By Ken Levine
We sure live in a different TV world. For all the hype about the return of TWIN PEAKS on Showtime, only 500,000 people watched the premier that Sunday night. Showtime did say however that it resulted in the single biggest day of sign-ups so in that regard the series debut was a success. And we all know that different platforms have different criteria for success. Ratings mean way more to CBS than Showtime.
But still! Only 500,000 people? In the entire country – population: 324,118,787? And by the way, TWIN PEAKS’ numbers were up 178% from Showtime’s GUERRILLA mini-series. I mean, now we’re getting down to where you could put an entire national viewing audience in a fairgrounds. On the first year of CHEERS we bemoaned that no one in the world was watching us and we had 19,000,000 viewers.
This is all the result of niche programming and unlimited new options, but it still seems shocking to me. Those are the kinds of numbers local Top 40 stations used to get. Except radio’s overhead was a disc jockey and transmitter. Even the records were free. God knows what it cost to produce that two-hour TWIN PEAKS opener.
And for all that hype and ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY cover stories, etc. I’m sure more people watched some YouTube video of a cat slipping on ice. I bet the cat also whipped the major broadcast networks. Tabby probably had 19,000,000. And how much does it cost for an ice cube?
The great thing about having a show on television used to be that it had an impact. On MASH we would always have first night parties for our season premiers. Year six was the introduction of David Ogden Stiers as Charles Winchester. I was sitting with him on the couch and just before the show came on I said, “Your entire life is about to change in the next hour.” He scoffed. It’s just a TV show.
Three days later he came up to me on the set and said, “Ohmygod! You were right. I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t go ANYWHERE without being recognized. My life has completely changed.” (And happily, for the better.) That was TV’s reach.
You knew you were in the big leagues. The work you did was going to be seen on the big stage. And I’ll be honest, all too often we took it for granted. 19,000,000 viewers is hardly “nobody’s watching.”
500,000 viewers – and remember when TWIN PEAKS originally debuted on ABC it drew 34,000,000 – that IS nobody watching. Not for “television.” Watch out for that cat.