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'Peaks' Pilot Stirs Emmy Jury Debate : Television: Panelists say they discussed whether two-hour 'Twin Peaks' pilot belonged in the same directing category as regular one-hour dramatic series.

September 21, 1990|RICK DU BROW | TIMES TELEVISION WRITER

Now comes another twist in the saga of "Twin Peaks," the cult soap opera that was blanked in major categories presented on Sunday's Emmy Awards telecast.

According to three panelists on the jury of peers that selected best director of a drama series, the question of whether the blockbuster two-hour pilot of "Twin Peaks" should have been included in the same category as four regular one-hour episodes of other series was discussed.

One of the panelists, Allan Arkush, told The Times that the discussion--which also included other matters--had no bearing on the voting outcome, in which "Twin Peaks" director David Lynch lost. "There was no sense in the room of should we or shouldn't we vote for David Lynch," he said.

Instead, he said, the conversation concerned the matching of regular episodes against pilots, which often have more production advantages.

"The issue came up whether David Lynch had any advantages in creating a two-hour pilot," said Arkush. Lynch lost to two directors who tied as winners--Thomas Carter of "Equal Justice" and Scott Winant of "thirtysomething."

"I had a good sense that David was not going to win," said Janet Davidson, another panelist. "It doesn't diminish David's work. It was just (in) the wrong category."

Lynch, when asked about the discussion that his episode had provoked, said through a spokeswoman Thursday: "I don't think that had anything to do with what happened."

Davidson added that the situation was like "comparing someone who had created something from scratch" to others whose job was "continuing an image." She said that she wrote a letter expressing her views to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which presents the Emmys.

David Phinney, another judge on the panel, which had about eight to 10 members, said, "As far as I was concerned, it didn't make any difference. If the academy saw fit to include a two-hour pilot, I was going to vote on that basis. In some cases, you would think that would give the pilot an advantage in being determined best show. (But) we were not voting on best show. We were voting on the best directing job--not the best director."

Phinney also emphasized, "None of us knew what the other ones voted for."

While Phinney said that he didn't feel the "Twin Peaks" pilot was wrongly included, he added that he personally favored "a different category for pilots." But he conceded that this could open the door to creating other specialized categories as well.

In 1987, the Emmy for best direction of a drama series went to Gregory Hoblit for the two-hour pilot of "L.A. Law." In 1979, another award for best direction of a drama series was given to Jackie Cooper for the pilot of "The White Shadow."

According to John Leverence, awards director of the TV Academy, Rule 3C governing the honors says: "The length of the episode selected for contest entry may exceed, by as much as double, the standard running time of the series' episode. If the episode is in two parts, both parts may be selected (as long as they do not cumulatively exceed twice the running time of the series' episode)."

Leverence said that the "Twin Peaks" pilot "was effectively a two-parter in terms of length." The rationale for the rule, he added, is that if a show is a two-parter, it is still a "single program unit (and) there is a certain dramatic arc to the program which the academy feels ought to be respected and viewed in its entirety. To effectively cut the program into the hour increment would be to disrupt the panel's sense of the dramatic arc.

"If you were to take these pilots and break them away from the series, then you would have to put them into the drama special category, which is essentially a movie-of-the-week."

Davidson suggested that would be the proper place: "I was personally opposed to including David Lynch's work in that category (direction of a drama series). It should be with the two-hour movie-of-the-week. And there is a separate category for that. It's comparing different species. One person has eight days to shoot, the other 25. You can't compare that."

Since the "Twin Peaks" pilot was a point of discussion in at least this one panel, there could be some question of whether similar concerns on other panels helped to deflate the showing of the series, which had led all programs with 14 nominations. But in fact, the pilot did win the only two Emmys that "Twin Peaks" got--in costume design, where Patricia Norris was honored, and editing, where Duwayne Dunham earned an award.

Still, the question of whether pilots pitted against regular episodes is like comparing apples and oranges sparked lively views on the matter from the panelists, probably reflecting some TV industry views.

"We all know that a pilot is a different animal than a regular episode," said Phinney. "You usually have a much larger budget, and it's to sell a series. Generally, there is a little more care put into the pilot than a regular one-hour show. It's showing the network what they can expect.

"And unlike an episode, you don't have the next one coming down the chute behind you, where you have to finish on Tuesday because something is coming on Wednesday. So the pressure is off and you're putting your best foot forward."

Arkush, co-executive producer of the new NBC series "Parenthood," also noted that such points had risen, but said that "even though I'm not a big fan" of "Twin Peaks," he argued the flip side of making a pilot:

"I started thinking, when you're doing a pilot, you have all these people breathing down your neck, the scrutiny of the network. There's so much at stake. They've invested so much money. You're constantly being second-guessed on casting and there's the problem of new characters and it's like trying to make a movie, and you have a lot more exposition to get across than in an average episode."

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