In 1959, Mike Wallace interviewed Rod Serling, the producer and narrator for The Twilight Zone. The piece of the interview I have encapsulated below is Rod’s response to Mike Wallace after Mike read to him a soundbite from Herbert Brodkin (another TV producer) about Rod’s work: “Rod is either going to stay commercial or become a discerning artist, but not both.”
“I remember the quote. He gave it to Gilbert Millstein when Millstein was doing a profile on me in the New York Times. I didn’t understand it at the time. I failed to achieve any degree of understanding in the ensuing years, which are three in number. I presume Herb means that inherently you cannot be commercial and artistic. You cannot be commercial and quality. You cannot be commercial concurrent with having a preoccupation with the level of storytelling that you want to achieve. And this I have to reject. I think you can be, I don’t think calling something commercial tags it with a kind of an odious suggestion that it stinks, that it’s something raunchy to be ashamed of. I don’t think if you say commercial means to be publicly acceptable, what’s wrong with that?
The essence of my argument, Mike, is that as long as you are not ashamed of anything you write if you’re a writer, as long as you’re not ashamed of anything you perform if you’re an actor, and I’m not ashamed of doing a television series. I could have done probably thirty or forty film series over the past five years. I presume at least I’ve turned down that many with great guarantees of cash, with great guarantees of financial security, but I’ve turned them down because I didn’t like them. I did not think they were quality, and God knows they were commercial. But I think innate in what Herb says is the suggestion made by many people that you can’t have public acceptance and still be artistic. And, as I said, I have to reject that.” by Rod Serling
Here is the full video interview (caution: the quality isn’t the best). Here is the full transcript.