Fans of "Twin Peaks," and there seem to be a dwindling number, will not be happy to hear that ABC has pulled the bizarre prime-time soap from its schedule and that Saturday night's episode was the last, at least for now.
Thus the three young women summoned to the Road House bar by a mysterious torn message will remain there indefinitely. Ben Horne's campaign to save the mysterious pine weasel from extinction will have to wait. Norma Jennings's plan to marry her beloved Eddie, now that Eddie's wife, Nadine, has mysteriously decided she's in love with a fellow high school wrestler, is on hold, even as Norma's sister, Annie, is on her way to Twin Peaks from a convent.
Where normally ABC aired previews of the next episode of "Twin Peaks," viewers on Saturday instead mysteriously saw a public service announcement about colon cancer.
ABC network executives abruptly informed Lynch-Frost Productions in Los Angeles at 3 p.m. Friday that the weirdest show on network TV was being put on "indefinite hiatus" after Saturday's telecast. Ratings have been falling since ABC moved "Twin Peaks" from a Sunday time slot to Saturdays, which has in recent years become the least-watched night of TV for the three broadcast networks.
Robert Iger, president of ABC Entertainment, had boldly predicted that ABC would lure young and upscale viewers back to Saturdays with its lineup of "The Young Riders," "China Beach" and "Twin Peaks," but the audience never really showed up.
"China Beach" was yanked from the schedule in December with seven first-run episodes un-aired and is now expected to return in the summer. "Under Cover," the series that replaced "China Beach," was also dropped as of Saturday and may never return. ABC said it would fill the vacant two-hour time slot with movies.
David Lynch, the nothing-if-not-quixotic filmmaker who produces "Twin Peaks" with Mark Frost, said in a statement, "We've all known the true 'Twin Peaks' fan is a party animal and not home on Saturday night, and they have sorely missed the opportunity to have a party on a week night.
"We are looking forward to seeing which weekday night ABC will call 'party night' in the future," Lynch said. A spokesman said neither he nor Frost would have further comment.
Saturday night's show, which ended with the mysterious death of continuing character Josie Packard (Joan Chen) -- whose anguished face then materialized as the knob of a nightstand drawer -- was the 16th of 22 that ABC had ordered for this season. Production continues on the remaining six even though it isn't known when or if ABC will air them.
Although executives at all three networks have in recent years espoused a philosophy of giving shows more time to build audiences before dumping them, cancellations tend to be as sudden and capricious as ever. NBC canceled its sitcom "Grand" this season after only two parts of a special three-part episode had aired. ABC aired Part 1 of a two-part "Under Cover," then dropped Part 2 because it dealt with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, a plot development network executives claimed might unduly alarm viewers.
Mysteriouser and mysteriouser!
"Twin Peaks" premiered last April with a two-hour pilot that had been the talk of the TV industry for months as it awaited an air date. It scored impressive ratings in its first outing. When the show went to regular episodes, the ratings were still respectable, if hardly Cosbian.
But with the move to Saturday night, the bottom fell out. The most recent figures show the program ranking 85th among 89 network shows rated that week. With numbers like that, it seemed unlikely Lynch and Frost could have been expecting a renewal for next season, but their spokesman insists they have already planned "Twin Peaks" plot twists "years in advance."
If ABC dropped the show, it could be picked up by Fox or another network, or could drift off to the purgatory of cable, where lower budgets might mean drastically lowered production quality and population pruning of the 70 continuing characters. The program is reportedly doing blockbuster business in many of the foreign countries in which it airs, even while falling into ratings doldrums here.
It costs $1.1 million to produce each one-hour episode of "Twin Peaks," for which ABC pays the producers a $900,000 licensing fee. The remaining $200,000 is made up by the producers, a common arrangement in network programming.
The producers want "Twin Peaks" moved to another night, but even if ABC does that, the serialized drama may never again attract the devoted, even fanatical following it previously enjoyed. For some of the faithful, the show lost its super-creepy edge once the murderer of Laura Palmer was revealed to be her father, acting under the spell of the evil and hairy Bob, who happened to make a brief reappearance at the very end of Saturday night's installment.
Earlier in the episode, Ben Horne said to his colleagues: "What is the greatest gift that one human being can give to another? The future." Whether "Twin Peaks" itself has one remains, fittingly enough, a mystery.