August 12, 2014 11:52 AM EDT

Many TV writers spend their careers trying to get critics to take them seriously; Rod Serling’s genius was to create a serious show and convince people that it was frivolous. The Twilight Zone‘s anthology episodes were mini masterworks of pulp storytelling, but they were also comments on conformity, McCarthyism and the threat of nuclear war, among other (often unnoticed) subjects. Yet in a famous 1959 interview, Mike Wallace asked Serling why, with the show, he had given up writing anything “important.” The Twilight Zone wasn’t self-important, though, nor was it an editorial—many of the episodes were about more philosophical conflicts, or just old-fashioned sci-fi mind-blowers. But Serling taught TV writers a lesson that’s lived on today in shows like Battlestar Galactica: if you’ve got a point to make, sometimes it’s better to let the monsters and robots do the talking.

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