Tiny Crowd for ‘Twin Peaks’ Tests Value of Selling Subscriptions Vs. Pop Culture Sizzle

Twin Peaks
Courtesy of Showtime

Twin Peaks” pushed the boundaries of TV when it first arrived on ABC in 1990. The sequel series that wraps its 18-episode run on Showtime tonight is proving to be an experimental effort in different ways.

After much fan-demonium in the lead up to the May 21 premiere, the 26-years-later revival of the David Lynch-Mark Frost drama has garnered a surprisingly meager weekly audience. Yet Showtime is calling it a win in that “Twin Peaks” drove a record number of people to sign up for a free trial of the Showtime standalone streaming service.

From Showtime’s perspective, the true measure of “Twin Peaks’ ” success won’t come until they know how many of those people decide to stick around beyond the 30-day free window. CBS Corp.’s third and fourth quarter earnings reports will offer clues later this year. CBS’ cable earnings for the second quarter already indicated a “Twin Peaks” bounce, with revenue up 7% and operating income up 11% year-over-year. International licensing of the series has also been strong, given Lynch’s following.

But the lack of live ratings traction for “Twin Peaks” raises questions about the business rationale for the industry-wide mania for reboots and revivals. The promise that vintage titles will bring a built-in audience is seemingly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of programming choices, new and old, that viewers have at their fingertips. For Showtime’s investment in “Twin Peaks” to really pay off, viewers will have to be intrigued by enough of Showtime’s other programming to keep shelling out $11 a month.

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Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee in a still from Twin Peaks. Photo: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

‘Twin Peaks’ Finale Recap: The Story Ends — Forever? — With a Mystifying, Entrancing Finish

“Twin Peaks: The Return” had the benefit of a long lead time for whetting fans appetites with teasers, cryptic clues and other viral marketing opportunities. The episodes have generated largely positive reviews from critics who have heaped praise on Lynch’s direction, and credited the original 1990-91 series with paving the way for the cinematic standard of TV series today.

Yet with all of that, the series opened to about 620,000 total viewers in Nielsen’s live-plus-3 ratings — a paltry number that was a shock given the hoopla surrounding its return.

For the season to date, the 16 “Twin Peaks: The Return” installments that have aired to date are averaging a mere 372,000 viewers in live plus 3. With DVRs, streaming and on-demand viewing beyond the first three days factored in, the average viewership grows to about 2 million per episode, according to Showtime. That’s a more respectable number, albeit far short of Showtime hits such as “Homeland,” “Ray Donovan,” and “Shameless.”

Showtime emphasized that the majority of “Twin Peaks” viewing came via streaming and on-demand platforms that can be hard to translate into traditional ratings. But the live turnout demonstrates that “Twin Peaks” did not rise to the level of can’t-miss appointment TV. To date, the first episode has garnered 4.3 million viewers across all platforms. Of all Showtime series, “Twin Peaks” has the biggest proportion of its audience come from the cabler’s authenticated and standalone streaming platforms.

Still, the eye-popping numbers delivered by HBO’s “Game of Thrones” this summer (an average of 10.2 million viewers in live-same-day) proves that viewers will turn out on a weekly basis for live linear airings of shows with serious pop culture sizzle.

“Twin Peaks: The Return” was envisioned from the start as a limited series event, not a recurring series with a shot at a renewal. Showtime CEO David Nevins told reporters last month that there have been no discussions with Lynch and Frost about producing more episodes. Industry sources reinforce that there has been none of the usual movement that happens on productions that may be returning. Nevins said they agreed to hold off on any discussions about the future of the franchise until after “The Return” finished its full run.

Tonight’s finale is expected to bring some closure to the stories of the key characters in the “Twin Peaks” saga. But in true Lynchian fashion, the business question of how Showtime’s investment in “The Return” has impacted the premium cabler’s bottom line is one that defies easy answers.

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  1. J says:

    Twin Peaks is just above some people’s pay grade; some with get it—other’s won’t. Hoping for a Season 4!

  2. SKW says:

    The Lynch mob think anything the man does is brilliant and will go to any length to say so, convince themselves and convince others. There was nothing about that series that warranted 18 hours. Nothing. Inspired directing doesn’t make up for glacial pacing, poor storytelling and strangeness isn’t an end unto itself, or if it is, such an end should not be indulged for 18 hours.

  3. Sensible Enough says:

    Helluva lot more valuable than anything you’ve ever done or will ever do, Cynthia. Showtime can sell this for a hundred years – it was a stone cold masterpiece.

  4. Caitlin says:

    It didn’t rise to the level of can’t miss TV? It sure did for me – I was on the edge of my seat for two hours! Please don’t give up on intelligent, creative, never-before-experienced, groundbreaking programming that will hopefully be looked back on & regarded as LEGENDARY.

    This s*** was so good it nearly broke my television. It may not have had the most viewers – but what great artist is fully appreciated when their work is being published? This is one for the record books, folks. It’s not just a reboot of the original show; it’s original in itself, and a uniquely entity in television. Even though Showtime has to make money from the programming they choose to show, I beg of you: let’s not live in a world where truly creative thinking by one of the most original people on the planet isn’t “worth it”… Don’t we deserve better than just the bottom line?

  5. Brenboy says:

    Just finished TP finale. Plenty of room for another season. Hope it’s negotiated.

  6. If I were Showtime I would bring it back for another season starring Dale Cooper. I think it would bring more viewers and keep pop culture alive on Showtime…

  7. Christopher Call says:

    Speaking as a millennial, i stopped watching/paying for TV with commercials around 2007.

  8. Dre says:

    ‘Live’ ratings should be moot. I, for one, don’t watch anything on a ‘live’ schedule. There’s no reason to.

    • me says:

      Dear TV Ratings gods: please do not count live viewing any longer. Der…I mean Dre says they don’t watch that way anymore, so therefore nobody else does either.

      • moe says:

        compare live tv ratings for the top shows today to live tv ratings for the top shows 10, 20, 30 years ago. dre is right; people don’t watch live tv anymore, dickhead.

  9. Bob says:

    I stopped watching after episode 8. I’ll come back to some day once I get over that it isn’t what it says it is. It’s not Twin Peaks. It’s a Lynch genius show, and when I can just get over the disappointment and enjoy it as such, I’ll come back.

    • eddie willers says:

      Part 8 was the finest hour of original programming ever put on TV.

      If that stopped you, you should stay stopped.

      • Sensible Enough says:

        find me a student who can direct like episode 8 and i’ll give him a three picture deal.

      • Jay says:

        Episode 8 was the greatest student film of 2017. An hour long cross between a screen saver and the short art film spoofed in Ghost World ‘Mirror Father Mirror’

      • Caitlin says:

        Agreed. If you didn’t like ep. 8, you probably won’t like where it goes… and a “Lynch genius show”? Agree with you there, but as for why that would deaden your appreciation of the show instead of stoke it, I have no idea.

  10. MakrMaldrill says:

    I signed up for Showtime just for Twin Peaks (Loved it) and I’ll cancel after I’ve seen the finale. I’ve always found there to be something a little flimsy and desperate about Showtime’s whole situation.

    • JR says:

      One thing I love about Showtime…they don’t get the big blockbuster movies, but films they do show are in the proper aspect ratio. (But I’m also looking forward to the new season of Shameless.) Anyway, kudos to Showtime for bringing this groundbreaking series to us. Now bring on the Blu-ray!

  11. nerdrage says:

    If Showtime wants to get subscribers and keep them, they need to beef up their library to the point where people might hang around. People don’t want to jump all over the place to find the shows they want. They will stick with a service only if it has the volume to justify that.

    Right now, Showtime has Twin Peaks and…nothing else of interest to me. Star Trek Discovery might be interesting but that’s on CBS All Access, which also has nothing else of interest, just a lot of vanilla broadcast crap. CBS should simply combine their two services in the hope of creating something with enough content to merit continued subscriptions.

    As for live viewing, give up, the trends are seriously against that.

    • Maxly says:

      I’m guessing you’re more into nerdy ComiCon stuff, which no, Showtime doesn’t tend to carry that much of. Right now there’s Twin Peaks (which I’ve really enjoyed); before that Penny Dreadful (which I didn’t watch) was their only current series in the fantasy/sci-fi/superhero realm. Based on internet fandom, you’d get the sense that those kinds of shows are all anyone wants to see but there are a lot of adults like me who prefer more grounded, realistic dramas and comedies. There’s at least one current series at any point in the year on Showtime that I really enjoy. Twin Peaks has been a great experiment thanks to Lynch’s talent, and I’m all for the growth in limited series from various TV outlets, but I’m not really hoping to see Showtime become overrun with shows featuring vampires, flying dragons, time travelers, etc.

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