May 1, 1964: Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
There has been progress made in the quality of television programming, but some of the industry’s worst problems—like censorship by advertisers—remains, Rod Serling says.
PHOTO CAPTION: Famous television writer Rod Serling, right, is shown the campus and buildings of Broome Technical Community College by Lloyd Hartman, chairman of the college’s general education and liberal arts department, who was Mr. Serling’s high school English teacher.
Mr. Serling, the famed television of dramatist from Binghamton, spoke before some 400 persons last night at Broome Technical Community College in a program sponsored by the college’s convocations committee.
He described interference he had experienced as a writer and producer of television dramas over the last 15 years.
One effect of the censorship, he says, is that television “lacks guts … it’s afraid to be different.”
HIS OWN PROGRAM, Twilight Zone, has had few brushes with censorship because usually it presents some form of science fiction and does not often touch on controversial areas.
He said of That Was the Week That Was, in response to a question from the floor, that most of the material broadcast is extemporaneous and not taken from a script.
But even this program, which is supposed to be a satirical review that holds nothing sacred, is almost certainly subjected to “pre-censorship.” Mr. Serling said. The TW3 performers decide beforehand which subjects to deal with, and shy away from controversial ones, he said.
THE PROGRAM has made “very few cogent comments on some of the tough problems of the day,” Mr. Serling said. The most daring comment the program has made was to show a skit linking cigarettes to lung cancer, he said. This was particularly brace because cigarette companies provide 14 per cent of the entire television advertising budget, he said.
Another major problem in television that has remained is the high cost of production and the resulting reduction of writing and rehearsal time, he said.
It takes about 16 weeks to film a motion picture, and about 50 feet of film are exposed for each one used, he said. For a television drama of comparable length, there will be three days of shooting time only 12 feet of film exposed for each one used.
BUT MOTION PICTURES, despite the luxury of large budgets, still have a major problem in the star system, he said. This is one of the chief reasons foreign films are often better than American ones, he said.
Viewers who wish to let the networks know they appreciate a good-quality television program have little recourse except to write letters, he said. This has saved a cancelled program only once, with Father Knows Best, he said. Heavy mail apparently is not going to spare The Richard Boone Show, an experiment in high-quality drama, he said.
He said he believed that letters written to a sponsor would “invariably have more effect” than those written to the network. He complained that the rating services used by the networks to gauge a program’s audience “to have no remote resemblance to a legitimate reflection” ” of the size of an audience.
THESE RATING services were proved worthless in Congressional hearings, he said, but within two weeks after the hearing the networks were relying on them again.
He proposed that the Federal Communications Commission “pass muster” in some fashion on the quality of advertising in television. The FCC has never been a “strong arm of the government” because it was afraid of being accused of censorship, he said.