Patterns: great drama

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Since childhood I’ve had a fondness for the work of Rod Serling. I loved staying up late at night to watch The Twilight Zone, loved being transported to that eternal black and white realm of anticipated resonance and crafted imagination. Remember this?

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

Serling himself is an intriguing character. I’ve wanted for many years to read or see his acclaimed drama, Patterns. Why? Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Patterns was the first major breakthrough of Rod Serling when the live television drama received critical acclaim as the January 12, 1955 installment of the anthology series Kraft Television Theatre.
Directed by Fielder Cook, the intense big-business drama starred Richard Kiley as up-and-coming vice-president Fred Staples. Ruthless corporate boss Walter Ramsey (Everett Sloane) attempts to edge out aging employee Andy Sloane (Ed Begley) to make room for newcomer Staples. Ramsey uses every opportunity to humiliate the fragile Sloane, while Staples sees Sloane as a professional who makes valuable contributions to the firm.
Serling’s celebrated script tore apart the dynamics of the business world and earned Serling his first of his six Emmys for dramatic writing. There was a rave review from Jack Gould of The New York Times who suggested it be repeated:
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 and is bound to be compared with the current motion picture Executive Suite. By comparison, Executive Suite might be Babes in Toyland without a score. 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.
Gould’s request for a repeat was an unusual suggestion, since in that pre-videotape era, live shows were not repeated. Surprisingly, NBC took Gould’s suggestion seriously and made plans for another production.

Thanks to youtube, I finally got to see what the fuss is about. You can view the drama here, all 58 or so minutes. The video and sound quality are a bit creaky, which is either frustrating or charming according to your tastes. The acting – remember it was broadcast live – is superb. Patterns is as good as I had hoped. I won’t say anything about the adverts/recipes for such delights as a meal made by melting processed cheese into some indiscriminate tinned tomato soup. That’s one meal I will leave solely in the realms of imagination.

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Rod Serling

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