Though it certainly has its share of television forebears – including soap operas and offbeat detective procedurals – Twin Peaks has never been content to play by the usual TV rules. That was true during the show’s first run nearly 30 years ago but it’s even clearer now, in the age of the recap and the live-tweet. Twin Peaks is not here for cliffhangers or Red Weddings or carefully packaged “next time on” trailers. Remember the days when AMC’s delightfully vague “On the Next Mad Men” teasers were the most surreal pieces of cable marketing out there? That was child’s play compared to how little Twin Peaks gave us before its return and how little it continues to offer in terms of week-to-week teasers.
Apparently, though, this was not always the plan.
Speaking at the Variety TV Summit this week (via IndieWire), Showtime chief marketing officer Don Buckley said that his team had actually crafted a substantial marketing push for Peaks built around the new episodes. Promotional images were made, video packages were built and all of this presented to co-creator and director David Lynch. At a donut-filled meeting (because Lynch doesn’t just write and direct Twin Peaks; he lives it), Lynch gave the materials offered a rather warm reception. Then he vetoed almost all of it anyway.
“We visited him and came with a stack of print solutions and pretty creative video solutions,” Buckley said. “And he served donuts as he does. In the middle of it all, he interrupted the presentation, which included some of my colleagues, and said, ‘I think Don and Eric have done a great job!’ And he started applauding, and everybody joined in on the applause.
“And two days later he killed everything we had showed him. The donuts were good though.”
So Buckley and his team went back to the drawing board, pulling heavily from the show’s original two seasons to remind fans of great moments and pumping that classic Laura Palmer homecoming portrait out through every possible channel. Ultimately much of the marketing campaign was built around the “It Is Happening Again” quote and fed nostalgia as much as it did anticipation for something new. When we did get new footage, it usually arrived in the form of static shots of classic Peaks locales, brief glimpses at aged characters and single lines of out-of-context dialogue. Then there was the teaser that was nothing more than 30 seconds of Lynch eating a donut.
It was all very odd and flouted everything we think we know about how premium cable shows are marketed. It was also, in Buckley’s eyes, successful. For now.
“I think we did it,” he said. “Twin Peaks broke all kinds of records for us for single-night subscriber acquisition. I think it helped cement the brand quite a bit. We still have 12 parts to go. We’ll see what happens then. It was a challenge and a negotiation.”
There are two lessons to take away from this. One: Don’t try to make Twin Peaks like every other show. And two: If you must tell someone you’re about to kill all of their work, at least give them donuts first.
Twin Peaks airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.