Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A few thoughts on Twin Peaks

I don't want to spend a lot of time on this one, but a recent post by Ken Levine about declining television viewership numbers got me to thinking. The content bubble story is big and complicated and inextricably intertwined with other big, complex stories such as media consolidation. I have found that it is useful, when following such a story, to take at least brief note of major developments so that you will have a record of them when you go back and try to make sense of things.

With that in mind here are a few regarding Twin Peaks:

1. This was a hugely expensive undertaking. Between the length, the ambition, and the names of those in front of and behind the camera, we are talking substantial production cost. Add to that huge marketing numbers. In addition to the considerable advertising budget, Twin Peaks has gotten a vast amount of media coverage. At the risk of seeming a bit cynical, every time you see a story or read an interview about a major upcoming studio release, you should think of it as being paid for by the studio in some way. A few journalist actually receive some kind of compensation (monetary or otherwise) for running the story. Others are happy to let some PR flack write their copy. On the next level up you get journalists who are willing to trade favorable and extensive coverage for access. Then finally, there is the more subtle but still essential greasing of the wheels, having the people and resources available to keep the PR running smoothly. These things cost a lot of money.

2. Given this amount of money, the viewership numbers we are seeing are not good.
With that, 506,000 viewers watched the two-hour, two-episode 9 PM premiere of the David Lynch and Mark Frost series Sunday, according to Nielsen. Among adults 18-49, the return of Agent Dale Cooper, Laura Palmer and more of the mystery of the Pacific Northwest town snagged a 0.2 rating.

3. And don't give too much weight to all the talk about record setting sign-ups. You will notice a certain vagueness about this metric. For instance, there doesn't seem to be much if any discussion of absolute numbers. I don't believe that Showtime has ever had an event this heavily hyped. We cannot, therefore, assume that the previous record was all that impressive. Probably more importantly, many of these sign-ups are presumably for 30 day free trials. As far as I can tell, we have little idea how many people signed up and even less idea how many of those will become paying customers.

4. There is, however, some good news for the company. Supposedly at David Lynch's insistence, all but the first few episodes will be coming out one at a time. This means that anyone dropping after the first 30 days will miss most of the series. Furthermore, as best I can tell, Showtime's parent company CBS apparently has a large ownership share in Twin Peaks. I would need to do quite a bit of research to be certain, but CBS does own Spelling Productions, which was one of the companies behind the original series. I also noticed that and the CBS streaming service have both offered original Twin Peaks for a while now. If the franchise is a CBS property, this means that all sorts of secondary revenue streams will flow back to the parent company. The investment in the new series makes the old show more viable. It also opens up the possibility of future movies and other projects.

5. That said, these numbers still do not look good and they raise real questions about the currently hot model of dusting off some old cult TV show. These programs have built-in name recognition and they are amazingly hype-friendly, but if this level of promotion brings in less than 1 million viewers, that is a very bad sign.

1 comment:

  1. It's the old "Stagecoach" problem.

    "Stagecoach", directed by John Ford was a revolutionary film, for its time. Orson Welles was so dazzled by it, he stayed in the theater to watch it over and over. It set up many of the tropes in Westerns and some in film that we see to-day, but seeing other films and THEN seeing "Stagecoach" can make one view it in a lesser light, unless you say to yourself, "Yes, but they did it first".

    "Twin Peaks", in its original incarnation, helped popularize (which is to say, producers rushed to clone) a few things, such as a serialized storyline that suggests some sinister plot or conspiracy, quirky characters and locales that were not Los Angeles or New York.

    As Levine has noted, there are HEAPS of shows that have used, to greater and lesser effect, the "Big Conspiracy" storyline, which leaves TP as a elderly presence over to the side, saying, "Why, I'll show those young folks about intrigue and paranoia! We did it first!"

    Unfortunately, the people that might have cared are 27 years older and, let's face it, TP ran for a short time and the most intriguing story line was settled well before then.

    Distance, in this case only adds familiarity to the view.