TV Article

How I created 'Golden Years'...and spooked dozens of TV executives

How I created ''Golden Years'' -- Stephen King on how he spooked dozens of TV executives and became America's best-loved bogeyman

At some point between Salem's Lot, my second book, and The Dead Zone, my sixth, I became America's Best-Loved Bogeyman. This happened completely by accident. I did not aspire to the position; did not, in fact, even know it existed. Why America should need a Best-Loved Bogeyman is a question I'm not sure I want to think about too deeply, but it certainly seems to be true. For two generations before mine, Boris Karloff filled the position. In the '50s and early '60s, Karloff and Alfred Hitchcock were sort of co-Bogeymen, and then Rod Serling took over for both of them. When Serling died in 1975, the position stood vacant for a while, and then I came along.

Well...things could be worse. The hours are good, and there's no heavy lifting.

One has to pass a number of qualifying hurdles to get to the position of ABLB (America's Best-Loved et cetera), but the really big one is this: You have to scare the spook-lovers of America weekly by hosting your own creepy TV show. Boris Karloff had Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock had Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Rod Serling, who was sort of the Queen Victoria of ABLBs, had two shows: Night Gallery and The Twilight Zone, a CBS fantasy anthology that scared the bejabbers out of almost every baby boomer in America.

Although it would take me another few years to perfect the terminology, I now know I was first offered the vacant position of ABLB in 1982 when a TV production company offered me my own program. As the company visualized it, every week I would introduce a different story of ''New England horror.'' A kind of Down East Twilight Zone, if you like, where the girl would say, ''Do you get the feeling something strange is going around here, Jed?'' To which Jed would reply, ''Ayuh.''

I turned the offer down, but it has been renewed half a dozen times in the 10 years between then and now. I wouldn't have to write if I didn't want to, I was told again and again. All I'd really have to do was introduce. But I did want to write. Writing is what I do. What I don't do is perform. Oh, I've done a cameo every now and then — if I told you there isn't a bit of the frustrated actor in me, I'd be lying — but not on a regular basis. I know which side my bread is buttered on, and I am first and foremost a writer of stories. So I kept saying no, and as the '80s dried up, the offers to do the Rod Serling thing began to dry up too.

All the same, I had been thinking about TV quite a lot, in my own way — which is to say on spec and without telling anybody what I was up to except my wife. On spec because I found myself in the extraordinarily luxurious position of not needing anyone's advance money; and without telling anybody because when you let other people — especially ''creative people'' in the TV business — in on what you're thinking about, they fall all over themselves in their eagerness to edit your dreams. There is a time and place for editing...but not while you're still dreaming.

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