Welcome to the inaugural round of the This Was Television Hall of Fame. As outlined in our initial announcement, Cory and Les (at least for now) will each choose three distinct shows falling into the categories of Drama, Comedy, and Wild Card.
Each of us will make a concise case for the inclusion of our chosen show in the Hall of Fame and engage in a debate regarding the merits of both shows for induction. Following this deliberation, we will open the floor to voting from the This Was Television readership.
Once the voting process concludes, we will unveil the winners and immortalize them in the Hall of Fame, complete with a suitably resplendent description. Additionally, we will announce our focus for the upcoming month.
To serve as a reminder of the rules and to preempt the inevitable inquiries regarding the omission of certain favourites, here are the eligibility criteria for the Hall of Fame: Shows can only be considered if they meet one of the following conditions—either a) they have concluded their broadcasts and have been off the air for a minimum of five years, or b) they have been on the air for a significant duration such that their unquestionable worthiness for consideration is evident.
In cases falling under the latter category, such circumstances will be thoroughly discussed and mutually agreed upon by both esteemed members of the Hall of Fame’s voting body.
Once more, it’s important to emphasize that the selection of these shows is not intended to be the definitive statement on which shows epitomize quality, nor should it be construed as us acknowledging one show at the expense of another.
This is simply an enjoyable endeavour for us, a way to discuss the shows we consider significant and to articulate why we believe they hold meaning.
While in the months ahead, we’ll lean toward a more thematic ballot approach, for our inaugural round, we opted for simplicity.
These selections represent our instinctive responses—the shows that immediately sprung to mind when posed with the question, “What deserves a place in the Hall of Fame?”
Drama: Twin Peaks, ABC, 1990–1991
Legacy in one sentence: Television’s original auteur serialized drama.
Les: Why include Twin Peaks? While one could argue that The Twilight Zone played a significant role in bringing a particular brand of oddity to television, there’s hardly been a serialized drama in the past two decades that doesn’t owe a debt to Twin Peaks.
The primary question it posed, Who killed Laura Palmer? was secondary to the rich and enigmatic world crafted by David Lynch and Mark Frost. It was a world steeped in elements like blackmail, adultery, and the allure of damn fine coffee.
Twin Peaks delved deep into the intrigue concealed beneath the surface of small-town America and the ancient malevolence lurking in the surrounding woods.
In doing so, it birthed some of the most uniquely bizarre moments and characters ever witnessed on primetime network television.
Coming from David Lynch, the auteur filmmaker renowned for works like Blue Velvet and Wild At Heart, Twin Peaks opened the door to the idea that television could serve as a viable medium for ambitious storytelling—a notion that took time to materialize fully but was eventually embraced enthusiastically by cable networks.
While Twin Peaks may have experienced a spectacular failure in its later stages, it undeniably pushed the boundaries further than any show had ventured before.
Cory: Les, I had a strong suspicion that you’d choose Twin Peaks, partly because I know you a bit and partly because it’s an exceptional choice. Peaks was among my initial considerations for this opening round of discussion, and truth be told, it’s difficult to make a case against it.
Lynch and Frost’s persistently strange and captivating drama established the enigmatic and intricate path that countless series would later tread.
Moreover, for a brief period, it became a legitimate cultural phenomenon—boasting substantial ratings, gracing magazine covers, and even earning Kyle MacLachlan a hosting spot on Saturday Night Live.
Notably, some of the shows and individuals we consider foundational to today’s television landscape can’t lay claim to those accomplishments. Peaks achieved all of this during an era when achieving mass culture prominence carried significant weight.
Perhaps without viewers fully realizing it, Lynch, Frost, and Twin Peaks taught them how to fall in love with and navigate mythology-driven serialized dramas—a skill they would frequently call upon in the years that followed.
While I wholeheartedly appreciate that selection, I’m venturing considerably further back into the annals (after all, that’s what we aimed to do with this lighthearted website, isn’t it?) to a show I haven’t had the chance to watch extensively.
Nevertheless, its achievements are undeniably admirable.
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Drama: Playhouse 90, CBS, 1956–1960
Legacy in one sentence: A foundational anthology series that helped establish television’s storytelling credentials.
I acknowledge that advocating for Playhouse 90, an anthology series that aired on CBS from 1956 to 1960, might seem like a challenging endeavor when pitted against the more recent and more prominently visible Twin Peaks.
I’ll readily concede that I haven’t had the opportunity to watch a substantial portion of Playhouse 90 beyond a smattering of random clips I perused on YouTube in recent days.
Nevertheless, delving into the literature about the project, particularly in Christine Becker’s book, which we discussed on this site, as well as other corners of the web, has persuaded me that this program warrants recognition, even if we haven’t had the chance to view all 100-plus episodes.
Your arguments highlighting Lynch and Twin Peaks as the pioneers of the “auteur” serial drama certainly hold merit.
However, Playhouse 90 provided a similar creative platform for some of the industry’s most illustrious writers, directors, and actors during a period marked by upheaval and the dismantling of the studio system.
John Frankenheimer directed a significant portion of the 90-minute teleplays in Playhouse 90 (initially live but later recorded).
Writers like Rod Serling, known for his revered work in Requiem for a Heavyweight, Aaron Spelling, Leslie Stevens, and many others contributed scripts to the anthology.
Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney made notable efforts to redefine their careers within the context of Playhouse 90, while performers like Polly Bergen, Claude Rains, and Charles Laughton garnered critical acclaim and awards for their contributions to the series.
Playhouse 90 clinched numerous Emmy awards, including the coveted Best Anthology Series, a prestigious category during that era, on multiple occasions. It holds the distinction of being one of the first productions to film at CBS’s Television City.
Additionally, it stood as one of the last major live anthology series, a format that gradually dwindled as the associated expenses soared beyond sustainability.
While it’s true that the anthology series didn’t exert as much influence or leave the same kind of impact after the era of Playhouse 90, one could argue that the bar set by this series was so exceptionally high that it discouraged further attempts at comparison.
In some respects, the beautifully unconventional pilot episode of Twin Peaks would have seamlessly blended with the rest of Playhouse 90.
Les: Cory, I must admit that your choice took me by surprise, but it’s one I can’t contest. Like you, my exposure to Playhouse 90 has been limited, but the research I conducted for the chapter inspired by It’s The Pictures That Got Small convinced me that it undeniably merits a place in this discussion.
The show featured a remarkable lineup of stars and revered writers, many of whom continue to be highly regarded today.
As we extensively discussed when examining that chapter, Playhouse 90 provided Hollywood luminaries like Mickey Rooney and Peter Lorre with an opportunity to subvert the personas they had cultivated within the studio system.
The writing, as you rightly noted, was of the highest caliber, and several of these writers successfully transitioned to the realm of feature films.
You mentioned Requiem for a Heavyweight, but there were also notable offerings like The Helen Morgan Story, Days of Wine and Roses, and Judgment at Nuremberg.
I wholeheartedly concur with your observation that the pilot episode of Twin Peaks could have seamlessly slotted into the Playhouse 90 lineup.
If the series had still been airing in 1991, it would have been a feasible choice for Lynch and Frost to consider bringing it to that platform.
However, I must still give my vote to Twin Peaks for three compelling reasons. First and foremost, unlike the self-contained nature of Playhouse 90 productions, Twin Peaks remained in motion.
Lynch and Frost’s audacious aim to create what Frost aptly described as “a sort of Dickensian story about multiple lives in a contained area that could sort of go perpetually,” or a murder mystery where, ideally, the murder was never conclusively solved, was an experiment to an extent that few other shows had dared to attempt.
While it certainly didn’t pioneer serialized storytelling on television and drew liberally from the soap opera genre, its notion of transforming the series into an unending narrative machine, perpetually spiraling into improvisational narrative rabbit holes, was nothing short of brilliant.
Did Twin Peaks eventually crumble into spectacular disarray? Undoubtedly. But I admire it for daring to reach as far as it did.
My second reason stems from this: I believe that Twin Peaks deserves special recognition for the extent to which it transformed the discourse around TV shows, not solely in the manner you mentioned, such as its appearances on SNL and magazine covers.
Recently, I’ve been delving into Full of Secrets, a book of critical studies on Twin Peaks, and I came across a remarkable essay about alt.tv.twinpeaks, an online discussion group that emerged once the show began airing.
Members of this group would meticulously tape episodes and then watch them repeatedly, scouring for subtle details while crafting their own theories about the identity of the killer.
This group can be viewed as Patient Zero for much of the obsessive analysis that the internet would later facilitate, setting the stage for the comment sections on reviews of shows like Mad Men or Breaking Bad, as well as the multitude of fan sites dedicated to Lost or The X-Files.
While discussions about TV shows had occurred around water coolers before, Twin Peaks elevated the chat room to the forefront of these conversations.
Lastly, I’m choosing Twin Peaks simply because the show is unbelievably bizarre. More importantly, it’s weird in a way that has permeated the TV landscape to the extent that it appears every show deviating from the norm is compared to Peaks in some capacity.
That distinctive Lynchian tone, characterized by a fascination with duality and surrealism, the seamless integration of music and narrative to construct an immersive atmosphere, and an artist’s unwavering attention to detail, is something many showrunners seem to seek.
For instance, David Chase and those influenced by him clearly draw significant inspiration from Twin Peaks. The dream sequences in The Sopranos and even Boardwalk Empire carry strong echoes of the Black Lodge, right down to the crimson curtains.
During the last season of Mad Men, I couldn’t help but assert that Matthew Weiner and his team were imbibing the Lynch Kool-Aid.
Therefore, while I acknowledge the significance of Playhouse 90 in the grand scheme of things, Twin Peaks undeniably surpasses it in terms of its influence on the creation, consumption, and analysis of television.
That’s why I have no reservations about selecting Twin Peaks as my inaugural choice for the Hall of Fame.