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.