In a recent issue of Variety, columnist Dave Kaufman sends off his piece with an opening paragraph sure to be an eye-catcher. It concerns racial prejudice and the way some writers are unsuccessfully trying to peddle their written wares on same — to big business.
This is what Kaufman reports: "Racial prejudice is too strong a subject for television… Rod Serling, one of TV’s top scripters, wrote a teleplay for U.S. Steel… He was ordered to dilute it.
"This year he wrote a similar story but changed it so that instead of Negroes, the yarn would revolve about Mexicans.
"It was designed for ‘Playhouse 90’ and producer Martin Manulis was enthusiastic about it… Not so the sponsors, all but one of them rejecting it."
Kaufman went on to explain Serling’s holy displeasure because the story wasn’t accepted. Reportedly, Serling is supposed to have remarked that it was a story of "prejudice as it exists," that "he was tired of fighting this" and — bless his crusading soul — "that he would let someone else do the fighting."
Personally, I’ll go on record in saying that "Playhouse 90" is very admirable TV fare, certainly one of my top choices.
Of Serling, there can be no middle ground for discussion. He and Paddy Chayefsky lead the race a mile ahead.
But — and this is where big business showed a big sense of values — racial prejudice, whether "diluted" from Negroes to Mexicans or to Jews, or to Manchurians or what have you (if it is generally rampant at all), is not the kind of commodity one bandies around with a price tag. And hoping for the big slice.
If U.S. Steel declined to buy Serling’s tale of prejudice for national showings in the quiet of, in the intimacy of, the American home, I, for one, cannot blame them. No, not in the least.
National television, in my way of thinking, cannot and should not be placed in the same category as hardcover book production, paperbacks or cheap pulps.
P.S. "Serling," concludes Kaufman, "did get paid for the story that won’t be seen."
Here’s a Oct. 14, 1956 Cecil Smith interview with Serling:
And an article on Rod Serling’s anthology of TV plays: