Critic's Notebook: 'Twin Peaks,' 22-Episode Seasons, Nielsen and More Reader Questions Answered

Twin Peaks Still - Publicity - Embed 7 - H 2017
Courtesy of Showtime

Lots of people apologize before asking me questions about television shows, which I would be able to understand better if I were, say, a pediatrician. It's television. I'm a television critic. We're at a party or some other gathering and you want to talk TV, I'm good with it.

Of course, I already do this a lot on a podcast, on Twitter and — here's a diminished means of communication — over email, but not as often as I used to in an actual column here at The Hollywood Reporter. So maybe I'll do this more often given that I've significantly cut back on my Twitter time, lots of people don't listen to podcasts at all and apparently nobody uses email anymore. Here's a collection of reader questions I pulled from some of those outlets, plus a few that pop up all the time that don't need to be traced back to one individual and a few from people in the industry who proffered up some intriguing ones, though I will keep their identities hidden so that I don't accidentally get them in trouble with some fiery rant that will later look like me taking up a torch they lit (when, for the most part, they hadn't).

OK, here goes...

Q: From Ryan Acheson via Twitter (and trust me, there were similar emails on this topic): "Looks like you underestimated David Lynch's ability to be creative and frighteningly weird. Gotta light?"

A: Ah, yes, a reference to Ep. 8 of Twin Peaks and, more directly to this critic's notebook I wrote about how FX's Legion could have stolen the thunder of Twin Peaks because lots of shows learned how to be weird in the 26-year absence of Twin Peaks, and Legion, of all shows, was particularly deft at it. But yes, Ryan, I did underestimate Lynch's ability to bring the weirdness — by an order of magnitude. That said, not all of what Lynch is putting on the screen is creepy and creative at the same time. Sometimes it's just, well, weirdness as affectation. Or eye-rolling (the use of a little person with what appears to be an awl, going on a murderous rampage), etc. I'm finding Lynch's many indulgences trying at this point but will keep watching to the end, even though it has rather aggressively been a show I find a chore to watch.

Q: From @MyVogonPoetry via Twitter: "What is on your 'I want to watch but can't right now' list?"

A: Well, for starters, read this critic's notebook I wrote on that very thing. The short answer is "pretty much everything." But the medium, semi-thoughtful answer that includes "I started but haven't finished" series is this list: The Handmaid's Tale, GLOW, Preacher, Halt and Catch Fire, The Crown, Casual, Orphan Black, Orange Is the New Black, I'm Dying Up Here, American Gods and, uh, should I go on?

Q: From someone inside the industry: "13 million over-49's stream now. How many in 10 years?"

A: All of them? OK, fine, not everybody catches up with technology even if you give them 15 years or so, but I would venture that, instead of being measured in millions, more than 50 percent. It should be second nature by then. Affording cable will be an issue. But I'm a believer in elder tech adoption.

Q: From @Lynn_in_Atlanta via Twitter: "Do you think the 22-episode network procedural is on its way out? Also, do you think cable/streaming will play with that genre, e.g. The Night Of?"

A: For the first one, no, because network television is slow to change and when a series works, particularly a procedural, the more episodes you make, the more money you make. But episode orders are slowly decreasing. I hardly watch any network dramas willingly anymore and for those that I do watch, I absolutely never watch all 22 episodes. A series has to be pretty great to keep me coming back for more than the manageable model of 13. Because — choices. As for the second part, yes, I think people who stream most of their series tend to have at least a partial inclination to binge, and few people want to binge 22 episodes of anything. It's a terrible model that taxes writing staffs and cuts into creativity.

Q: From @Ossie_Awesome via Twitter: "Will you ever attempt to rank TV shows again?"

A: I see what you've done there, Ossie. Or at least I think I have. This appears to be yet another mocking reference to the fact that I stopped doing "The Power Rankings" some time ago. I started "The Power Rankings" in September of 2009 at the San Francisco Chronicle (and if any critic was doing it before then, I haven't seen it), which became a very fun weekly exercise that got very popular and then, rather quickly, became a more difficult chore. Finally, somewhere in the shadows of the looming Peak TV movement, it became crippling, so I stopped. Now that it's impossible to watch every top-tier scripted series — much less every episode every week — it can't be resuscitated in its original form. However, I've been kicking around some ideas on how to bring back variations on the original, prompted as ever by podcasting mate Jason Snell, who created the HTML for the rankings in under 30 minutes all those years ago.

Q: From Felice Gollotti via email: "I've always wondered — when the last episode of one season ends and first episode of next season begins in the same time frame — does the filming continue? Or is the scene reconstructed months later when new season shoots?"

A: If it's a cliffhanger-type situation, especially outdoors where getting the right season or background exactly right is necessary, they probably shot extra footage. But mostly the time frame can be restarted later when the new season picks up again.

Q: From Mauricio Mota via email: "Peak TV but Death Valley metrics: Why can't we have an updated way of measuring success in TV?"

A: That's been the plea of pretty much every network or cable channel that uses ratings. They all wanted Nielsen to do better. They all believed the system was outdated. But it was a little bit of the devil you know for a while. In Nielsen's defense, they did get better. And rival companies haven't inspired much trust in the industry. That said, I wonder if it really matters that much anymore in the way that there was an urgency over numbers in the past. Yes, those who use ratings want all the demo numbers and the total viewers, but overnight ratings are a thing of the past and even live-plus-3 and live-plus-7 ratings don't tell the whole story (or even a large part of it). Time-shifting and too much choice pretty much devalued ratings in the old-school sense of them. Advanced metrics are here, and they help networks, channels and advertisers set prices, but the story they ultimately tell is that viewing patterns are forever changed.

Q: From @Dean_Min_Travel via Twitter: "Over the next five years, will more people get into, or out of, scripted series production?"

A: Is this a trick question, Dean? Well, I will say that I'm sticking with my claim that the Peak TV bubble is leaking air. But my qualifier, which I wrote about here when Apple recently jumped into the content game, is that it's mostly going to leak from the bottom. More channels will probably either cut down or get out. But their departure will be more than covered by the bigger platforms, particularly if Apple ramps up as expected and seriously changes the industry.

Q: From @LisaMBeudry via Twitter: "What's it like for creators to work in such a saturated market? How do they try to make their show stand out in that ocean?"

A: This is one of my favorite topics, Lisa, because it's one of the most pressing issues in the industry right now. The feedback I'm getting from series creators is that there's no better time to be making television — and no more challenging time. The money is great, the opportunities are plentiful and there are more outlets interested in artistic vision over big-tent ratings. Plus a vibrant creative environment benefits everyone — it makes quality rise. At the same time, it's painfully hard to get noticed. And for a lot of creators, the complaint isn't just lack of advertising promotion — it's how hard it is to get found on the site of the streaming service that just paid you all that money and let you make something special. To them it doesn't make sense (to me, either), and it's frustrating. I'm wondering if the end result of this will be some creators wanting a more intimate, curated existence (like the kind FX touts), or if that kind of thinking will ultimately just be adorable once Apple opens its vaults. In either case, I'm curious enough to keep following this little side effect of the content explosion.