Rod Serling is one of my favorite writers, and should be an inspiration for any serious writer today. His messages should also teach us valuable lessons about humanity. He was ahead of his time and was fantastic at being subtle about social commentary and criticism.
Watching The Mike Wallace Interview with him from the 1950s, it seems as if Rod came under fire from a critic for producing his new show, The Twilight Zone, because the implication was that Rod Serling had “sold out” for creating his own commercial TV program as opposed to being a freelance writer.
Anyway, I was checking out some of Rod Serling’s pre-Twilight Zone non-sci-fi work, which had landed him Emmys. One of them was Patterns (I also saw The Comedian starring Mickey Rooney). It was a live play produced by Kraft Television Theater. This was Rod Serling’s “break” that made him a valuable freelancer in the television industry.
Patterns has a theme that Serling focused on in The Twilight Zone and his lesser known 1970s horror/occult Night Gallery TV series: being obsolete. With Patterns, Serling targets an aging veteran VP salesman who has been feeling the Uncle Scrooge-like boss’s wrath. The Boss hates the VP because he is compassionate to workers and is concerned about the human factor in business acquisitions. The Boss hires a younger man to work side-by-side with the veteran to push him out. Thankfully, the two actually get along.
Patterns ends tragically, but also ends on one of the most spirited conversations I have ever seen on television: the younger salesman goes one-one-one with The Boss, and The Boss reveals his inner motivations with no apologies. This “Boss personality” is right out of the Enneagram text books, which were written some 40-60 years after this program. Here’s a direct link to the ending: http://youtu.be/tEUHl8RGrpk?t=50m34s
Here is what the New York Times wrote about it:
Nothing in months has excited the television industry as much as the Kraft Television Theatre’s production of Patterns, an original play by Rod Serling. The enthusiasm is justified. In writing, acting and direction, Patterns will stand as one of the high points in the TV medium’s evolution. Patterns is a play with one point of view toward the fiercely competitive world of big business… For sheer power of narrative, forcefulness of characterization and brilliant climax, Mr. Serling’s work is a creative triumph that can stand on its own. In one of those inspired moments that make the theater the wonder that it is, Patterns was an evening that belonged to the many, not only to Mr. Serling. The performances of Everett Sloane, Ed Begley and Richard Kiley were truly superb. The production and direction of Fielder Cook constituted a fluid use of video’s artistic tools that underscore how little the TV artistic horizons really have been explored. Patterns was seen from 9 to 10pm Wednesday over the National Broadcasting Company’s network; a repeat performance at an early date should be mandatory.
Here’s what a 2008 critic from TV Week said, about Patterns holding up:
Except for the use of terms like “mimeographed” and “teletype,” little about the drama seems dated, unless one is of the opinion that corporate politics and boardroom bloodletting no longer exist… With minimally judicious scene-setting (shots of clocks, a building directory, a switchboard) and a rapid introduction of characters, Serling pulls a viewer almost immediately into his story, a tale of corporate morality—or the lack of it—and such everyday battles as the ones waged between conscience and ambition.
Serling always had his hand on the pulse of John Q. Public- the middle-class humble moral everyman with the 1950s-1960s hat- and the morally bankrupt authority figures who squeeze them. These are universal themes and relationships that are part of human nature regardless if the office doesn’t has a computer or the all the men wear suits. By the way, if a modern viewer believes that the secretaries and women are treated improperly in Patterns, they would be right, but it was accepted in that era. The Boss personality type demands female subservience and certain traditional roles- even today (there are thankfully laws and threats of lawsuits to keep these types in check.)