From Twilight to Today

A former student talks about Rod Serling’s lasting impact.

By Conor Harrington '13 and Christine Loman '12

Bill D’Elia ’69 has directed episodes of Law and Order, The West Wing, and Glee, but he still remembers the advice of his mentor Rod Serling.

D’Elia was the keynote speaker at the Rod Serling Conference at Ithaca College this September. The conference, dedicated to Serling’s work on shows like The Twilight Zone, has been held since his death in 1975. Serling was a professor at the Roy H. Park School of Communications starting in 1967. A film on Serling’s life is currently in the works.

As a student of Serling’s, D’Elia says he learned not to transition too abruptly between serious and comedic moments in what Serling called the “banana peel” moment. A “banana peel” is a gimmick or cheap joke that reduces the credibility of a scene.

D’Elia is currently executive producer of Harry’s Law, which is in its second season. He was also executive producer of Boston Legal and Ally McBeal, and coexecutive producer of Chicago Hope.

He says one of the most important things he learned from Serling was how to ground his work in socially relevant issues.

“[Serling] did what he did tonally, by telling some of the more preposterous stories on television that all seemed to have some sort of relevance to what was going on — preposterous as the story might seem,” says D’Elia.

Even though Serling’s work was science fiction and D’Elia traffics mostly in comedy, both grounded their work in realism.

“[I] adhere to the tenets Serling taught me so many years ago: to make a promise, be socially relevant, and be careful of the banana peel,” D’Elia said in his keynote speech.