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Is TV Ready for David Lynch? : The director of 'Blue Velvet' and 'Eraserhead' brings his unique vision to the prime-time soap opera 'Twin Peaks'

February 18, 1990|STEVE WEINSTEIN

Frost, who met Lynch several years ago when they were collaborating on a subsequently aborted film project about Marilyn Monroe, insists that the show's predominant theme--that secrets hold tremendous power over everyone's lives--is a widely accessible idea. "I spent every summer when I was growing up in a small town, and there were relationships and hidden agendas going back 30, 40, even 50 years. And the level of awareness of other people's lives was extraordinary. I think that's been lost a little bit now with urbanization, but in any sort of social group, a small town or a large city, the hidden power that secrets hold over lives is a fascinating part of human behavior."

ABC has been cautious in putting "Twin Peaks" and two other new adult dramas--"Equal Justice" and "Capital News"--on the air. All three were designated "mid-season replacements" way back last summer as ABC opted not to throw any of them into the competitive frenzy that surrounds the start of the fall season. But even when "Monday Night Football" ended last Christmas, ABC choose to fill those two free hours with movies and hold these series out until spring.

"We waited because dramas are difficult to get off the ground in September, when you have a million new shows all vying for the audience's attention," said Stuart Bloomberg, vice president of prime-time programs at ABC. "We'd rather put them on in the spring (after the February ratings sweeps), when they would have a competitive edge against reruns on the other networks."

Bloomberg concedes that there is a risk in putting something as unusual as "Twin Peaks" on television, but he insists that in the face of eroding network-audience levels, network executives have "got to try to bring something fresh and different to television. It'll be interesting to see what the audience reaction will be," Bloomberg said. "On the one hand, it's a conventional soap opera with all the familiar icons, relationships and intrigue. Yet David Lynch brings not only something that is visually exciting but this strange sense of humor that keeps surprising you as well.

"We do have a lot of questions about accessibility, but if we don't try, then we're just filling up the same old cookie cutter again. One of the nice things about this is that it's a familiar form. It's sort of like what they did with 'Moonlighting'--taking a familiar form (the detective show) and turning it on its ear."

Bloomberg also said that when television gets that rare chance to lure film makers of Lynch's caliber into the network boat, it would be foolhardy to throw them back. "If we do that, all the interesting shows will end up on cable."

ABC certainly doesn't expect "Roseanne"-like ratings for "Twin Peaks," Bloomberg said, but if the series can lure the same modest but demographically prized audience that kept shows such as "St. Elsewhere" and "thirtysomething" on the air and profitable for years, "that would be terrific."

On the set in his normal-guy clothes--green shirt buttoned all the way up, green cap, khaki pants and black shoes--Lynch is even more ambitious. He contends that "Twin Peaks" is not weird at all.

"These are pretty straight-ahead characters that I think everyone would love to see. And I would like to say a word to all the beautiful Nielsen families," he deadpans. "I love them all. I'm making it for them."

By Lynch's standards, "Twin Peaks" really isn't that weird. "Wild at Heart," his feature film that is due out this summer, sports a creepy torture scene that includes masturbation, two soda bottles and a gun. The murder in "Twin Peaks" does involve drugs, bondage and flesh magazines, but Lynch of necessity stays within the boundaries of television when it comes to explicit violence, nudity and profanity. It does, however, include MacLachlan's obsessive FBI agent scouring the body of the girl, even probing with tweezers behind her fingernails for clues.

Meeting Lynch in person, it's hard to finger him as the man behind such unsettling material. He is friendly, sunny, the manifestation of a small-town Boy Scout leader. That dichotomy between the conventional-looking public man and the macabre, hallucinatory stories that spring from his imagination have prompted some to dub him "a sort of psychopathic Norman Rockwell."

"David is very steady, very personable, and I just love to work with him because he likes to run in the spaces that most people are afraid to run in," MacLachlan said. "To him, that's like breathing."

Lynch's infiltration of network television came about as a result of what Frost calls their affinity for one another's work and the determination of their agent, Tony Krantz, to get them to write a TV script. Lynch was reluctant, but three of his film projects were tied up in Dino De Laurentiis' company's financial woes, keeping him from making another film for three years following "Blue Velvet." Frustrated by the delays, Lynch began talking with Frost and, slowly but surely, "Twin Peaks" began to take shape.

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