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ORIGINAL SERIES ABC's Cancellation and General Treatment of the Original Series

OneMoreChapter

Special Agent
OG DUGPA MOD
Apr 12, 2022
145
151
Why exactly did ABC treat the show so badly? (original thread on Dugpa)

This is a place to discuss ABC's treatment of the original series - including ultimately cancelling it in 1991, along with their general feelings towards and handling of the show, the preempting that occurred due to the Gulf War, the ratings, the hiatus it went on before returning for the final 6 episodes, the COOP campaign to save the show, along with some discussion of what might have been had they renewed it for Season 3 (though the latter could probably go in the Original Season 3 Plans (1991) thread).
 

PeteMartell

Sparkwood & 21
Apr 16, 2022
5
12
Seemed like there was some kind of unreasonable pressure from the studio to resolve the mystery of who killed laura Palmer. Then since Lynch was working on wild at heart and walked away from supervision, the studio started to treat the show like an oddball problem that needed to be fixed…and the time slot they had it on was terrible to my memory. It was just too weird for the network.
 

David Locke

Sparkwood & 21
Apr 12, 2022
4
5
It’s a fascinating topic and one that has been discussed in detail by people far more eloquent than me. But, I think it boils down to the fact that the show ABC thought they had in Season 1 was only a glimpse of what Lynch and Frost ultimately wanted to do. Things were always going to get weird and unconventional whether they solved WKLP or not, it’s just Lynch’s style.

But the fact that the show had little or no interest initially in giving a firm answer to the mystery is what ticked off viewers and ultimately ABC. If you think about it, Episode 14-16 is hardly that long to wait to get the answer people wanted, if anything to us TP super fans and to Lynch it seemed too early, too rushed… it would have made more sense to reveal the killer in the last 2-3 episodes of Season 2. But I’m still happy with the way things worked out, and I don’t know if Lynch’s Ep 14 would have been nearly as astonishing if it weren’t created in that weird environment of mounting pressure and then outright demand to reveal the killer.

Constraints and misfortunate working circumstances I think tend to bring out the best in Lynch (BV having to be a 2-hour cut, even LH having to be trimmed down as well, MD being miraculously turned from failed TV pilot to feature film masterpiece, TSS working beautifully within the confines of a G-rated Disney film, Frost and the other crew providing essential balance to Lynch’s ideas throughout Twin Peaks, etc). If anything, I feel that Lynch completely removed of constraints tends to make stuff that I personally find a bit tedious and TOO bereft of structure and formal rigor, like IE and certain parts of The Return which I do generally really like.
 

Mr. Reindeer

Glastonbury Grove
Apr 13, 2022
153
230
If you think about it, Episode 14-16 is hardly that long to wait to get the answer people wanted, if anything to us TP super fans and to Lynch it seemed too early, too rushed… it would have made more sense to reveal the killer in the last 2-3 episodes of Season 2.
It’s interesting...I was a kid at the time. I’ve since watched a fair amount of TV from that era and preceding decades, and would consider myself more knowledgable of narrative conventions of that era of network television than many my age, but I wasn’t “there.” However, it seems to me that, from the perspective of network TV at that time, the length of time it took to resolve the mystery was indeed an eternity. Of course, it became a very different story even a few years later with shows like The X Files, and today would be no big deal. But at that point in time, TV was still very focused on procedurals, weekly resolutions or at most one-week cliffhangers. Sure, there had been occasional stuff like The Fugitive (not coincidentally a big spiritual influence on TP of course) which had season-spanning mysteries, but those were still really few and far between in 1990.
 

OneMoreChapter

Special Agent
OG DUGPA MOD
Apr 12, 2022
145
151
It’s a fascinating topic and one that has been discussed in detail by people far more eloquent than me. But, I think it boils down to the fact that the show ABC thought they had in Season 1 was only a glimpse of what Lynch and Frost ultimately wanted to do. Things were always going to get weird and unconventional whether they solved WKLP or not, it’s just Lynch’s style.

But the fact that the show had little or no interest initially in giving a firm answer to the mystery is what ticked off viewers and ultimately ABC. If you think about it, Episode 14-16 is hardly that long to wait to get the answer people wanted, if anything to us TP super fans and to Lynch it seemed too early, too rushed… it would have made more sense to reveal the killer in the last 2-3 episodes of Season 2. But I’m still happy with the way things worked out, and I don’t know if Lynch’s Ep 14 would have been nearly as astonishing if it weren’t created in that weird environment of mounting pressure and then outright demand to reveal the killer.

Constraints and misfortunate working circumstances I think tend to bring out the best in Lynch (BV having to be a 2-hour cut, even LH having to be trimmed down as well, MD being miraculously turned from failed TV pilot to feature film masterpiece, TSS working beautifully within the confines of a G-rated Disney film, Frost and the other crew providing essential balance to Lynch’s ideas throughout Twin Peaks, etc). If anything, I feel that Lynch completely removed of constraints tends to make stuff that I personally find a bit tedious and TOO bereft of structure and formal rigor, like IE and certain parts of The Return which I do generally really like.
Great post. I agree with so much of this. As for constraints and Lynch, I do think he works best with constraints (his 5 episodes of the original series are my favourite of all his work) but at the same time, I intrinsically want a creator to be free of constraints and their vision honoured - but, yes, for example I'm sorry to say (I know a lot of people loved it) but I found large chunks of The Return tedious. IE not as much maybe as it was a film (a very long one yes but still a film) and I was more accepting of it being experimental (but also I haven't rewatched it in years so there's that) than I was with TP becoming so experimental (it always was but I mean even moreso and a change in tone - not that I wanted coffee and cherry pie, I didn't ... well not much). As a writer, I accept that editors have to edit me - and sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't, but it usually produces a better book. However, I could also see myself doing what many well established writers do one day and mostly choosing to forgo editor's suggestions (not basic stuff like proofreading) but maybe then I'd be happy with my books but my readers might find them more bloated and self-indulgent? I don't know. It's a tricky one for me - ideally no constraints on any creator, but many creators work amazingly with - and sometimes because of - constraints. I do believe Lynch did. But I can still mine what I can from The Return to enjoy. I feel a bit like I'm wading through a lot I don't like but there's still much to love so... I'm okay with it now at this stage of his career. (I'm also interested in seeing what others might do with TP and what he might do returning to occasional directing of an episode like with the original but I feel him directing every episode has now set a precedent in the fandom and many would consider that notion outrageous.) I guess I wouldn't like to see him constrained now - I'd just like him to maybe self-edit a bit more, but even then - maybe not. I'm on the fence!
 

OneMoreChapter

Special Agent
OG DUGPA MOD
Apr 12, 2022
145
151
It’s interesting...I was a kid at the time. I’ve since watched a fair amount of TV from that era and preceding decades, and would consider myself more knowledgable of narrative conventions of that era of network television than many my age, but I wasn’t “there.” However, it seems to me that, from the perspective of network TV at that time, the length of time it took to resolve the mystery was indeed an eternity. Of course, it became a very different story even a few years later with shows like The X Files, and today would be no big deal. But at that point in time, TV was still very focused on procedurals, weekly resolutions or at most one-week cliffhangers. Sure, there had been occasional stuff like The Fugitive (not coincidentally a big spiritual influence on TP of course) which had season-spanning mysteries, but those were still really few and far between in 1990.
Yeah, you're right. It was a very different time. It definitely seems like a short amount of time in retrospect - I mean, the audience was fed up by Episode 7! I think there's live reactions to people's disappointment the killer wasn't revealed at the end of Season 1 (and outrage it wasn't in the first episode of Season 2). I think the timing of Episode 14 was odd at least by today's standards, a major series-ending (as proved to be the case) reveal mid season, then mostly brushed aside by the next week, is just so strange. But, yeah, back then most mysteries were the two-part pilot episode maybe, a sort of TV movie - like Due South, where the murder mystery is solved in the two-part pilot which also moves the character (who is a bit like Cooper) to a new locale, where he then just stays to solve other non-connected mysteries, though his reasons for moving are always mentioned every episode (in a very tongue-in-cheek way as the network insisted on it and they played around with it). Countless other examples of this kind of thing where then every week after there was a different case.

I guess The Fugitive though is a good example of an even older show where it took a few years to get the ultimate answer - but the difference there was it reverted to a procedural-style/different-story-every week, with the main mystery presented mainly as the premise of why he was on the run and who he was searching for whereas Peaks - especially in the first season, out of necessity - made every episode mostly about WKLP and the investigation while trying to blend in very interconnected (or so it appeared at least) stories about the timber mill and the quirky residents of the town.

Given the television landscape at the time, they probably needed to segue sooner into Laura just being the background and Cooper in town also solving other non-connected mysteries with standalone episodes, with Laura's case popping up every few episodes - but that might have stretched belief that he was still in the town. (And would have gone against the tone of the show - the whole point of its initial popularity is it was so unlike other things on TV at the time.) But I think if Lynch wanted Laura Palmer to be like the one-armed man, always in the background but not the central mystery, they probably needed to do that. They did try to with things like the Project Blue Book stuff and then Windom Earle but I think they just had it all set up too late. I still say the series was possible to get back on track despite low ratings (7 million is not low by today's standards!) and ABC was insane to cancel it but that's just me maybe.

I'd love to see what those viewers would think of LOST - some people were annoyed at the end of a 24 hour season (compared to only 7 episodes!) we didn't see inside the hatch, but mostly still stuck around. And there were countless mysteries, some of which fans still complain weren't answered (most were). Then again, LOST did eventually lose half its audience (most dropping off in Season 2 or early in its third year) and towards the end had 8 or 9-12 million viewers, not that much more some weeks than TP's 7 if you adjust the time periods, but it was still considered fairly popular.
 

N. Needleman

RR Diner
Apr 12, 2022
28
40
It’s interesting...I was a kid at the time. I’ve since watched a fair amount of TV from that era and preceding decades, and would consider myself more knowledgable of narrative conventions of that era of network television than many my age, but I wasn’t “there.” However, it seems to me that, from the perspective of network TV at that time, the length of time it took to resolve the mystery was indeed an eternity. Of course, it became a very different story even a few years later with shows like The X Files, and today would be no big deal. But at that point in time, TV was still very focused on procedurals, weekly resolutions or at most one-week cliffhangers. Sure, there had been occasional stuff like The Fugitive (not coincidentally a big spiritual influence on TP of course) which had season-spanning mysteries, but those were still really few and far between in 1990.
For back then, absolutely it was a long time. I remember the furor well.
 

TimG

RR Diner
Apr 12, 2022
21
26
I was 13 when it aired, and yes, 14 episodes was a long time (at the time!) to reveal the whodunit. I did not mind personally but I know people who it did bother. I would like to hear more commentary from the writers about whether there was pressure from ABC post-reveal to move on asap due to the identity of the killer. Episode 16 annoys me for many reasons but 17 even more so with its botched handling of the wake and the town's reaction to Leland. Frankly, even the 4 or 5 day jump from Leland's death is jarring. It might have been nice to see the news spreading like wildfire around town and people react in horror and disbelief. It might have made for an interesting mirror image to the sequence in the Pilot of everyone learning that Laura had not only died but been murdered.

As much as I'm annoyed at Frost, Peyton, Engels for the writing of Episodes 16 (way too literal) & 17 (just wretched all round), I also think Lynch deserves a share of the blame. He delivered the original show's best hour with Ep 14 and then basically buggered off. How I wish he had stayed on for the next three episodes at least and been involved in the writing of those, and the sketching out of the immediate aftermath of Leland's death. So I think the trio of Frost, Peyton and Engels must have been/were caught up in a Catch 22 situation of sorts: Lynch left because Peaks lost its allure to him with the closure of the Palmer storyline and ABC likely told them to wrap this up pronto as they had to have been inherently uncomfortable with the implications of the killer's reveal; also, Lynch's admittedly stunning and raw Ep 14 probably made ABC think "okay, this is already more than enough, we are losing our viewership".

I think, in their minds, the show was dead at this point. The lack of preparation (comparative to season 1) on the writers' part for an equally gripping hook to follow Laura Palmer with just sealed it. I have to disagree with Frost by the way: Windom Earle was not the thing to get people to stay hooked. Cooper being possessed by Bob was. I don't remember right now at what point in the timeline they came up with the idea of Bob taking over Coop. Anyone know or remember?
 

mtwentz

RR Diner
Apr 12, 2022
22
15
Just as perspective, 'Who Shot JR' took 4 episodes to solve. That occurred a decade earlier but would have been the standard against which Twin Peaks was measured.

On the other hand, The Fugitive did take the entire series in order to solve the core mystery. However, The Fugitive was obviously different and that each episode was also a standalone adventure.
 

Dom

RR Diner
Jul 10, 2022
38
37
I think perhaps the issue was that the Laura killing was supposed to be a 'springboard' story, pulling the first thread to begin to unravel the many dark secrets of the town, becoming an ongoing background plotline as other stories would take precedence, culminating in a reveal of the killer when the series finished. The trouble is that Laura was such a magnetic character that the series' creators and audiences were enraptured by her and they never really shook off the plotline. Had the show run for 154 episodes, I'm not convinced they could have strung out the search for Laura's killer in the background for that long. Look at the rate they burned through other stories: Thomas Eckhardt, One-Eyed Jack's, the Renaults, Evelyn. Interesting potential season-long story arcs were burned through in a couple of episodes. It's as if the series had a mind of its own and wanted to create long running story arcs, but the shoots were cut off too early. It's perhaps the tragedy of the series that it changed television, but was strangled by the limitations of the industry of that time.
 

Cappy

Great Northern Hotel
Aug 4, 2022
71
49
The pressure from the network to resolve the murder mystery might've been a big part of what pushed Lynch and Frost away during the Evelyn era, but at the same time, it gave us the show's best episode (outside of the pilot and finale anyway). The reveal ep is some of Lynch's most stunning work, plus it indirectly lead to FWWM.
 

Dom

RR Diner
Jul 10, 2022
38
37
Ultimately, I think Twin Peaks was always a streaming TV series at heart. It was a streaming TV series when there was no streaming TV, the internet was still in diapers and buying VHSes of movies and TV series was such a novelty that you'd pay a lot of money for two episodes! The series was way ahead of its time. The reason the first season is so great is that it's a mid-season replacement that runs for eight episodes, which gave us a tightly-focused bullet of a season. It's basically a Netflix season. If it had always been eight episodes a year, with a very clear focus for each season, it would have been glorious. If Twin Peaks had started life as a 22 episode season, I reckon it would never have made it to episode 22.

The first season is like an 'episodic movie'. The year the series was first shown, I recorded the lot on Betamax while I watched it weekly. I was poorly over Christmas, between UK showings of the seasons. My family had gone out to Sunday lunch and I (decades prior to the use of the now-popular term) 'binged' the entire first season in one day, basically giving it a rewatch after reading Laura's diary.

The network series was doomed, really, when it got its first 22-episode order. Twenty two episodes means filler episodes and episodes where main characters often have to be given a small role in order to have a break one week, an over-reliance on subplots and a lot of walking the treadmill between about episodes 14 and 20, where the sweeps period has gone past and you're waiting for the lead up to the season finale.

The way Twin Peaks was treated by the network was unfortunate, but really I can't really blame the network. In 1990, their job was to create series where companies wanted to advertise in the (many) breaks during episodes, because there were big enough audiences.

The first season was astonishingly well received and they expected the same reaction the next year. But you've got an avant-garde filmmaker as the 'face' of the project, who will be wanting to do other things. No way was Lynch going to be sitting around in a writers' room all year for seven years, playing showrunner. And Laura Palmer took on an unexpectedly popular (after-)life, so any side stories got met with 'Yes, very nice, but what's all this got to do with Laura Palmer's murder?' Audiences wanted all the Laura they could get, which dramatically reduced the series' lifespan.

And that perhaps became the unexpected aspect of Twin Peaks: Cooper and Truman were meant to be the main characters, but in fact Laura was the main character, even in absentia. She was meant to be this iconic, phantom character in the background, but she became something more, haunting every frame. Look at Episode 17. It doesn't feel like an episode following the reveal of a murderer: it feels like a TV show where the lead actor has left and they're relying on supporting actors and scrabbling for new storylines. It's like The Office the episode after Michael Scott leaves or the first episode of Season Eight of The X-Files, when Mulder has switched to being a recurring character and is clearly no longer the lead. It's a sink-or-swim moment and Twin Peaks sank as soon as Cooper got suspended.

ABC did what they had to do in the end: a series that tanked in the ratings was put out of its misery. It's astonishing the 22 episodes got made at all.
Twin Peaks was too oddball to exist in the normal network TV environment. A decade or so later, it could have comfortably been on the AMC, HBO or Showtime original series lineup. Fire Walk With Me was a taste of what HBO or Showtime Twin Peaks might have been in the mid-1990s.

That first eight episodes will always be special to me. The next eight are still decent, but episode 17 just feels perfunctory. 'OK' says Cooper, 'We're going to catch Laura's killer!' And they do. The End! For all that there were great, great moments in the rest of season two and its deranged finale, I wish Lynch had directed episode 17 and the series had ended there.
Sorry for the rambling post...
 
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eyeboogers

RR Diner
Apr 14, 2022
29
27
You make an interesting point about season 1 (and arguably the first half of season 2) feeling like one long movie - exactly like season 3. So in that sense it is actually the back half of season 2 that is the odd one out in its reliance on mini-arcs and one episode stories. "Twin Peaks" is at its best when being as far away from episodic/anthology structure as possible.
 

Dom

RR Diner
Jul 10, 2022
38
37
You make an interesting point about season 1 (and arguably the first half of season 2) feeling like one long movie - exactly like season 3. So in that sense it is actually the back half of season 2 that is the odd one out in its reliance on mini-arcs and one episode stories. "Twin Peaks" is at its best when being as far away from episodic/anthology structure as possible.
Yes, I agree. For me, it's a long movie, followed by a long sequel movie (the first few episodes of Season Two), followed by a messy 13-part TV series, where there's really no reason for Cooper still being in town other than that a now-unnecessary TV show requires him to be there, so they have to come up with excuses for him not to leave. V went a bit like that in the 1980s: V was a great miniseries. V: The Final Battle was a focused, expensive sequel miniseries (Kenneth Johnson's withdrawal had an impact, of course), but then they had to go and utterly ruin it with a 22-episode mini-arc/episodic weekly TV series!

I admit I find Twin Peaks Season Three isn't really my cup of tea. I haven't watched it in five years, but I might pick it up again at some point and rewatch it. I take my hat off to Lynch for going even further with a part structure in the series, though, where there isn't a reliance on hooks at the end of each episode. I rewatched the 1981 Brideshead Revisited TV serial a while ago and the same thing happens there: episodes just end and you could feasibly knock off the opening and closing titles and watch it as a continuous 12-hour movie.

I'm actually surprised no one at ABC considered formally making Twin Peaks a miniseries. I mean, they'd done the North & South Trilogy, Roots and so on by then. Different departments and politics, I suppose... When I watched the Twin Peaks pilot, it felt like the start of a miniseries to me, not a seven year-plus soap opera about a town with 22 episodes a season...
 
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