The Twilight Zone is one of my all-time favorite shows. I discovered it during one of The Sci-Fi channel’s marathons in the 90’s and was just blown away by the incredible storytelling. I loved the twist endings and the way the many of the stories were morality tales, or as creator Rod Serling called it, “wisdom fiction.” He felt that television was there to entertain, but also had a responsibility to inform and make the world a better place. Man, could we use him in 2022.
When people talk about Rod Serling, they tend to mention two things: The Twilight Zone and The Night Gallery. The Twilight Zone was created by Mr. Serling, while The Night Gallery was something he was hired to host and ultimately despised working on. He didn’t write many of the episodes of The Night Gallery and even when he did the network wasn’t behind him. He ended up resenting the show and while at times it attempted to emulate The Twilight Zone, it lacked consistency big time.
Between these two iconic series was a forgotten series that Mr. Sterling created called The Loner, a Western starring Lloyd Bridges. It only lasted one season and was plagued by issues with the network, but the show truly feels like the work of Rod Sterling, unlike The Night Gallery.
His approach to The Loner was unlike the Westerns airing at the time. Bill Colton was a former Union solider who after the war decided to set out west and see what he could see. He runs into people in trouble and more often than not, is able to disarm and educate using his words and not violence. He’s a man who isn’t afraid to use violence when needed, but only when needed. His first choice in a conflict is communication not bullets.
Of course, creating a western using the same “wisdom fiction” that The Twilight Zone was known for, didn’t go over well with the network who wanted more shooting, punching, and horses jumping and so sadly, The Loner was cancelled after just one season and outside of a few airings in the early 2000’s on TV Land was rarely seen again.
Thankfully, Shout Factory released a complete series on DVD a few years back, and I’ve been slowly working my way through it. Like any television show, there are some great episodes and some mediocre episodes, but you can feel the compassion of Mr. Sterling’s writing through the characters and their actions, and while it may be a little too “white bread” for today’s audiences, it’s surprisingly refreshing to me.
It’s a shame The Loner wasn’t seen by many and is still quite difficult to watch outside of the DVDs. It truly is a great piece of entertainment by one of the finest minds and one of my personal writing heroes.
For some more information on The Loner there is a great article found here also I watched a fantastic documentary on Rod Serling from 1995 on YouTube which spends two or three minutes discussing the show.