I recently had the opportunity to speak with Harley Peyton (Twin Peaks writer for Seasons 1 and 2, as well as Producer for Season 2). Harley was more than generous with his time and we covered a wide variety of topics, including his time working on the show, his thoughts on “The Return”, the beginnings of his career, his current show “Channel Zero” and much more.
On His First Film, Less Than Zero: “It was certainly my first screen credit and I think it was my third job. I had written a script about kids in clubs in New York and based on that script the producers called me in to take over on Less Than Zero. There was an existing script but we basically threw it away and started from scratch with the book. It was a pretty big deal and a ridiculously lucky break. I’m not even sure it would be possible now. For whatever reason the producers were willing to take a shot and they obviously liked the script that they had read. These days I can’t imagine any writer’s second or third job would be adapting a book with the profile of Less Than Zero but I was more than happy to take advantage and it was a great experience for me”.
Working on the original Twin Peaks: “For me, writing that first episode was a great experience. I was very lucky because it was Laura Palmer’s funeral and the episode had kind of a thesis about death. It was so much fun to write and it was great that Mark was so happy with it and then going to the set and watching them shoot it. That whole first season was really pretty special. Along the way it was always great to write for these characters and to see the reaction to it and feel like you were part of something that was truly different and truly special. I was very lucky early in my career. Less Than Zero was a great experience and then to be able to do Twin Peaks; obviously that’s the first thing on my resume to this day. We knew we were a part of something quite different and quite special and quite frankly hasn’t happened again. No show has repeated that and this was in an era before the internet and well before social media and all that stuff. I think in some ways it was even more special because it was a lot harder to get that sort of viral reach that the show had”.
“Twin Peaks didn’t have a writer’s room. It wasn’t structured the way shows are structured now or shortly thereafter. What Mark did, particularly in the first season was hire people that he knew and then in the second season brought in two of us (Harley and Bob Engels) as producers. There was never a writer’s room where we sat around and broke stories the way that I have been the past five or 6 years. It all started with Mark and to a lesser extent, David, depending on the season and he would sit down with you and go over the script outline and you would go from there”.
What a third season of Twin Peaks in 1991 would’ve looked like compared to The Return: “Because its 25 years later that changes everything. The big hanging question at the end of the second season was is Bob in possession of Cooper and that’s something we would have then dealt with in a third season. I think based on the fact that neither Mark nor David wanted to reveal Laura’s killer as quick as it was revealed, I suspect that Bob inside Cooper would have taken a lot longer to solve or address. The whole Dougie thing about Cooper getting out of there (The Black Lodge) and ending up inside somebody else, all of that stuff I think easily could have been in a third season in 1991. I never discussed it with them. I know that they (Mark and David) talked together about what a third season would look like and I think they may have even talked to ABC about it but I wasn’t part of that process. So who knows, maybe those ideas they talked about all those years ago we’re seeing now, at least when it comes to Cooper. Everything else would have been different. I mean we did just blow up a bank with Audrey Horne inside. There’s a lot of things that would have had to have been addressed immediately and would have been”.
Mark Frost’s importance to the series: It always works best when they’re (Lynch and Frost) working in sync like that. For me I can see those moments when it’s definitely Mark. Sometimes it has to do with humor, like Michael Cera’s hilarious scene. That’s completely Mark. Even in Part 8 which was excellent directorial work by David, the themes, the story, the 50’s nuclear testing and giving birth to Bob; that just feels like Mark to me. I’ve always been a big advocate for Mark’s role in all of this. I think all too often it’s downplayed for whatever reasons. So much of this started with him and particularly the series that I worked on. I was there and I know how much he contributed and how he really ran things. They did the new scripts together and nothing was thrown out. I think his impact is something that you really do see on a week to week basis.
The Secret History of Twin Peaks: “I read the book right away and I really loved it. It’s classic Mark; it’s him by himself. I don’t think David had anything to do with it. I think his approach to the past and knowing that there were a lot of things he couldn’t get into because of the series but he is doing another book. For me it was tremendous. I loved all of these characters and all of these things I hadn’t thought about and the way it expanded what the world was and what it could be. I understand that there were people looking for easy answers and were disappointed because he didn’t tell them more about Audrey Horne in the bank but that’s not really why the book was written. I think that what it did in a really wonderful way was it expanded our understanding of Twin Peaks, those characters and that world. Part 8 (of the series) really seems to come right out of the book in a weird way”.
Thoughts on “The Return”: “One of the things I’m dealing with is that Mark and David were initially putting together 8 or 10 hours as announced. Now it’s an 18 hour series and that means things are moving much more slowly. For example, Dougie’s awesome but I really want to see what’s happening in Twin Peaks. I want to see those characters; I want to see that town. I’ve to date seen James once, in the Roadhouse, walking across the room. This is me speaking as a fan and not as one of the original writers and also understanding that the last thing Mark and David could’ve done is what most series do after they’ve been gone for a long period of time which is do the same thing over again but with older actors. I have a great deal of respect for the solution that Mark came up with and the way they’ve approached those stories, particularly what’s happened to Cooper. Kyle’s just amazing. But I am eager for when the action returns to that little town that I know so well and I suspect that it will. I don’t know when but I suspect that it will. On the other hand, the way David has approached the material as a director allowed for Part 8 which was amazing. It does give him the time to explore things that he might not have had time to do if they were doing a shorter series”.
“Right now, with the exception of Robert Forrester, Hawk and Andy whom we’ve seen do more, the rest have been sort of like fan service. You’ll see the women in the diner but I don’t think they’re really integrated into the story yet. There are stories being told and there are things that might move forward from that but at the moment I’m just waiting to see Big Ed and Nadine. I know they’re in there somewhere. I’m just hoping that those characters; James, Audrey for God’s sake, I’m just hoping that we’ll see them and get a sense of not only where they are now which is the first question everyone asks but also how they might be integrated into the larger story that Mark and David are telling. I’m sure there are some (characters) that will and some that won’t. It does require some patience though. I’m eagerly watching every episode but I do feel like that’s where we’re going”.
“Dr. Jacoby’s really funny. That of course is all Mark and it’s fascinating. I think he’s one of the original characters who even though what he’s doing seemingly has very little to do with the main narrative, he nonetheless has the kind of story that I really enjoy seeing. The Alex Jones of it all and the shovels, it’s great. I really like it. It’s the way Mark brings a sense of humor to it and the subversion to what is normal. I’ve always enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing it when I was on the show and I love seeing it now. Of course David had great fun with those scenes too”.
“Mark and I usually talk every day but it’s almost always about politics. I have no inside information but as a writer, as I much them put the pieces together, I would be stunned if they didn’t end up going back to Twin Peaks. There’s simply no way that Agent Cooper / Dougie and Evil Cooper don’t both end up in Twin Peaks. There’s no way. It’s interesting because David has talked about the series being an 18 hour movie and that seems like what the flow of the movie would be. At some point you’ve got to go home because that’s where the lodge is and that’s where this all started. I suspect that when you hear the characters talking about certain solutions that there is where they’re headed. God, I hope so at least. I would be a little pissed off if it didn’t. I’m pretty sure that’s where it’s going to go”.
Themes in “The Return”: “I haven’t really been thinking of it in a thematic way. Listen, I think that there’s no doubt that there’s questions of mortality involved, particularly because I was watching actors who I just love that are no longer with us. That’s not what the story is telling but it’s hard not to understand that, particularly with Catherine Coulson. There is that sense of how evil gets into the world and what fights it. I think Part 8 was so pivotal. That moment when you saw Laura and what that means. I think most of the questions are going to be answered. They may not be answered the way we want them to be but I don’t think they’re going to leave things purposefully opaque or confusing. But yeah, I think mortality and good and evil and really, Twin Peaks has always been about good and evil so I’m not surprised”.
A potential fourth season and the rumor it’s being announced at Comic Con: “I don’t know what the ratings are like. I don’t know if Showtime is thrilled, not thrilled and by the way I don’t know if Mark and David would do another season. It certainly wouldn’t be announced at Comic Con if they were, at least I don’t think. I think this has been a great experience for everyone and I hope that Showtime is happy. Maybe there is a fourth season to be had but I don’t think that’s how it was planned originally. I think they always just planned to come back one time. I would be stunned if an announcement were made at Comic Con. It would be awesome (if an announcement were made at Comic Con) but I sort of feel like I would know if that were the case. Anything’s possible. I didn’t even know about this (The Return) until Mark called me to tell me early on. This is the first time a show has come back like this and of course they’ve done it differently and better than anyone else ever has. I’m a huge X-Files fan but they basically came back, were older and did the same thing. I think Mark and David really did find a way to both return to and reinvigorate the original franchise in a way that I do think is quite wonderful. Whether they want to come back and do more, who knows? A lot of that is about David I think. He’s not a young man and he has a lot of things on his plate so who knows if he would want to come back for a fourth season? It’s also up to Showtime, more than anyone else really. Quite frankly, I don’t know if this is the best thing that ever happened to them or the worst, speaking purely in terms of numbers. I actually do not have any idea how that’s going for them”.
On Channel Zero & anthology series: “Channel Zero are six episode stories and we just finished breaking our fourth season. I run the writer’s room – that’s my job. It’s a traditional writer’s room. It changed a little bit from the first season to the second based on work commitments. It was a lot of fun. We had Don Mancini, who created Chucky, in the first season. It was a really great experience. Nick Antosca (show creator / show runner) is actually in Winnipeg right now in production. It’s been a really fun experience and I think the work shows that. I think it’s a really great looking show.
Because they are six episode stories, renewing the show for season three and four at the same time the commitment is sort of like a regular show that would have 12 episodes. Each of our seasons has one director and the cast changes each season. Once the network understood what we were doing and how, they’ve been extraordinarily supportive. They give us an amazing amount of creative freedom and in return we make the show for very little money. It’s a good deal for them and it’s a great experience for us. Season 2 will air Halloween time this year. There have been rumors for some time that they might start showing six episodes in the spring and six in the fall. It’s certainly what I would prefer and the ratings have been very good so who knows, maybe they will do that? At the moment though, I don’t think they’ve made that decision. The problem for them is if they only air it in October, we have 3 more seasons ready to go. They’ll lose all the writers because they’ll move onto other things. I think we’ll probably find out in October when the second season runs.
Anthologies were something that nobody did, it just didn’t happen. It started to change with True Detective and Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story. Then everyone was talking about Black Mirror, although that was a bit more like The Twilight Zone in that every episode was different. I think as a result of that people started to come around on anthologies. We’ll reach the peak of anthology pretty quick I suspect but I think Channel Zero was a reaction by the network to do a show not like Black Mirror but nonetheless took advantage of that structure because people seemed to like it. As long as they do, people will make anthologies. Nothing creates imitation more than success in Hollywood”.
Final Thoughts: “The only thing I can say in conclusion is that I’ll be watching with everyone else. It’s the first thing I do every Sunday night is to watch the show and I can hardly wait to see what happens next. Nick Antosca from Channel Zero is now waiting because he wants to see the whole thing at once. I lack his patience so I can hardly wait for Sunday to come around and I’ll be watching with the rest of you”.