'Twin Peaks' deserved a better fate


February 20, 1991|By Michael Hill

As of now, the last image of "Twin Peaks" won't be of a fat lady singing, but of wooden drawer knob screaming. That's what closed out last Saturday's episode of this quirky ABC show as the face of the dead Josie Packard turned into animated wood. No more episodes are scheduled.

ABC whispered this news into a few ears, notably those of the Lynch-Frost production company that makes the show, undoubtedly hoping that it would disappear into the weekend fog and that, come Monday, it would be all right.

But even on Wednesday, it still stinks. Okay, so "Twin Peaks" was down in the ratings. So the show definitely had problems. So it certainly wasn't going to be renewed for next year. But it remained one of the most interesting, chance-taking, carefully crafted, well-written and finely directed hours on television.

So it deserved better. It should have been allowed to run out this year's batch of episodes with the dignity earned from its loyal fans who followed it to the purgatory of the Saturday night at 10 o'clock time slot. Instead, it's shoved out the back door in the dead of winter and left in the cold to die.

Robert Iger! Yes you, the head of ABC's entertainment division, you should be ashamed of yourself! Oh sure, you got some good ink from the critics by picking up the show in the first place. But first you stick it on Thursday against "Cheers," then late on Saturday, and now this.

Remember, Bob, just a month ago in Los Angeles, when you were talking about how "Twin Peaks" had done exactly what you had asked it to do when you sent it to do battle in the desert of Saturday night? That it had brought young viewers back to network television on a night the network Nielsens were dominated by senior citizens?

Remember what your research guy Alan Wurtzel said? That though "Twin Peaks'" share of the audience was off one point from what your movie was delivering last year, "What was really important is we totally changed the audience profile of that night from a 50 plus audience to an audience that's primarily 18 to 34. In fact, we improved our 18 to 34 delivery by almost 10 share points."

Those statements were delivered to the semi-annual gathering of TV critics when you wanted us to write that ABC was the chancy, risk-taking network, willing to stick its creative neck out to attract audiences who had turned away from the networks.

But alone on a February Friday, the message was different. Goodbye "Twin Peaks" (and "Under Cover"). Hello, another TV movie night. So bold, so adventurous, just the kind of move that's going to stop that eroding audience from going out or renting a tape on Saturday.

ABC will apparently still take delivery of the entire order of 22 episodes of "Twin Peaks." Through last Saturday, 16 had aired. When or if the other six will show up has not been announced. Maybe in April between the end of the ratings race season and the beginning of sweeps. Or perhaps they'll be run off in the summer, an ignominious end to such a lofty enterprise.

Look, it's more than conceded here that "Twin Peaks" was far from its own best friend. It's main problem was that though it remained constantly mesmerizing, it also remained eternally confusing. The result was that if even a loyal viewer missed one episode, there was a feeling he was completely lost and would never again find his way. With the Saturday night time slot, it was all too easy to miss an episode, so the base of loyal viewers slowly but surely eroded.

Moreover, once the series solved the Who Killed Laura Palmer? mystery, it took its time in replacing it with a similar structure that would let its audience at least have a hint of some sort of linear progression from scene to scene, and week to week. It wandered about for a few weeks, picking up and dropping story lines, before focusing on the appearance of Agent Cooper's demented, chess-playing former partner. That floundering led to further erosion.

And then, "Twin Peaks" never reached out to the casual viewer, rarely if ever including a story that began and ended in a single episode. To a viewer who thought he'd give it a try some Saturday night when stuck at home, it must have looked like a fast-moving train that wasn't stopping at this station.

For all those flaws, "Twin Peaks" should never have been so unceremoniously pulled off its surrealistic horse in midstream. All those we're-the-place-that-takes-chances brownie points ABC built up in the Hollywood creative community when it put the show on the air just disappeared without a trace.

And for millions of those young, restless viewers who sit before their cabled sets with remote controls in hand, it's just one more confirmation that the networks aren't the place to be.

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