David Bushman is a man of many talents. He’s written books on Twin Peaks and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and has been TV Curator at the Paley Centre for Media (interviewing many involved in the making of several TV shows). His latest project has been Conversations with Mark Frost, a book I have really been looking forward to, given that it will be the first ‘proper’ look at the producer/writer/director—and actor!—who has influenced this site, and many an artist, through Twin Peaks (and many other projects). It was great to get a chance to quiz him about the genesis of the book and what it will hold in store for fans.
Paul: So thank you for agreeing to speak with me today! To start, and as it is Twin Peaks month here at 25 Years Later, I think it’s a good idea to get straight into your writing… I’m aware that you did a book on Buffy and also there was the Twin Peaks FAQ?
David: That’s correct. Those were under a publisher called Applause Theater and Cinema books. So yeah, we did both of those.
Paul: As far as Twin Peaks is concerned, I watched it when it was first on in the 90s. I’m guessing you were probably the same?
Paul: For me, it was kind of a transformational show. I was about 18 and my TV viewing was sort of pedestrian. I think Twin Peaks is something I credit with completely changing my view of how TV could be. Was it the same for you at the time?
David: Well, I think it was for a lot of people, if not everybody. So many show runners themselves have mentioned that they were inspired to get into TV, even people like David Chase, who I guess was already in TV by that point, [and] was just inspired to become more ambitious, creatively. They saw what could be done with TV artistically through Twin Peaks, even though I would say that commercially it was not successful. So I think it took a while for the networks to… I think they were entrenched a little bit, at least ABC [was]—they were sort of frightened. As you know they were ambivalent about putting it on in the first place. And then it sort of flamed out so spectacularly. I think that made them a little bit trepidatious, but then I think the effect was just delayed. Later that decade, with something like The Sopranos, I think you started to see the impact.
At the time that Twin Peaks came out, I was actually an editor of the TV section at Variety in New York. So we were writing stories practically every week about how broadcast television was under siege from cable, and ABC was in last place, so they were taking chances that they normally wouldn’t have taken. And every week ABC just wouldn’t put the show on the air. So every week we were writing about “What’s going on with Twin Peaks?” They went to festivals and we reported everything that happened along the way. It was a hugely anticipated show. I was pretty immersed in it professionally from that perspective.
Paul: Did you get a hint of what was coming? I think there was quite a time period between the pilot being shot, and then shown to various people. Did you get to see the pilot before they aired it?
David: At the time I was at Variety, so I didn’t see it. They premiered it in LA in front of a live audience at Moca. And I think that was part of a campaign by Frost and Lynch to sort of gather momentum or to galvanise public opinion to force ABC to air it. So they arranged all these screenings and the Museum of Broadcasting was one of them.
Paul: Were you a fan of Lynch before Twin Peaks?
David: I had not seen Eraserhead or Dune by that point. So I was not a huge fan of Lynch’s. I was just interested in what was going on in the television ecosystem creatively and you know, there was a lot going on—especially at ABC with Roseanne, thirtysomething, and China Beach. Lynch was a film guy and my beat at Variety was TV.
I was interested in terms of how Spielberg had come over with Amazing Stories, and how TV was reacting creatively [rather] than David Lynch in particular.
Paul: Okay, it’s interesting… You mentioned thirtysomething and there has been an announcement that the show is set to return, called thirtysomething-else.
David: Yeah, I know Brad Dukes did a book on Twin Peaks, and he’s just done one on China Beach. Scott Ryan did a book on thirtysomething. There’s quite a rich vein of shows from that time.
Paul: Definitely. I think TV was a very homogenised up to that point. So when Twin Peaks finally aired, were you one of the people that suffered from second season fatigue, whereby the creative forces behind it, Lynch and Frost, sort of separated a little bit in terms of their working relationship? Were you a fan all the way through? Did it hold your interest at the time?
David: I was a fan all the way through. I mean, like most people including Mark Frost himself, I think there was a a little dip there in the middle of the second season after the whole Laura thing moved on. But I think it came back really strong with Windom Earle and I never stopped watching it.
When I was doing these interviews with Mark Frost I said to him, you might not have done this intentionally, but you sort of set a paradigm which really became the recipe for prestige TV, as we know it today. The first season—you wrote them and shot them before a single one went on the air. So you didn’t hear back from critics and you didn’t hear back from the fans. You had more or less as much time as you needed to do them because there was no air date. So you weren’t churning out 26 episodes in the course of a season.
And you look at The Sopranos, Mad Men and these Netflix shows—that’s become the model now. They shoot everything before they put anything on the air and I think if you talk to you Mark Frost at length as I did, I would say to him “Did you and David talk about this, or did you and David talk about that?” And he says that when you’re churning out 26 episodes like that, you don’t really have time to do anything. You’re just kind of under siege.
So I think that the first season benefited tremendously from the fact that they were able to operate more at a pace that was conducive to creating quality work.
I think with the second [season], we all know the story about how they got thrown a curve when the Audrey and Cooper romance had to be dropped. So, you know, there were logistical issues in Season 2 that I think played a very prominent role. It’s pretty clear that they had a difficult period and I think they were also forced to rush Windom Earle in earlier than they had originally anticipated doing, because of that. So there were all sorts of problems going on, but I think the show rebounded really strongly, with the exception of the James and Donna thing that went on in Season 2, and Dick and Nicky and so on.
Paul: Yeah, I do too. I seem to remember reading somewhere—it was either Harley Peyton or Mark Frost—said they wished they brought Windom in earlier? They knew there was going to be a drop off after Laura’s killer had to be revealed. And I think that’s probably, in hindsight, a good thing. I know they dropped his name right at the beginning of Season 2 and then it was deathly quiet on that front until Laura’s killer was revealed and Leland died. Only then [was Windom] on the scene, and by then it’s difficult to get that momentum back.
David: Yeah, I think that’s true. Even before Laura’s killer was revealed and that episode where Leland died, I think they had lost some viewers and some critical support. In fact, I know they had because when I did the FAQ book, I went back and looked at how critics were reacting, and critics were giving them a very hard time about not resolving it sooner, and I think that you saw that again, many years later with the show The Killing, on AMC at the end of the first season. The critics just went after the creator of that show so fiercely because she didn’t end it on their timetable and I think that’s really just this attitude of entitlement…
I think the only thing that these people owe us is not resolving story lines when we want them resolved. I think they just owe us, and themselves, the best work they can do, and if that means not delivering instant gratification for the viewer then that’s just something that they’re entitled to do.
Not all of them, [but] some critics stayed with it till the end—and I admire those people a lot. But you know, I think it was just this sense of entitlement and instant gratification that people wanted and they didn’t get. And then of course ABC screwed around with [it]. Mark was really upset that they put it on Saturday nights and then they took it off and then they put it back on, and then he talks about how the first Gulf War [affected things]. So there were all kinds of things going on.
Paul: Do you think that sense of entitlement and expectation in some ways damaged the return of Twin Peaks? There was an anticipation that I don’t think could ever have been satisfied for everybody. Season 3 took an immense amount of time and it drifted very much away from what a lot of people had hoped for, which was Cooper front and centre, and most of the action happening in Twin Peaks. Do you think Twin Peaks: The Return suffered from those same sort of expectation issues?
David: You know, that’s a great, great question. And that’s a very complex question. What did you think of The Return?
Paul: It was only just this week I commented to somebody, having thought about it now for the best part of 3 years… I actually co-wrote an article, Counterpart or Contrast for 25 Years Later, whereby one of us was arguing that Season 3 was Twin Peaks, and the other person was arguing that it wasn’t, that it was ‘something else.’ I actually took the argument and I was almost persuading myself that it was Twin Peaks, and that David Lynch and Mark Frost could do with it what they wanted—that they had created something very original at the time (with the first and second seasons), and it made sense that they would try to do something original [but notably Twin Peaks] again, within the landscape of TV as it is now. They would thwart expectation a little bit and would use the fact that Twin Peaks was held in quite high regard over the past 25 years to subvert any expectation.
But on reflection, when returning to watch Season 3, I don’t find I’m as engrossed in the mood of the piece like I was with the original series. I think even though there were a lot of different directors involved in Season 1, and especially Season 2, I think the mood was sustained fairly well throughout and I missed the fun of it, and I also missed the fear factor. There was an underlying sense of dread through it, that anything could happen. I think there are little bits of that throughout The Return, but not a lot, and I missed that mood.
David: I think it’s really interesting because I’m going to use this opportunity to plug my book…
Paul: Yeah, please do! I’m absolutely hungry for this book. I’ve got a lot of time for Mark Frost. Wrapped in Plastic did an issue devoted to ‘The Unseen Mark Frost’ long ago, because there weren’t an awful lot of interviews or a lot of information about him—and I’m looking at your book being the Lynch on Lynch for Mark Frost. No pressure!
David: Well, I hope I don’t let you down!
I think, to the extent that it gets any attention, I think [the book] has the potential to be somewhat controversial. Many critics in particular loved Season 3. And several of them named it the best TV of the year, and also in Sight and Sound (I think), it was named the second best film of the year.
But I think a lot of people, particularly passionate fans of the original series, felt somewhat flat about it emotionally. As much as they admired it, they felt something was missing like you just said. So what I pose, which is not so controversial in and of itself, is that [with] examples like Fire Walk With Me, (which some people loved and some people didn’t), what people are really saying is that they’re missing Mark Frost. We know that Mark was not involved in Fire Walk With Me and we know that Mark was very involved in Season 3, in terms of co-writing it with David Lynch. At some point [he] walked away to work on his novels, and they had made this agreement that Lynch was going to direct it.
Even though Mark Frost is extremely proud of Season 3, so I don’t even know if he would agree with me, but from the perspective I’ve heard from many fans who feel something was amiss, my argument is that what they really wanted was David Lynch to direct a Mark Frost script.
[And] I think you’re right—I think your original argument, the one that you posted on the website, is a strong one. I mean in 1990 Twin Peaks (as you yourself said at the beginning of this conversation) was something mind-blowing in terms of how different and fresh it was, and for them to have come back in Season 3, to try to capture a 25-year-old aesthetic would have been just wrong. Maybe there is something missing. I mean, I definitely missed some of the warmth… I don’t think anyone would ever accuse David Lynch of being overly warm as a filmmaker, but I definitely missed some of that. The first two seasons or the first season, were mind-blowing in their own way.
I think that’s one thing that Mark, and I assume David Lynch, are also really proud of is that they came back with something totally fresh and original instead of trying to rest on the laurels of [what came before]. Maybe they went too far in that direction. I don’t know. I know there was a lot of speculation before Season 3 premiered, in view of the way David Lynch had been going in his films. If you look at Inland Empire—was [Season 3] going to be something that was going to be so abstract? I mean how many people went to see Inland Empire? People are not gonna respond to it. I guess the reason I asked you what you thought of it is that I don’t know whether people in general did respond to it or not. I know that critically speaking it was beloved. But by passionate fans of the original series the response was very ambivalent. I don’t know if you agree with that or not.
Paul: I think you’re right. I remember when I spoke to Chris Rodley (writer of the book Lynch on Lynch) about his views of Season 3, I do remember saying to him that it was curious to me, at the premiere of the show, that Mark and David were never seen together. The only actual photo of them together was on the set when they were shooting. I was always concerned that there was a drift again and that Mark had written the books and David had been heard to turn around and say, “Well, that’s Mark’s version of Twin Peaks,” over his version of the history of Twin Peaks. And there was that kind of slight division again, and it worried me that there were stories that bits of script were being rewritten as the series was being made.
I remember the opening episode of season two was written by Mark Frost and directed by David Lynch, and was absolutely one of my favourite episodes of the entire series. And again, with the revelation of the killer, a Mark-written/David-directed episode. I think when they’re perfectly in tune with each other it’s absolute magic and there’s nothing like it.
I remember Chris Rodley said he’d watched Inland Empire and he thought, [despite being] friends with David and thinking highly of him, he said he’s in need of a bloody good editor. And I think fans sort of said that they could see how the original nine episodes of Season 3 being pulled into 18 episodes was just a few episodes too far. [Although] I’m one of the people who actually likes the sweeping the Roadhouse scene, I know that a lot of people didn’t. “Dougie wasn’t interesting,” “It was very slow,” “Where’s Cooper? It’s taking too long,” etc… I think I’ve got very mixed feelings. I really like it. I do enjoy some episodes more than others, but I’m not sure about the whole versus the, you know, the parts.
David: I think your reaction is similar to a lot of people who really have been devoted to the show for decades. I think that [there were] certain expectations. I do think that there’s, you know, a little bit—this is where maybe it gets a bit controversial—I do think that there’s a little bit of a cult of Lynch, that just doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that he could do anything wrong. Whereas I don’t think there’s a cult of Frost and I think that’s a little unfair. I think I do a pretty good job of delineating why Mark deserves his own book. I mean, there’s so many amazing things about him. But I think what Chris Rodley was saying and what you’re saying is that even though I loved Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, and I liked Inland Empire, I think that when the two of them are together, that I would use the same word that you just did (and I think I actually do that in the book), and that word is “magic.”
Paul: Frost went on with Storyville pretty much after right after Peaks. And I think that was the end of his directing career?
David: Yeah, other than a documentary.
Paul: Was that American Chronicles?
David: And something for PBS.
Paul: Did you get to ask him about that? It seems like he dipped his toes in, and either it didn’t feel like a fit for him or he went purposely in a different direction, with his writing? There was The List of 7, The 6 Messiahs etc. I really, really loved his books, no matter what the subject. He seems to have made of conscious decision to go that way.
David: Yeah. It’s a great question. We talked a lot about that. And I think there are a couple of reasons for that, as I understand from talking to him One is that Storyville did poorly. Yet, if you look at reviews by The Washington Post or the New York Times, they really liked it. Just one of them said that this is a major new filmmaker here and Roger Ebert, who we know was no fan of Lynch’s more out-there stuff, [he] compared [Frost] favourably to Lynch as a director as well. So despite that, it did not do well at the box office and it was a very unhappy experience for him—not making the film—but the studio politics that were involved in it. One quick example was that one of the funders or producers pulled out, and Mark has a saying that (a producer said to him once)—I think it was when the Marilyn Monroe thing fell through— “That’s Hollywood kid.” And there was a lot of that Hollywood nonsense that left a really bitter taste in his mouth. The other thing that I interpret from our conversations is that he enjoys the solitary process of writing. Even though he loves working with actors and was an actor himself, I think that there’s something about the process of researching and writing, that solitary experience, that is really invigorating to him.
And in fact when I asked him what his favourite thing to work on of all time was, he said to me “I’m probably going to disappoint you to say this but it’s actually the book I’m working on now, which is a book on Krishnamurti,” which if you know Mark, is somebody he has great admiration for, who broke from theosophy because he wanted people to go out and find their own bliss (I guess, to use a Joseph Campbell expression) rather than to be designated this ‘saviour’.
It’s very hard to not pick up that he never did another feature film, even though his reviews were good.
Paul: I remember Wrapped in Plastic talking about [at the time], Buddy Faro, the short lived series I think he wrote. Did he talk much about that?
David: He did. He loved working with Dennis Farina. It had a sort of mood to it of the Rat Pack, the 60s, 77 Sunset Strip, which I don’t know if you guys saw over there? He really enjoyed working with Dennis. I have first-hand memory that, when it was premiering, the critics were really raving about it and it was one of the best new shows of the year, but it was again a situation where CBS didn’t really know how to deal with that audience.
You listen to Mark talking and it’s a tough, tough business, TV and film, and you run into a lot of people who really don’t know what they’re doing and think they do, and they can really mess around with your career.
I think he’s again happy with the product, but very disappointed in the way it was handled by the network. So it did not run for very long. It was not successful, even though critically again, expectations were very high for it.
Paul: Yeah, I was disappointed it was never shown in the UK, although I have heard that the episodes are on YouTube [so there’s that at least].
How did you actually manage to get Mark on board as far as the book was concerned?
David: It was my idea. I was working on a book on the Hazel Drew murder, that partially inspired Twin Peaks for Mark Frost. So when we started researching that, we reached out to Mark’s publisher at Flatiron and asked if Mark would be interested in talking to us about this, and she wrote back to us and said “I talked to Mark. He’s interested.”
So then when I came up with this idea, I had Mark’s email address, and I emailed him—and think I use the Chris Rodley example [of Lynch on Lynch]—I said, you know, it’s time that somebody did this for you. I didn’t hear from him for a while, and I emailed him again and I said, “Just wondering if you had given this any thought?” He wrote back the second time and said, “You know, I’m thinking about it.” There’s another little time gap there, and then he wrote back to me. I remember his exact line was “Let’s do it.”
So I think I sent him interviews with other people I had done for our website Paley Matters, so he knew that I was pretty knowledgeable about television and pretty serious, and I wasn’t out for juicy gossip. I wanted to cover his whole career, his whole life really, which I think was important to him. I think the fact that we transcended Twin Peaks [was] probably an important factor.
Paul: Did you have any particular things that you wanted to touch base with him on, and was there anything that particularly surprised you [when speaking to him]?
David: Well of course I wanted answers to every lingering question about Twin Peaks but he wasn’t going there! (both laugh) As a TV historian, I was definitely interested in his experiences at Universal TV back in the 70s, when it was like this factory that was producing all these shows, and people like Roy Huggins was there, and Steven Cannell. I mean it was a TV factory, and it was producing great stuff like Columbo and that’s where Steven Bochco was, when Mark went into that ecosystem—so I was interested in that. I was definitely interested in his experiences on Hill Street Blues. I was interested in his relationship with Bochco, in what it’s like working in the writers room with the crazy psychopath like David Milch. And believe me he didn’t let me down with that stuff!
I was interested in why he walked away from Hollywood rather than taking a staff job at The Bionic Woman or The Six Million Dollar Man—like, why would you walk away from that and go back to Minnesota? I was interested in why, at the height of his success, he decided to make what he called ‘docu-poetry’ for the American Chronicles. There were a lot of questions that came up when I was doing the [Twin Peaks] FAQ that I wanted to get answered, like how involved was he really in On The Air and things like that, and did that come from his father’s experiences in live television? I don’t know if I was surprised but there were some really great stories in there that I didn’t expect to get.
One of them is this amazing story where, during the early years in LA when he’s working for Universal, and he’s finally making some money. He’s at a party in Hollywood and he kind of looks around and there’s these A-listers there, and he finds himself sitting next to this guy—Terence Young, who directed a lot of the Bond movies—and he said that Terrence Young said to him, in this very avuncular British way, “ Look around you Mark. We’re all just whores.” That was really surprising to me and it was really interesting to hear him talk about Mr. Rogers, who he interned for, and how much of an impact that man had on his life.
There’s a great story he tells about when they were making The Believers, directed by John Schlesinger [and written by Mark]. And they were at a party in New York and Warren Beatty was there. So Mark is talking to Beatty and who walks in the room but Donald Trump? And if you follow Mark on Twitter, you know what he thinks of Donald!
There’s really great stuff about his dad, who all Twin Peaks fans love [as Doc Hayward], about his war experiences and things like that. There’s a lot of really interesting stories—the whole Marilyn Monroe thing and how that got killed. It’s interesting the fact that I always thought that he and Lynch had collaborated on that, but really Lynch had just signed on to direct. So it was something that they were going to collaborate on, but actually had not yet. It got killed before David got involved in it. So there’s a lot of little surprises like that and things that are just sort of these fascinating stories.
Mark is just an incredibly bright, thoughtful, intelligent guy and he has really interesting insights on all these things that you’d think he would. [You know] Like about who killed Laura Palmer, for example, you know, was it BOB or was at Leland?
The nature of evil and spiritual things (not religious) but just the whole nature of evil. He is just so well-read and so knowledgeable and so smart that it was just a pleasure to have those conversations with him.
Paul: So to wrap things up for you, and because it’s Twin Peaks month for 25 Years Later, there’s been talk (and there will always be talk, I think) of the possibility of another season. Is there any need for one? What would it be like? Do you think it’s done? Or do you think that there’s another way of approaching the story (as they have this time around) in a different way, subverting expectations again?
David: So if Mark Frost and David Lynch announced that they were getting back together for another season of Twin Peaks, I’d be ecstatic. I mean, what could be bad about that?
Paul: Is there anything you watch at the moment, that’s…
David: …Well, I mean Watchmen…
Paul: …It was amazing!
David: Yeah, I am a huge fan of the graphic novel but everyone was just raving about it so much that I caved in and I’m glad I did. I mean, that was amazing.
Paul: Yeah, I have to admit Damon Lindelof really impressed me with The Leftovers. So I was quietly hopeful that Watchman would be something [special]. I think it’s been about 3 years spent on getting it to the screen. So I was hoping that they had had enough time, love and thought to [have it] be one with the graphic novel.
David: Paul, you read the graphic novel?
Paul: I did, yeah.
David: So I think that one of the really interesting things that’s completely under the radar, and this is worthy of a whole other conversation, but at the end Lori arrests Adrian. That, to me, is an acknowledgement that she’s saying in the book, that Rorschach was right. Which I think is a huge, huge issue because people have been debating whether Rorschach was right or wrong for decades and now he turns out to be the patron saint of a racist group. I know Alan Moore has said that Rorschach was a fascist, but it’s like a throwaway at the very end of the series that she goes “By the way. I’m arresting you.” I think that’s huge and I don’t hear a lot of people talking about that, which kind of surprised me.
Paul: No, you’re right actually…
David: …It cost Rorschach his life.
Paul: I did listen to the official podcast for Watchman. Lindelof talks about the episodes in batches of three and talks about why they made certain decisions and I do believe, having listened to them all, it isn’t referenced.
David: There you go…
Paul: Something to think about!
It’s been great talking to you. Do you want to add anything about the books coming out?
David: We’re doing a lot [of books under the Fayetteville Mafia Press]. The first book we published was Scott’s own The Last Days of Letterman. And we’ve done The Women of David Lynch. I have this Mark Frost book coming up, and then later this year we have Courtenay Stalling’s book Laura’s Ghost about Laura Palmer. So the more support we get, if you like TV and you like Twin Peaks, you would love our stuff. And if you want to support independent publishers, small press that are doing the kind of stuff that the big houses won’t do…
Paul: Absolutely! Good luck with the book.
David: I appreciate it. Thank you.
Paul: Honestly, I can’t wait to read it. It would be amazing if, after the book comes out and I read it, if we can hook up again and talk about it?
David: Sure thing.
Paul: Then I look forward to talking with you again…
On that note, as David mentions, the big publishers aren’t producing the kinds of books that we Twin Peaks/David Lynch/Mark Frost fans have been clambering for. With Conversations with Mark Frost due next month, Twin Peaks Unwrapped doing a book, Laura’s Ghost later this year, Scott Ryan and David are trying to ensure our appetites are satiated, so please help support these and future works – Click on this link to pre-order! fayettevillemafiapress.com