Exactly How Prolific Was Rod Serling, Anyway?
Updated: Mar 6, 2019
How many home runs did Hank Aaron hit?
How many touchdown passes did Peyton Manning throw?
How many scripts did Rod Serling write?
Hmmm . . .
When I began writing ROD SERLING: HIS LIFE, WORK, AND IMAGINATION, I had a modest goal of compiling basic information about every produced teleplay and screenplay that Rod Serling had ever written. And so, if I accomplished this modest goal, one would think that I could answer this question. Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple.
Before a 1973 speaking engagement in San Diego, Rod Serling was introduced as “the author of over 400 television scripts.” When I was a guest on WSCA radio recently, one of the show’s hosts referenced this number and asked for my clarification. I don’t think I provided much clarity. Totaling the number of Serling’s scripts is complicated not necessarily because of the incredible number of them, and not necessarily because records of early television broadcasts are often insufficient. No, the answer is complicated primarily because of another deceivingly complicated question:
Which scripts should count?
Rod Serling was almost certainly the most prolific writer in television history. He was also, however, a frequent recycler of his own material. And this prompts the question of whether a script that was produced by multiple shows should be counted multiple times. And even this question is not as straightforward as it might seem.
From July 1951 through April 1952, Serling wrote more than 30 scripts for a series called THE STORM. This series was broadcast over WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was seen only in the Cincinnati area. Because these shows were seen only locally, Serling was able to shop these same scripts to network series. No less than a dozen of Serling’s scripts written for THE STORM were later produced by network series, earning Serling a second payday for the same material, and allowing this work to be seen by a national audience for the first time.
So, when totaling Serling’s scripts, do THE STORM’s scripts count? To avoid duplication, should we count only those scripts that were produced on THE STORM but not seen again nationally? Or should even those scripts count twice, given that the network’s versions of these scripts usually differed from the version previously produced on THE STORM?
To simply disregard Serling’s work on THE STORM might seem a solution, but the question extends beyond that series. Even after a script had been produced on a network series, Serling was often able to resell the script to another network series. One of his earliest scripts, “Mr. Finchley vs. the Bomb,” was first produced on THE STORM. It was then broadcast nationally on LUX VIDEO THEATRE. Both of these were half-hour productions. Several years later, however, Serling expanded “Finchley” from a half-hour to sixty minutes, at which length it aired as an episode of KAISER ALUMINUM HOUR.
So, does “Mr. Finchley” count once, twice, or three times? Disregarding the version produced on THE STORM does not address how to count a script that was produced at one length and later produced at a different length.
The NIGHT GALLERY “pilot movie” was produced from one script, consisting of three separate stories. Does this count as one, or three? TWILIGHT ZONE: ROD SERLING’S LOST CLASSICS consisted of two stories – one produced from a full-length Serling teleplay, and one from a Serling story/outline. Does this count as one, or two?
How should we treat Serling’s feature film scripts? Two of these were adapted by other writers from Serling’s television scripts; two were adapted by Serling himself; and one, THE MOVIE MAKER, was produced by taking an episode of THE CHRYSLER THEATRE (“A Slow Fade to Black”) and expanding it by filming additional scenes written by another writer.
Do these each count once, or twice?
With all of these considerations in mind, I surrendered to defeat. The answer is, it is impossible to settle on any specific number. The total ranges from 235 to 296.
These figures account for only those scripts that were produced, of course. No one can ever say with certainty how many novels, stories, poems, scripts, any writer has written. Even Stephen King could have an unpublished novel or twelve hidden in a trunk somewhere. Including unproduced scripts, Serling’s total likely approaches the 400 number mentioned earlier. Sifting through this material, one wonders how any man could have written so much in such a relatively short period. I am convinced that Rod Serling could not have slept for more than five or ten minutes on any given night between 1950 and 1973.
Oh, and we haven’t mentioned 21 scripts produced on national radio programs (more than half of which were produced only on radio), one book of original fiction, five books of short story adaptations, a novelization, and likely a novel which has been, sadly, lost to time.
He never slept.