potentially yes indeed it does. There's no question about it. There was a you know there was a marvelous you know a whole resurrection of this particular breed of storytelling which fund you know expression in the Hitchcock show which was on my show was when stepping on was on the Outer Limits was done
quite a few. But suddenly there was an absolute dearth of anything remotely like it. And I don't know why. I guess they were escaping far enough. And I would say F Troop another you know solid intellectual exercises. Oh indeed it is. Oh yeah the whole science fiction. You're as always been you know very properly commercial and indeed over the past 20 years you've seen a breed of writing from the Asimov and Fred Brown and Bradbury which is a cut above the average American fiction. And if you look at any of the good magazines it's like stuff now Playboy will have Ray Russell or Bradbury very much in evidence at least once every three months. Of course none of us read Playboy so I wouldn't expect you know any of what. I said or read it to read it that's what I said. Yes ma'am. Yeah. Yeah.
This is one of the strange phenomena of television which is uniquely the borrowing of that which is good and successful slightly changing it and very slightly and going on and what is no more no less than a carbon copy of that which they have seen. You've seen this obviously in cyclical fashion almost from television's it's inception when the Private Eye show was successful. There was a whole raft of shows with men in trenchcoats one television western like Gunsmoke invites a raft of imitators. And that's been this like wheel thing. There was one talk show perhaps that you know creates a kind of spirit and a sense of you know devil may care and I give and take in the on audience level and suddenly you have Joe Pine and other you know very compassionate human beings you know. It's a funny line here that Stan Freberg comment if you like World War 2 you love
Hogans Heroes. Funny line I've never heard that before. Yes ma'am in the back against the wall under the chandelier. That's me. I can't really see I've got a midget under here with a spyglass he's telling what's back there. I think there's no question but that you know the prodigious amount of television viewing has made the whole art of reading a somewhat a lost art. Though in point of fact statistically and I hate to quote statistics because we can all use them for our own purposes. There are more books being read and sold today since the inception of television never before. So whether or not you can relate this phenomenon of bad reading to television I don't know. But there's no question but that the level of drama that the young child sees on television with the desperately oversimplified use of violence as an answer to. I would guess i'm Needless to say I haven't had that problem likely with my own
kids. First of all because I deliberately limit their television viewing I only let them watch certain things and during certain hours on the weekend I am very careful not to say religiously careful about it. But I gather certain child psychiatrists of have come up with a thesis that very much relates certain negative attitudes in the blood of children with their with their television viewing. That's about the only comment over simplified that it may be that I could make on that yes or no. Oh. I think saw.
Well I can only offer by. I'm sorry. Well for example you had a Playhouse 90 which went on for three solid years once a week forty eight weeks a year with brand new material and this is not to suggest that everything they did was highly qualitative or made the mark or was commentator. But I think it's possible within the framework. It's I think it's altogether possible within the confines of the economics of television and their techniques and the use of television devices to do not only one or two very good shows but literally hundreds of them. The world is an oyster. They can send cameras out all over the earth. They can hire a marvelously bright young writers who die a borning on college campuses because there are no channels to which they get recognition. They die for new talent but they don't provide you know literally any any channels through which that talent can get recognition. And that's one of the reasons they like for
talent. But it's an insatiable ya this this television medium. They have to fill up you know 11 12 hours a day seven days and seven nights a week. Obviously they can they can search you know all over their new techniques that haven't been tried yet. The whole business of the camera lens has yet to find really it's most telling properties. You know you can develop Eisenstein's you can develop a Stanley Kramer's I don't mean to necessarily put them together in that or in that order even. But you know the whole concept of the of the art of cinema has yet been untouched in terms of what his potential is. Yes or no. Marshall McLuhan is what you asked. Yeah. Well he just had an operation you know he did. He had a.
Thing removed. And someone this is again not original I think Jim may have said it to me today that my God have we been. You know revering this gentleman all this time and not realizing all along that it was a figment of some myopia that he had inside of his behind his eyes. And now that he's had surgery will never again be a bright exciting and discerning spokesman of the media. I don't pretend to understand everything he says but when he starts to philosophize to the extent of saying that the media is the thing and the content isn't worth a damn. I have to take issue with him of course. But he has a very interesting premise on many levels. But as I say I've got to read like 80 pages of McLuhan to be able to decipher to. Which must you know to speak. You know my own lack of intellect along those lines yes or. No. Oh.
Well my hope of course would be a total divorce between all commercial facets of the show and all the entertainment part. I don't believe that this marriage can be shotgunned into an existence in any properly real way in any legitimate way. The commercial is not a part of the show. It is not integrity. It stands for good or for bad as a totally independent animal. And the moment you have the commercial man dictating the thematic values of a dramatic show you're in deep trouble. I'll give you an example. I have about six more minutes if you're getting story fitful and uncomfortable and only be a few more moments then you're all invited to my hotel room and. Where you hoodie man you will play for you. And play almost 90 to support the inordinate cost of this particular program we had to get take on a minimum six sponsors eight if we were lucky but six to break even. And each one sent their own
coterie of advertising agency reps usually two or three in number and it was the policy of the show that they were not permitted on the set until the first day they ran through on a sound stage without scripts and then the agency gentlemen could get together and sit at this long rectangular table and take notes and they were numbered 20 30 40 fellows and on this particular occasion we were doing a show called The Dark Side Of The Earth fairly definitive story about the Hungarian revolt against the Soviet Union. Then half and a few other people. And as was their wont they had the number two heavy pencils poised in the foolscap paper reams they could write. You know Thomas doing novels with the equipment they had but not a single pencil touched paper during the entire seventy two minutes of the rehearsal. And I felt a beauty and absolutely fulfilled. And I said to the producer then mighty man I said mighty. A new day has dawned. I have just watched twenty extensively intelligent
men who are usually in the business of destroying everything I've done. Listen to a piece of drama for what it is a piece of drama. You'll note that not a single note has been taken we are in great shape and I think it was the first time in some fifteen years of writing for the media that this had occurred. And these guys all huddled together and obviously looking for a spokesman. And again very much different than the usual norm. They sent one man over as a spokesman and he addressed himself to Martin minus a producer and he said Marty this is the feeling of all six advertising agencies of record. Please do not show too many Soviet officers smoking cigarettes. Now this is the entire editorial comment. Of the acumen of you know the cerebral qualities of six big you know well paid advertising men. So I said Well I'll tell you what we'll do Martin. We'll slip him a real Mickey at the end of the show we'll have a scene which will tack on which will never show them and it'll be a huge bull
necked Soviet officer with a gigantic cigarette. And you look into the lens of the camera and he'll say you did a lot to like in a mild bottle. So it was a scam. I think it's one of the answers. Indeed I do I think it lacks for support. Certainly it likes finances at the moment. It likes talent it likes time it likes professional help. But what I've seen so often has been very good and very promising that I have great faith in it. Varying with the places I've seen the types of stations which are available in the rest of it. But I would look for television educational television to be a real spokesman for if not the pure intellect at least the person who wants to be somewhat mentally titillated of an evening you know rather than watch F-Troop. Yes ma'am I didn't say I did see it. I know that.
You're pulling my leg and you owe me. I've heard of the Sontag quote and I think she's well within her rights to you know to feel that. This arbitrary cloudiness of vision that should attend all art is in some way you know desperately required to appreciate said I. I must tell you I think that's guff. I cannot believe that certainly there is certain art by virtue of its of its very abstraction which has a strange symbolic beauty to it. But I could not lay claim to the fact that all art should be not understandable. To be perfect I think that's nuts. Is that the point. I missed the point right. Now.
It's very interesting. We'll meet after the show. OK I guess you. Are. Number one the money green salad lettuce whatever you want to call it. This is what brings people into the vineyards. Second challenge and I don't say that disparagingly at all. You give people a bare stage and say Do what you want to do and you'll be amazed at how many very highly professional people will rise to the level of the challenge. Now this happens in Los Angeles several times. I wrote I wrote a screed as a screenplay for the Paulist group only because they said to me you write anything you want. And I did for free.
I got two hundred eighty dollars which I turned back to them and I don't suggest that because I'm a very charitable man I'm only suggesting that this is an instance when you give the creator the complete challenge to do as he wants to do he will do it. And I think there in lies one of the major problems of the educational stations to find the platform to interest the artist. And that that that platform comes with freedom of artistic expression and only that I think about two more and I'll let you go. Yes ma'am in the middle of. When do I think they'll be more. Very little. I think we ran our cycle we were on five years Hitchcock was on for six. I seriously doubt if you'll see any more of them. I tell you what when Trist speaker goes back to baseball I'll go back to television all right.
I tell you what one of the major problems of course are the demands literally the physical demands alone that are placed on the Creator in television during the five year run of my show. I never got up later than six. I never stopped working earlier than 9:00 and this was Sundays and Saturdays as well. Twenty one pounds lost during those five years on a fairly small frame. It's back breaking it's bleeding. It's sheer horror and for the actors it's even worse. These babies are up at 4:30 they're in make up at six they're on camera at 7:00 and there we end they're rehearsing and performing until 7:30 8:00 9:00 o'clock at night. And what this does to perspective alone you know to you know to the expression of talent clear and unfettered with proper perspective goes without saying. It's a demanding media. It eats you up alive. One more. Yes. I hate the term but I'm willing to use it. You know for want of something else. Young Mr. Eric Monstro I guess or Mr. Mantei. I'm joking. I'm sorry.
I. Yeah I do indeed. You. Know I I I. I know. I know what station you are. Do. I see the point. I'm not I'm not prepared to offer you you know the universal panacea to the creation of qualitative television but I can tell you that first things in chronology would have to be the understanding on the part of the networks that by use of public air this carries with it by a very major implication the use of the public and mass which carries with it a concern for the minority. Balanced programming which makes response to the legitimate taste of that minority that's one thing.
A sense of responsibility that I fail to see as yet that we are dealing in a mass media so sizable so gigantic in its size so immediate and its effect so far reaching. In all of its conclusions that they'd better be prepared to realize that they've got in their hands either a major weapon or a marvelous marvelous educative tool. And I don't yet perceive even the attitude of the networks this deep rooted consciousness of what is their public responsibility. That kind of thing. Thank you so much for. Am. You have heard Rod Serling speaking on the challenge of the mass media to the 20th century writer. This was another in a series of lectures and readings recorded at the Library of Congress under the auspices of the Gertrude Clark with all poetry and literature all front. This is the national educational radio network A.
Library of Congress lectures II
Episode Number
Episode 5 of 9
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WUOM (Radio station : Ann Arbor, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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For series info, see Item 3701. This prog.: Television as a medium for the literary artist is one of the topics covered in a lecture by Rod Serling.
Film and Television
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Producer: Library of Congress
Producing Organization: WUOM (Radio station : Ann Arbor, Mich.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-40-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:25:44
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Chicago: “Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 5 of 9,” 1968-10-04, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 28, 2023,
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APA: Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 5 of 9. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from