Twin Peaks holds an important place in the study of television, in the field of genre, the understanding of audiences and of post broadcast television. Both the episode screened, and the entity that is Twin Peaks support the key characteristics of Post Broadcast TV.
Emerging in the late 1980‘s alongside the post modernist theory regarding active audiences and polysemic texts, Post Broadcast Television assumes audiences to be complex, consumers who understand a text in relation to other texts. A post broadcast television show will therefore draws on knowledge of other texts and their conventions in order to build its narrative.
Twin Peaks is more then just a television series. It exists as a multi-platform, transmedia text with the story world existing across two television series, a film (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me), and a book. Twin Peaks becomes a world, a fictitious place where multiple stories exist. Each text can and does stand alone, however they are all interlinked and together they make up an entire story. Transmedia texts have garnered popularity with the rise of technology and the development of post broadcast television, the more complex narrative arcs allowing for deeper engagement with the characters and the story world.
Post Broadcast Television’s primary focus being entertainment rather then education, Twin Peaks follows the model of content America is so well known for producing. The text is polysemic: made for multiple audiences, and multiple meanings can be discerned from it. Until the creation and broadcast of Twin Peaks, public broadcasters, especially ABC (USA), has viewed audiences as separate groups. Segmented by gender, age and geographical location. The widespread popularity of the first season lead to a new understanding of audiences “…as an amalgamation of different sub-cultural groups rather than a homogenous mass, or even as an amalgamation of family units” (Nelson, 1996) As a result, texts produced became more sophisticated, the understanding of who and how texts could be accessed changed and niche audiences developed, as did the concept of post broadcast television.
Different to a great deal of American serial TV, Twin Peaks holds it’s audience in high esteem, assuming them to be intelligent beings who don’t need plot points spelt out or traditional production elements that emphasize drama (quick cuts, fast zooms) to hold their attention and keep them engaged. Instead it plays with sound and pace to create a surreal and unfamiliar experience for the viewer (such as in Cooper’s dreams). This unconventional style for serial tv led to great intrigue from the wider audience. It’s hybrid, complex nature place it in the category of post broadcast television.
Similar to Lynch’s other works, the television series is of a hybrid genre. It is not purely crime, nor drama, nor soap-opera. It is a mix of all of them and often pokes fun at each of these styles by over-exaggerating them or playing with the audiences notions of standard genre conventions. It contains many of the elements of a traditional soap-opera, but refutes this in multiple instances. For example, the inclusion of scenes from the fake soap-opera Invitation To Love, broadcast on the television sets of the citizens of Twin Peaks often shadows future events, or parallels the lives of the characters featured. The fleeting glimpses we are allowed into the program feature over-exaggerated the corny dialogue, soft lighting and close-ups of emotional expressions that we have come to associate as standard conventions of the soap-opera genre. The act of including a soap-opera within the world of Twin Peaks is making fun of that genre and a way in which Lynch can shoot down any ideas that Twin Peaks is intended to be a soap-opera.
Another example of playing with standard conventions occurs in the Pilot episode; Pete Martell is on the phone to Sheriff Harry Truman, explaining that he has just discovered Laura’s dead body. The scene is set up in a conventional fashion (cutting between the two on the phone) and we all want to know who, however, the Sheriff deliberately frustrates the audience by asking Pete, “Where?” and the scene ends. This sort of build-up and change in direction is common throughout the television series. Part of the entertainment factor of post broadcast television is knowing the conventions and experiencing them being played with.
These examples also support the idea that Twin Peaks was created for the new type of audience that emerged alongside post broadcast television. A sophisticated, intelligent audience, that consume television and other popular culture on a regular basis. These avid consumers understand the conventions of genre television allowing Lynch and Frost to play with the standard ‘rules’ to create a hybrid production.
Twin Peaks consistently plays with the interruptible nature of post-broadcast television. It is also very aware of itself as a production. It makes little attempt to provide the viewers with narrative closure. These factors add to the entertainment value for an audience who understand the conventions of genre television and are interested in experiencing this being played with to provide new content.
From ‘Twin Peaks,’ USA, to lesser peaks, UK: building the postmodern TV audience.(Sport, Globalization and the Media), Nelson, Robin, Media, Culture & Society, Oct, 1996, Vol.18(4), p.677, accessed August 24 2014