Twin Peaks is one of those shows that even 20 years later (DING DONG THAT SHOW ENDED 20 YEARS AGO!) is still both great and completely mystifying as to how it ever got on TV. Like, you could maybe imagine a show like Twin Peaks showing up on AMC today, although it would probably look really cool in the previews and then end up being a total disappointment like Hell on Wheels. But on primetime on ABC? No way José! And in 1991? This doesn’t even make sense! It’s impossible. Anyway, I was thinking about that the other day, just, like, how? How guys? How? So, I did some research into it, i.e. I looked it up on Wikipedia and took everything that I read on Wikipedia to be a factually accurate and complete history of events, and it’s pretty interesting! So is this just going to be a blog post where I cut and paste a Wikipedia entry about a TV show that’s been off the air for 20 years? YUP! Deal with it dot GIF. Whatever, it’s interesting!

David Lynch, who had experienced previous success with the acclaimed The Elephant Man (1980) and Blue Velvet (1986), was hired by a Warner Bros. executive to direct a film about the life of Marilyn Monroe, based on the best-selling book Goddess. Lynch recalls being “sort of interested. I loved the idea of this woman in trouble, but I didn’t know if I liked it being a real story”. Lynch’s agent, Tony Krantz suggested the director work with his friend and writer Mark Frost. He worked on Goddess screenplay with Lynch. Even though this project was dropped by Warner Brothers, Lynch and Frost became good friends, and wrote a screenplay titled One Saliva Bubble, with Steve Martin attached to star in it. However, this film was not made either. Krantz had been trying to get the filmmaker to work on TV since Blue Velvet but he was never really that interested in the idea. Krantz took Lynch to Nibblers restaurant in Los Angeles and said to him, “You should do a show about real life in America – your vision of America the same way you demonstrated it in Blue Velvet”. Lynch got an “idea of a small-town thing”, and though he and Frost were not keen on it they decided to humor Krantz. Frost wanted to tell “a sort of Dickensian story about multiple lives in a contained area that could sort of go perpetually”. Frost, Krantz and Lynch rented a screening room in Beverly Hills and screened Peyton Place and from that developed the town before its inhabitants. They drew a map and knew that there would be a lumber mill located in the town. Then, they came up with an image of a body washing up on the shore of a lake. Lynch remembers, “We knew where everything was located and that helped us determine the prevailing atmosphere and what might happen there”. Frost remembers that he and Lynch came up with the notion of the girl next door leading a “desperate double life” that would end in murder.

Lynch and Frost pitched the idea to ABC during the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike in a ten-minute meeting with the network’s drama head, Chad Hoffman, with nothing more than this image and a concept. According to the director, the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer was initially going to be in the foreground, but would recede gradually as viewers got to know the other townsfolk and the problems they were having. Lynch and Frost wanted to mix a police investigation with a soap opera.
ABC liked the idea, and asked Lynch and Frost to write a screenplay for the pilot episode. They had been talking about the project for three months and then wrote the screenplay in 10 days. Frost wrote more verbal characters, like Benjamin Horne, while Lynch was responsible for Agent Cooper. According to the director, “He says a lot of the things I say”. Originally, the show was titled Northwest Passage and set in North Dakota, but the fact that a town called Twin Peaks really exists prompted a revision in the script. ABC Entertainment President Brandon Stoddard ordered the two-hour pilot for a possible fall 1989 series. He left the position in March 1989 as Lynch went into production. They filmed the pilot for $4 million with an agreement with ABC that they would shoot an additional “ending” to it so that it could be sold directly to video in Europe as a feature film if the TV show was not picked up. ABC’s Robert Iger and his creative team took over, saw the dailies and met with Frost and Lynch to get the “arc” of the stories and characters. However, even though Iger liked the pilot, he had a tough time persuading the rest of the network brass. Iger suggested showing it to a more diverse, younger group, who liked it, and the executive subsequently convinced ABC to buy seven episodes at $1.1 million apiece. Some executives figured that the show would never get on the air or that it might run as a seven-hour mini-series. However, Iger planned to schedule it for the spring. The final showdown occurred during a bi-coastal conference call between Iger and a room full of New York executives; Iger won, and Twin Peaks was on the air.

So, the answer to how a show as impossible to put on primetime network television as Twin Peaks gets on primetime network television is basically a Sebastian Junger perfect storm (FINGERS CROSSED THAT I AT LEAST GET NOMINATED AT THIS YEAR’S REFERENCIES) of circumstances. Most importantly, of course, that David Lynch was a STRIKEBREAKER! But then also a power vacuum at the network. It’s interesting! Also, a David Lynch movie about Marilyn Monroe? Unless David Lynch has secretly died why are we not getting that ball rolling again? Project greenlight.

Comments (71)
  1. Yad swen wols a si yllaer ti.

  2. This could double as your Master’s thesis at University of Virginia.

  3. Halfway trhough the wikipedia entry I realized Gabe was referring to The Killing. One day my log will have something to say about this.

  4. gabe, you’re really taking my joke about every link being behind a paywall a little too seriously.

  5. Did you know that Mulholland Dr. was meant as a television series as well (you probably did know, making this the lamest comment yet) . Turned into a pretty swell movie instead, but I wonder what people would have said about THAT on a network.

  6. That’s great for David but we need shows people can count on HEY YOU GUYS ABC JUST GREENLIT MY PILOT, ACCORDING TO TWO AND A HALF KINGS OF QUEENS!!!

    • I think what makes me happiest is not the millions of dollars; it’s that I get to spend the next 40 years challenging myself creatively.

  7. This show is a great show. Just, so great. Unfortunately, after watching it, I went on a huge David Lynch kick which would not have been a problem except for the fact that I was 10 and Blue Velvet was a little scarring. It did not help that my mom rented it for some reason confusing it with National Velvet. It was a trying time in the tables household.

  8. What is Twin Peaks?

  9. Also, Rashida Jones’ mom Peggy Lipton was awesome as Norma Jennings.

  10. trivia fact! the woman who played catherine lost her virginity to ronald reagan!

    • More TP Trivia: The weird vocal effects used during the “Black Lodge” sequences were achieved by having the actors learn their lines backwards. The result was then played backwards, meaning the lines came out forwards, but sounded bizarre and otherworldly.

      • This is just juicy (from IMDB): Kyle MacLachlan refused to further develop the storyline about his character Dale Cooper’s relationship with Audrey Horne ( Sherilyn Fenn), resulting in the writers having to abruptly change and add several second season story lines. As originally scripted, Audrey Horne would have been the one kidnapped by Windom Earle and taken to the Black Lodge in the series finale; the characters of Justice Wheeler and Annie were written in specifically to give Dale and Audrey “appropriate” love interests. At the time, the relationship between Cooper and Audrey was heavily publicized in TV Guide and other entertainment magazines, akin to the press given to later TV “power couples” (such as Mike and Susan of Desperate Housewives). The move alienated audiences and caused a further decline in the show’s already suffering ratings. At the time, Kyle MacLachlan attributed his insistence to a belief that the morally upright Cooper would not date an underage girl; however, Audrey was a high school senior who, in the time line of the series, would have graduated in one to two months, and in fact was not “underage”– in Washington state, the age of consent is sixteen, and Audrey is seventeen in the pilot. Crew members who would later attend the annual Twin Peaks convention would recall that MacLachlan was pressured into the decision by his then-girlfriend, Lara Flynn Boyle, who did not want her boyfriend sharing love scenes with Fenn, with whom Boyle did not get along on set.

  11. You know, I also really liked the movie prequel thing. Fire Walk With Me. That scene where David Bowie is coming to meet Cooper, and Cooper can only detect him by running back and forth and looking into the security camera? That was some seriously dream-like shit to put in a script.

  12. This remains the only copy of Rolling Stone I’ve ever bought (I think because of the “Mideastern Crisis” article):

  13. Oh god, remember when AMC tried to make a show like this and it was called the Killing and it was the worst?

  14. James singing the superweird ballad with Maddy and Donna was and always will be one of the awesomest/creepiest things ever seen on TV:

  15. This suit burns better. Look!

  16. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  17. This is spooky! I just started watching Twin Peaks on Sunday, when I drank a whole bottle of wine by myself and cued it up on Netflix. I ended my night around 3AM, right after having finished the third episode, aka the one with the first horrific dream sequence. I didn’t sleep well! But I just finished watching, I think, S4E2, and I was just wondering, “How the fuck did this get on the air?”

    Also, I already spoiled it for myself by checking Wikipedia (‘it’ being the show and this article) , so, oh well.

    • Don’t sweat it at all. I spoiled Twin Peaks 12 years ago when I first discovered Lynch’s work and watched for the first time Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. 10 years later I finally watched the show itself, then watched TP:FWwM again, aaaaaaand yeah. Really enjoyed it. You’ll be fine.

      • *ENJOYED the series. FWwM has all sorts of problems (although I did enjoy it as well). When I initially watched it with no knowledge of the series and fresh off of Mulholland Drive, I was just like, “Sure. Sure thing. This movie is NUTZ.” Watching it again 10 years later and in the context of the series, it really shined a light on how out of whack from the show the film wound up getting. It helps if you read up on how goddamn troubled the production of the film was, which it was. I’m kind of happy I saw FWwM first, those many years ago.

  18. I guess I’m alone in not really liking this show? I got through about 4 and a half episodes before I had to shut it off. The absurd quirkiness made it feel like a Wes Anderson movie. I was disappointed because I always had the impression that the show was creepy and unsettling, but man I just couldn’t take it seriously.

    • To each his own. (but you’re missing out on 16 really fun episodes, and then you’re missing out on an entire show crumbling into unsalvageable disrepair over the course of 14 additional episodes with an extremely cliffhanger-y cliffhanger with no resolution whatsoever).

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