In this interview, Andreas Halskov gives readers a thorough background on what he put together in his book TV Peaks. We discuss the topics of fandom, Twin Peaks‘ realistic influence on the television landscape, and some of his many upcoming projects. If you have been seeking an academic approach to Twin Peaks studies, Andreas has laid out a valuable platform from which to start your own research. Please join us in this discussion.
RK: You state early in the book that you “do not wish to argue Twin Peaks has indeed changed television forever.” What are your thoughts now that The Return has aired? We can circle back around to your up-coming book later.
AH: The entire idea behind TV Peaks: Twin Peaks and Modern Television Drama was to take a popular statement among fans, critics and journalists ─ that Twin Peaks changed the TV landscape in a fundamental way ─ and investigate that notion in a slightly more nuanced way, taking into account both TV historical, productional, industrial and systemic factors. Relying on different kinds of surveys, production-related interviews, and critical sources, I end up arguing that Twin Peaks did not change network television in the US, let alone television in a larger, global context. Arguing that Twin Peaks changed television seems to ignore or underemphasize a long history of experimentation within television. Mark Frost has claimed that Twin Peaks “did not change television one iota,” and Harley Peyton said that “network television is impervious to change, for the most part.” To a large degree, I would agree with those statements, though Twin Peaks, undoubtedly, came to influence a number of other TV series, just as it inspired major film directors to migrate to television and cable networks to experiment with niche-marketing.
Twin Peaks was an early American example of auteur TV, but David Lynch was not the first film director to migrate from the film industry to television. In Europe, film auteurs like Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Ken Loach had directed quality TV series long before Twin Peaks was produced, and in Denmark there was a general tendency towards crossover between the film and television industries going back to the 1970s (later this concept was institutionalized at DR in a set of TV production dogmas).
Twin Peaks was perhaps also an early example, at least in the US, of a genre-bending TV series that required comprehensive viewing, foregrounding mood and style over traditional storytelling formulas, as it challenged viewers with its surreal content and slow pacing. However, Twin Peaks was not the reason that niche-marketing and narrow-casting became popular. Those phenomena became popular for other, more industrial or systemic reasons, as Amanda D. Lotz would say. It had more to do with the rise of cable television in the late 1990s and the fragmentation of the television audience than with any one show.
Thinking of all of these elements in the light of Twin Peaks: The Return, I would arrive at the same conclusion. Twin Peaks came back, not only due to public demand (which had been there since before ABC’s cancellation of the original series) and the creators’ wish to return to the world of Twin Peaks, but also because Twin Peaks seemed ideally suited for a premium cable network like Showtime. For a cable network, success is not measured exclusively in terms of ratings, but also in terms of critical reception and in terms of getting the right viewers, and any TV series with as strong a brand and as interactive a fanbase as Twin Peaks would be a good commodity.
Fans would be willing to pay a tidy sum of money to see their favorite show, and they would be a valuable asset for the producers in terms of curating and promoting the series. Is that not exactly what we are doing when making sites like 25YL, Lynchland and Welcome to Twin Peaks, fanzines like Wrapped in Plastic and Blue Rose Magazine, books like Reflections, The Women of Lynch and TV Peaks, and festivals in countries like the US and England? From activist groups like COOP to news stories based on tweets and books by Twin Peaks fans, the producers of Twin Peaks have always been able to count on the fanbase as their most avid and loyal promoters. A quote from Brad Dukes’ book Reflections, for example, ended up in Moscow Times, John Thorne became a central part of Showtime’s official documentary about Twin Peaks, and a recent tweet by Mary Hütter, Courtenay Stallings and Aaron Cohen about the demolition of Twin Peaks High School was reprinted in various newspapers from America to Sweden.
The original Twin Peaks did not change television, and no one television series has ever really changed the face of television. But it came to inspire a generation of writers and directors to make television, and it might have inspired (cable) networks and streaming channels to challenge viewers with genre-hybridity, lack of closure, narrative complexity, slow-paced storytelling, and stylistic innovation. First and foremost, Twin Peaks became a vivid example of auteur television, and while it was not the first example of a director with a unique style migrating from film to television, it paved the way for showrunners like Tom Fontana, David Chase, and Vince Gilligan to make artistic and personal TV series that only conformed to one rule. As mentioned in the 1990s by former NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff: “Tried and true is dead and buried.”
RK: So, TV Peaks was published in 2015, at least a year and a half or two years before The Return What brought your serious attention to the subject—the Golden Collection, the release of The Missing Pieces, Lynch and Frosts teaser Tweets?
AH: There were many reasons for me to write that book, and most of these factors had little to do with the famous double tweet by David Lynch and Mark Frost and the promise of Twin Peaks “coming back in style.” First of all, I had co-written and -edited a book about modern American television drama back in 2011. This book was written in Danish and dealt mostly with the structural changes in American television since the late 1990s, but it was also historical in nature, and it focused on modern TV series like Lost (ABC, 2004-2010), The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007), Six Feet Under (HBO, 2002-2005), The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008), Mad Men (AMC, 2007-2015) and Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008-2013). Apart from that book, I had written extensively about Scandinavian and American television drama and Twin Peaks, going back to the early 2000s, and I had taught courses at university about Film and TV History and Film and TV Theory and presented papers on TV drama at various conferences. Also, I had written a short Danish book on David Lynch, which garnered some attention in Denmark and received some great reviews.
All of that led me to engage in what was a somewhat daunting task for me: writing a book in English about American television history. I got this idea in early 2014, before the release of The Missing Pieces and before the famous tweets by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and I began compiling data (making surveys and interviewing different members of the Twin Peaks cast and crew and various other TV creators). Having compiled most of my data, I began working on the actual chapters, and the idea was that my book should consist of one central argument that you could read from beginning to end, but also that each chapter should, potentially, be usable in its own right. It was meant as a scholarly book, but it was also meant to be accessible and to cross the lines between academia (which can be somewhat elitist and pretentious), popular criticism (which often uses broad, sweeping statements while neglecting to cite sources) and fandom (which is often uncritical or even religious in its worship of a given series, film or creator). I wanted to bridge those gaps, knowing that I might end up being outed by popular critics (for being too pretentious or fan-like), by academics (for being too populistic or fan-like) and fans (for being too critical, unlike ‘real’ fans).
I wanted my book to be something else than your average book about TV history (by including production-related interviews) and something else than your typical interview book (by including neoformalist analysis and research into fandom and the stories surrounding the TV series). Usually, the worlds of television production, fandom, academia, and journalism are miles apart. I wanted to transgress those boundaries.
After the book had been published, I waited eagerly and somewhat anxiously for the first review to tick in, and when I finally awoke to the first review in Politiken (one of Denmark’s largest and most culturally recognized papers in Denmark), I was sad and shocked to see that the reviewer all but slaughtered my book, ridiculing me as a “Twin Peaks masturbator” and claiming that I had written the book in an almost incomprehensible language. The reviewer did not see any qualities in my vast interview material, nor did he find anything worthwhile in my many analyses. Later, though, I learned that the book was being used at universities in the US, the UK, and Australia, and it received great reviews in scholarly journals like Critical Studies in Television, MedieKultur and The Journal of Popular Television and in newspapers like Berlingske and Los Angeles Review of Books, besides being quoted in several academic articles and books. That it was received so well in the English-speaking world (partly due to its “accessibility”) was particularly important to me, as the first review had made me question my own skills in terms of writing and communicating.
RK: How does your book succeed to you post the airing of The Return? I ask because I think this book is essential in emphasizing the landscape of the modern television drama while also contextualizing the environment of Twin Peaks But to you, what are you the proudest of?
AH: Twin Peaks: The Return has not changed my perception of Twin Peaks or the television landscape in general. If anything, it has strengthened my belief in my general hypothesis. In the book, I try to capture the Lynchian aesthetic, and I argue that Twin Peaks: The Return will likely be an even more unflinching and uncompromising example of TV auteurism at a time and in a systemic context where TV auteurism has become something of a norm. I also argue that Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1991) did not change television, in part due to its radical experimentation. It might have inspired others to make a less formulaic type of television (from St. Elsewhere, The X-Files and Riget to Lost, The Sopranos and True Detective), but it was largely too experimental to immediately impact the larger television landscape. The same thing could be said of Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime, 2017), which has succeeded in challenging the TV landscape anew, even at a time when complex and stylistically innovative TV series, created by big film directors, have become a common phenomenon.
I had imagined that Twin Peaks: The Return would be more uniquely Lynchian and, thus, more abstract, more slow-paced, more sonic and more reliant on mood and style than the original series (I said the same thing in the following news segment where I was interviewed at Cannes just before premiere of the new series).
Still, I could hardly have foreseen Part 8 or the famous sequence from Part 3. Elements from Twin Peaks: The Return went further than I had imagined, and in a way that I had not been able to anticipate. In general, though, the new series seemed to fit the hypothesis of my book, i.e. that radical and demanding TV series are in vogue now, at a time when niche-marketing has become the norm and where different channels are vying for the TV viewers and producing a lot of content. Therefore, I argued that Twin Peaks: The Return would seem more suited to the new TV landscape and to cable television in particular, and that Showtime could be interested in Twin Peaks for its strong brand and loyal fanbase. This has also been the case, and however surreal and challenging the new Twin Peaks has been, the critical reception has been generally positive. The new Twin Peaks is closer to Eraserhead (1977) than to The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, perhaps, but all that tells me, really, is that we live in an era of TV auteurism where directors like David Lynch are given almost free reign. Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, experimentation with black and white, slow pacing and surrealism might be more commonplace in the TV landscape, but if that is ever the case, we will never be able to say: This happened because of Twin Peaks: The Return. We might be fans of Twin Peaks, but let us avoid a religious discourse. We might be working in journalistic TV criticism, but let us avoid simplistic and sweeping statements that make for good click-bait.
RK: You mention on page 55, Lynch’s long-takes. And I apologize for continually coming back to The Return, but in bringing your words here to the recent product, what was your reaction to the bar sweeping scene? Did Lynch continue his auteur’s tradition or did he double down?
AH: This particular scene, especially that one extreme long shot, which is 2:17 min. long has naturally piqued my interest. I have mentioned it in different lectures and articles, and I recently talked with both Duwayne Dunham, Jonathan P. Shaw and Sabrina Sutherland about it for a small project that I have been working on with Kim Sørensen and HBO Nordic. The things that I point to as typically Lynchian in TV Peaks, i.e. the expressive use of angles, colors, lighting and sound, the contrapuntal use of (old) music, the subjective use of noise, and the use of a slow pacing and what the Nouvelle Vague directors called temps mort, are all experienced, even vividly, in Twin Peaks: The Return.
When I interviewed James Grixoni about Twin Peaks: The Return, he described the original Twin Peaks as an “antidote” to the speedy MTV aesthetic and intensified continuity of the 1980s and early 1990s (as seen in Miami Vice), and he argued that Twin Peaks: The Return had come back to “re-instill that antidote” and that it was “suited for the last fragment of human attention.” That might be an overstatement, but in one way, at least, Grixoni has a point. Twin Peaks required attention, as does Twin Peaks: The Return, and that was daring in the era of MTV, just as it is today, in an era where multiple media and channels are constantly vying for our attention. In another sense, however, the use of a slow pacing has become something of a trend in arthouse films (slow cinema has even become a concept, hailing directors like Béla Tarr, Chantal Akerman, and Abbas Kiarostami), and we see it to some degree in other artsy TV series like Treme (HBO, 2010-2013), Better Call Saul (AMC, 2015-) and Too Old to Die Young (Amazon Video, 2019).
Referencing a famous behind-the-scenes shot of David Lynch, many fans would soon reply: “Who cares how long a scene is?” My claim is that David Lynch cares. He does not want to talk about it, but that does not mean that he does not care, nor does it mean that the length is arbitrary or that we should not discuss it. Similarly, Lynch does not want to discuss the meaning of any elements in his films and TV series, but that does not mean that there is no meaning or no intention. “Who cares about authorial intention, anyway?”
RK: I’m also a book reviews editor for The Journal of Fandom Studies, so I’m fascinated with your “Twin Freaks and Transmedia” section on page 164. In the prologue, you mention that you interviewed more than 100 people and conducted a survey of 700 different Twin Peaks fans across different ages, genders, and nationalities. What did you learn from that, and what was your fandom experience during The Return?
AH: I have not studied the fandom connected to Twin Peaks: The Return, so I cannot say too much about that. In general, though, I see a natural resurgence of the interest and fandom surrounding Twin Peaks. That new sites and fanzines have blossomed in the wake of Twin Peaks: The Return, just as new books have been written, is unsurprising, but the sheer volume of Twin Peaks-related books, sites and magazines is quite staggering. In the last few years, we have had anthologies by Antonio Sanna, Richard Greene & Rachel Robinson-Greene and Amanda DiPaolo & Jamie Gillies, a new book about Twin Peaks and TV auteurs by Martha Nochimson, two books about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) by Maura McHugh and Lindsay Hallam and a comprehensive and somewhat speculative book by fan/critic H. Perry Horton. Furthermore, Lindsey Bowden has taught us how to make Damn Fine Cherry Pie, and Twin Peaks has been the center of numerous magazines and news segments and four issues of the French Film Journal Cahiers du Cinéma. A journal that was otherwise ─ exclusively ─ devoted to arthouse cinema.
I do not know whether I discovered many new things concerning the fandom surrounding Twin Peaks in TV Peaks, but I saw a few broad tendencies and some underlying, often unpronounced conflicts. Many fans of Twin Peaks celebrate the inclusiveness of the fan community, yet some of the fans also spoke to the sense of “ownership” that some fans feel and the notion of an imaginary fan hierarchy. This was also reflected in the fairly large group of fans who thought that, in order to be a “true Twin Peaks fan,” you had to have seen the original series when it was first broadcast on ABC in 1990-1991. I described this group of fans as purists, and another type of Twin Peaks fan was described as a pilgrim (who wants to visit the different locations and return to the “deepest wellsprings” of his/her being). Going to Snoqualmie and North Bend was like “being called home,” as one fan put it, and that is another trait I saw among many fans of the series.
Finally, I describe the productive and creative side of many fans who write, tweet, theorize, paint, make music, cosplay etc. The purist, the pilgrim and the produser are not mutually exclusive categories, and no fan will readily and unequivocally fit into just one category.
RK: You discuss the transmedia nature of the series. Could you define that for our readers and then maybe speak to how you saw that applied with Frost’s books?
AH: The term transmedia was originally coined by Marsha Kinder in 1991, yet we often connect the concept transmedia storytelling with legendary media scholar Henry Jenkins. “More and more,” Jenkins writes, “storytelling has become an art of world-building, as artists create compelling environments that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work or even a single medium.” That is the basis of transmedia storytelling: That a story expands beyond one text and one medium, eventually coming to include various official texts and even a number of unofficial ones that might or might not influence the official texts (who knows, for example, whether David Lynch and Mark Frost were directly replying to the fan-circulated tweets and memes, when Shelly says “James has always been cool”?).
In TV Peaks, I distinguish between different kinds of transmedia storytelling, arguing that Twin Peaks has gone from snowball transmedia to a form of franchise transmedia.
At the beginning of May 2017, before Showtime’s official continuation of Twin Peaks, an audio version of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer was released as an official addendum to Showtime’s series, narrated by Sheryl Lee herself.
This audiobook is a nostalgic return to Jennifer Lynch’s famous book from 1990, just as the new series is a nostalgic return to the story and characters of Twin Peaks. Bridging the gap between the original series and the new season, then, Mark Frost wrote two tie-in books, The Secret History of Twin Peaks (2016) and The Final Dossier (2017), which are inspired by magical realism from Latin America and some of the most famous epistolary novels in the English language (e.g. Frankenstein and Dracula). The Secret History delved into the pre-story and pre-history of Twin Peaks, shedding some light on some of the lesser known characters and interweaving historical facts and fictional storylines, thus blurring the line between fact, fiction and myth. In the words of Mark Frost:
“Since I wanted to build or expand on the mythology of Twin Peaks, I wanted to weave in parts of what we believe to be facts. American history. I wanted to use the unifying elements that create the ties between them to blend them into a kind of historical myth. It’s an attempt to create an American genre or version of magical realism. I like the whole Latin American school of magical realism, and certainly, we’ve had examples of that in American literature, but I wanted to make a version of that within a world that has become a part of popular culture. Something that has become almost an adjective in itself.”
(from my interview with Mark Frost in Blue Rose Magazine)
Frost’s book interweaves the original story of Twin Peaks with the grand story that is American history, and it foregrounds some of the smaller characters and storylines in order to expand the mythology and story world of Twin Peaks. At the same time, though, it illustrates a general shift from snowball transmedia to franchise transmedia – a shift that Twin Peaks has come to exemplify. “I think Showtime is much more forward-thinking,” Frost has said, “and they completely get the show and the transmedial world of Twin Peaks.”
That fans could delve into the backstories of different characters or even find hidden meanings or intentional errors in the books seemed like a creative way to expand the transmedial story of Twin Peaks and a clever way of engaging the different types of fans. For the fans who just wanted to immerse themselves deeper and deeper into the world of Twin Peaks and to be there as long as possible (if not physically, then emotionally), the rich backstory seemed ideally suited. And for the theoreticians and aca-fans, the hidden gems and the puzzling inaccuracies could lead to many threads on reddit and numerous articles and endless discussions.
Mark Frost, I am certain, wrote his two tie-in books out of passion, and I read them passionately, myself. At the same time, though, they were cleverly engaging, and they seemed to strategically expand the story world surrounding Twin Peaks.
RK: On page 171, you give us some numbers. I’ll just quote: “Out of the 700 respondents to my questionnaire, fewer than 50% claimed to have produced any kind of academic or artistic work connected with Twin Peaks, yet 3% claimed to have made scholarly work related to Twin Peaks, while 12% claimed to have made visual artworks related to the show. 7.1% of the respondents (50 people) claimed to have produced both academic and artistic work …” Appendix C shows the questionnaire. Without necessarily the support of a new questionnaire, do you believe these numbers might have adjusted at all? I’m thinking on the staff of 25YL alone, but it’s also possible that the numbers have adjusted for the inflation. I know there were two Twin Peaks-related presentations outside of mine this year at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Annual Conference this year. So, what’s the overall picture you have of the fandom right now?
AH: These numbers might not be accurate, and I could have included some broader or slightly more nuanced categories, which might have yielded different results. In hindsight, I should have included social media interactions (e.g. memes, GIFS, tweets, Facebook groups etc.) as a form of fan productivity. Another potential problem with my findings is that fans that draw or make digital art might not describe themselves as producers of “artistic artwork,” and criticism of Twin Peaks would not necessarily be “academic.” 25YL, for example, includes numerous essays and articles that are great in many different ways, yet many of these could not be labeled “academic.” The same could be said of critical articles in Blue Rose Magazine, wonderful books like The Women of Lynch and In Dreams. Also in this context, my narrow way of questioning might have yielded an imprecise number. What we observe “is not nature itself,” as Annie Blackburn and Werner Heisenberg would say, “but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
These potential inaccuracies and fallacies aside, I think that Twin Peaks: The Return has spawned a new interest in Twin Peaks, and new media have made for a much easier way of engaging with the series both socially, theoretically, critically and creatively. This also means that the numbers would presumably be bigger today, but also that we would need to take into account a much wider type of user-based interaction and productivity.
A new study might be interesting and could give valuable new insights into the seemingly growing community surrounding Twin Peaks. I hope that I have laid the groundwork and sparked some scholarly interest in this often ignored or disregarded area (since the premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return, however, there have been written quite a few articles on the Twin Peaks fandom). Others will add to the growing, collective story of the Twin Peaks fan community, and together we might be able to capture its complexity.
RK: What television productions are you watching closely now?
AH: Having done a fair amount of research into television, I try to get a broad overview of the global TV landscape and the current tendencies, but I only watch a few series, intensely, at the time. The last couple of years, I have been quite fond of series like Better Call Saul (whose audiovisual style is just staggering), Atlanta (FX, 2016-) and Barry (HBO, 2018-) (both of which are narratively quite experimental within a short format) and other groundbreaking ‘comedy’ series like BoJack Horseman (Netflix, 2014-) and Fleabag (BBC, 2016-2019). I also quite like the 1980s nostalgia of series like The Americans (FX, 2013-2018), Stranger Things (Netflix, 2016-), Dark (Netflix, 2017) and especially Halt and Catch Fire (AMC, 2014-2017), even if becomes a bit too cute and on-the-nose from time to time.
Finally, I will mention the Danish crime series Bedrag III (DR, 2019), which is the third season of a slightly uneven series. However, the three seasons essentially form three limited series (not unlike True Detective, whose third season I also found enjoyable), and the third installment will become a global phenomenon, I think, due to its cool aesthetic, its interesting characters and its groundbreaking title sequence. I will write more about this for 25YL, so you will hear about it here before The Guardian and everyone else starts writing about it.
RK: What projects are you working on now as well, excluding your up-coming Twin Peaks book, which I’ll ask about next?
AH: I am planning to write a book with John Thorne about the forgotten television of David Lynch. I have done a few interviews for that, but we are in the early stages of planning and structuring the idea. At the same time, I am planning to do an anthology together with Andrew Hageman, and together with the sound designer Peter Albrechtsen I am working on an interview-based book on sound design in film and television, which has been in production for a few years. I have made over 50 interviews already, but we have a long way to go before it is ready for publication.
Finally, I am pre-planning an interview-based book about Danes and Danish TV productions in America, and I am working on a small documentary series called Serierejser (TV Travels), done in collaboration with VI ELSKER SERIER and HBO Nordic. In this documentary series, two TV buffs/geeks from Denmark travel to the US to explore the American TV landscape, visiting various iconic locations and talking with people who have worked on the respective series. The idea was to get ‘behind the scenes’ of various of the American TV landscape, hoping to reveal new information about the TV series we all know and love, and how they reflect different regions in the US. It has been enjoyable to make the documentary series, pro bono and on the tiniest of budgets, and I can only hope that people will enjoy watching it (knock on wood). At least, I hope that viewers will recognize how complex a thought-out many TV series are, and we humbly hope to shed some light on those people and parts of the TV productions that we rarely ever notice (the cinematographers, editors, composers, sound designers, etc.). We have also interviewed actors, but their contribution to films and TV series never go unnoticed, so we are trying to let other voices take center stage. Television is a collaborative medium par excellence, yet we often blatantly disregard the people behind the camera, however crucial their contributions are and however knowledgeable they might be about the creative process.
RK: Finally, your new book, The Art of the Paradox, what is your approach in this one, and when can fans expect to see it?
AH: I have described this book in Blue Rose Magazine, on Lynchland and in an interview with Joel Bocko, and it should already have been done by now. I have made all the relevant interviews (there are numerous) and acquired the rights for interesting images which I will use in the book. The writing process, however, has proved difficult, so it will not be published until the end of the year or early 2020. The basic idea behind the book is to blend coffee-table-book elements with scholarly analysis, interview segments and, at times, a more essayistic approach. I argue that David Lynch’s audiovisual works are full of paradoxes, and I explore, relish and get lost in those paradoxes. Specifically, I point to a number of the interesting paradoxes that we see in his work, and I investigate these one by one in the second part of the book (the first part being more of a traditional production-by-production run-through of his work). The book will be a sprawling and, hopefully, visually stunning and intellectually stimulating book. I do not propose a polemic grand theory, but I do see his productions through a specific lens, yet the rich interview material and different types of artwork (that resonate more or less directly with David Lynch’s work) will punctuate my ongoing narrative. Think of the interviews as famous performers entering the stage at The Roadhouse and the artwork by various artists as a sort of explosion that punctuates the text.
The Art of Paradox will hardly be the definitive David Lynch book out there, and I do not know that there will ever be such a thing as a definitive and exhaustive book on Lynch’s work. Nevertheless, I hope that it will be my definitive book about his work, analyzing his different audiovisual productions and including exclusive images and interview material connected to all of his productions.