Lynch on the Air
December 12, 2013 8:49 PM   Subscribe

On the Air: "While mixing the sound for an episode of the second season of Twin Peaks, Lynch was hit with a sudden inspiration. 'It just came into my head, the idea of people trying to do something successful and having it all go wrong.' Following the initial success of Twin Peaks, David Lynch and Mark Frost were hot properties in Television. When they approached ABC with the idea for 'On the Air,' the network was eager to take them up on the offer. The show itself was a half-hour absurdist comedy featuring many of the cast and crew from Twin Peaks. The pilot tested very well, and six more episodes were ordered. However, by the time it came to scheduling the On the Air, things with Twin Peaks had already fallen apart, and the network was no longer eager to work with Lynch." On the Air was received so poorly (due, in part, to being premeired in the summer on a Saturday timeslot) that only three episodes were ever aired in the states. However, the entirety of the program was aired overseas. In Episode 1 the misfit crew of the Zablotnick Broadcasting Corporation struggles to put together the first episode of the Lester Guy Show.

Episode 2 - Betty's popularity soars, attracting envy from Lester.

Episode 3 - Lester plots to rig a quiz show to humilate Betty.

Episode 4 - Doodles the Duck guest stars.

Episode 5 - The famous Mr. Peanuts is welcomed by the cast.

Episode 6 - The Great Presido (famous gypsy magician) is unable to perform. Lester strives to create his own magic show.

Episode 7 - The Woman With No Name performs an avante garde dance routine.

This article from Splitsider has a bit more context:

On the Air was a single camera program without a laugh track which, during this time, was very rare. The show makes a number of stylistic choices that set it apart from the rest of 1992 as well. The directing of the show itself doesn't feel like a comedy. There are strange cutaways that alter the pacing of the show, deep focus shots that feature other characters doing weird dances, or acting strange in other ways in the far background. One character, named Blinky, who everyone thinks is blind and who is in charge of the live sound effects machine, has his backstory explained to the home audience in an unorthodox way. In the first moment he appears on screen, an arrow appears above his head, and a previously unseen narrator tells us that he suffers from Bozman's Simplex that allows him to see 26.52 times as much as we do. We are then shown a simulation of what Blinky sees which is the stage in front of him with the image of Santa Claus, a stuffed dog, and a weird doll glowing and floating in the air.

Recently ABC made some waves when then launched their own "Save Happy Endings" campaign, effectively asking the audience to stop them from canceling their own show. Well it would appear that they tried a similar tactic 21 years earlier before the premiere episode of On the Air finished. As the show went to its first commercial break, before the actual ads started, the network anticipated what the home audience was thinking and tried their best to answer their concerns. "You're probably asking yourself," said an announcer over footage from the show, "is this the strangest thing I've ever seen? Don't go away! It's about to get fabulously funny." First of all, the 10-second ad shows the desperation the network was probably feeling when they watched this pilot. "We bought a sitcom from the creator of Twin Peaks. I don't know what we were expecting, but we paid a lot of money for it so watch it, okay? You like Twin Peaks!" Then there's that last sentence: "it's about to get fabulously funny," which, intentionally or not, is saying that it hasn't been funny yet for the first half, but it will be.
Pinnland Empire details another (slightly more successful) TV project, Hotel Room:

The underrated made for cable television 'Hotel Room' always seems to fall between the cracks and go unmentioned. Unlike 'On The Air', this short lived mini-series was great and it featured a few David Lynch regulars like Harry Dean Stanton, Alica Witt, Crispin Glover and Barry Gifford. The premise of the show was about a series of events that went down in the same new york city hotel room (room 603) at different time periods. The vibe of 'Hotel Room' still features Lynch's signature quirkiness and oddball sense of humor mixed with a slightly more serious tone. If you're a fan of Twin Peaks, 'Are You Afraid Of The Dark' and 'The Shining', chances are you'll enjoy 'Hotel Room'. Each episode featured new actors, with the maid and the bellboy being the only 2 recurring characters in all 3 episodes...
Episodes are also available online:
With all three back-to-back here in a single clip.

The beautiful and enigmatic Mulholland Drive, famously, started off as a TV pilot before being ultimately rejected by ABC:

Lynch's Picture Factory joined with Imagine Television in association with Touchstone Television to produce a two-hour ABC pilot titled "Mulholland Drive." ABC passed on it for the fall 99 season. The reason was due to the violence in the pilot (the decision came in the wake of the Colorado shootings). With all the political pressure out now for Hollywood to clean things up it seems ABC got scared and passed on it. Lynch told Premiere magazine, "All I know is, I loved making it, ABC hated it, and I don't like the cut I turned in. I agreed with ABC that the longer cut was too slow, but I was forced to butcher it because we had a deadline, and there wasn't time to finesse anything. It lost texture, big scenes, and storylines, and there are 300 tape copies of the bad version circulating around. Lots of people have seen it, which is embarrassing, because they're bad-quality tapes, too. I don't want to think about it."
With the leaked pilot footage being discussed previously here.

Lynch has recently returned to TV (so to speak) as both a voice in Seth McFarlane's The Cleveland Show, and as a guest star on the critically acclaimed Louie.

In a recent interview Lynch said:

"It's a very depressing picture. With alternative cinema – any sort of cinema that isn't mainstream – you're fresh out of luck in terms of getting theatre space and having people come to see it. Even if I had a big idea, the world is different now. Unfortunately, my ideas are not what you'd call commercial, and money really drives the boat these days. So I don't know what my future is. I don't have a clue what I'm going to be able to do in the world of cinema."
"I like the idea of a continuing story ... And television is way more interesting than cinema now. It seems like the art-house has gone to cable."
As always, the Twin Peaks rumor mill continues to churn, especially as we near the 25th anniversary of the cliffhanger final episode in a few year's time. Twin Peaks previously, many times over.
posted by codacorolla (22 comments total) 121 users marked this as a favorite
DO NOT MISS what Blinky is seeing right now. (At the 7 minute mark in the first episode, and at other points throughout the series.)
posted by Catblack at 9:15 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Holy shit, is this David Lynch doing 30 Rock? Because that's what I'm seeing so far, and YES.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:50 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

You had me at DAVID L. LANDER (with a ridiculous accent!!)
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:54 PM on December 12, 2013

I tracked these down a few years ago and loved them. I'm glad they are a bit more available these days. Its funny seeing lynch do slapstick.
posted by lkc at 10:03 PM on December 12, 2013

Lynch wrote and directed the first episode, and wrote the final episode of On the Air, but was involved throughout, I believe. For Hotel Room he directed the first two episodes. In Twin Peaks his involvement drops off somewhere around the killer reveal, if I recall correctly.
posted by codacorolla at 10:04 PM on December 12, 2013

YES. I LOVE LOVE LOVE On The Air. My parents and I were the three people in America who watched the first two episodes when they aired. (FWIW, I loved it then, even though I was... what, 10? They did too, though.)

I finally found a bootleg tape on eBay about 10 years ago -- the funny thing is, it was off the Japanese edition of the tape, so it had Japanese Subtitles on it... which... honestly? Just kind of added to the effect.

I would LOVE an official Blu-Ray type release of On The Air. I would buy it as soon as it was announced.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 10:58 PM on December 12, 2013

I took a (legitimately academic) class about the evolution of network television series in college. We watched a lot of shows but the pilot for On the Air was the only thing that made me want to find the rest of the series. It's so weird and great and would probably find a home and survive somewhere on cable today.
posted by dogwalker at 11:38 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I remember watching (and loving) this when it came out. So glad to know that it still exists! Confession: I didn't watch Twin Peaks because Blue Velvet had moved and disturbed me so profoundly that I couldn't even wrap my mind around the concept of David Lynch doing a TV show and I really didn't want more of what he had to offer at that time in my life. When I heard about On the Air (how? maybe a TV commercial? I certainly didn't follow any magazines) I was dumbstruck by the idea of the man who made Blue Velvet doing a comedy show and thought, "ok, maybe this is a side of Lynch I can stomach and that won't traumatize me for the next several years and, besides, I can't believe it's real. I guess I've got to see it."

I don't remember how I learned there would be no more episodes, but I do remember being angry that the remaining episodes were canceled. In recent years, I've occasionally done some very tepid internet research to see if in fact this show really did exist, and I've come up with nothing. Wow, thank you codacorolla!
posted by treepour at 12:10 AM on December 13, 2013

Ever since I learned about this show (on here, no doubt) it has been on my 'to find' list. Thank you!
posted by Trivia Newton John at 1:16 AM on December 13, 2013

I remember hearing about this, but never saw any of the episodes. Looking forward to checking it out, and the other links look interesting as well. Thanks for a good post, codacorolla!
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 3:05 AM on December 13, 2013

Oh, man. I'd forgotten all about On The Air. Fantastic!
posted by Thorzdad at 4:24 AM on December 13, 2013

Oh, man, I saw the first episode on broadcast TV. I was a wee kid. My parents wouldn't let me watch Twin Peaks. So, instead I saw On The Air. I absolutely loved it.

posted by Sticherbeast at 4:33 AM on December 13, 2013

I LOVED On the Air! It was like the love child of that drunken three-way The Dick van Dyke Show, My Favorite Year, and Remember WENN had on New Year's Eve while burning incense and listening to French jazz! The Hurry-Up Twins! Betty's music box! And oh, the double-barreled attack on girlish eyes, ears, and glands that was the voodoo pairing of Miguel Ferrer and Ian Buchanan!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:48 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

By the holy bones of St. Clare of Assissi, in all my excitement in even reading the first link and finding out there are other people who remember and love the show, I didn't even notice that the episodes are on youtube. Well, I know one little Monster who knows what it's doing this weekend.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:52 AM on December 13, 2013

I knew nothing of this.

Thank you, codacorolla. You just made my weekend.
posted by magstheaxe at 6:08 AM on December 13, 2013

Two minutes in and I'm very interested. This feels like an inspired absurd thing that a ninth-grade geek in 1984 could have written during a boring class.


posted by not_on_display at 6:44 AM on December 13, 2013

Have you ever cut bait on a fledgling relationship and then regret it because you know that you will never see something loaned that you valued? That was me, this dude Liam, and my "On The Air" on VHS tape.

Nearly 10 years later, I now have one fewer regret from my late 20s.

Fantastic post and totally a public service
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:59 AM on December 13, 2013

My spouse and I found this in a little video rental store in Boone, NC back in 1999 or so and loved it so much, some of the lines are still part of our daily repertoire.

Oven mitt oven mitt oven mitt

I love zat beatnik

posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:40 AM on December 13, 2013

I remember trying to watch this when it first aired, with my Twin Peaks loving friends. We stuck with Twin Peaks all the way through its terrible second season with its increasingly made up on the spot story and pretended to love it and appreciate its brilliant story. But On The Air was too much for it, and after two episodes we agreed never to speak of it again. Later we all watched Lost Highway separately and never shared our opinions.

I didn't leave David Lynch; he left me.
posted by Nelson at 8:12 AM on December 13, 2013

Also, this post has me curious now about American Chronicles, a quicky-America documentary Lynch and Frost did back in that same time. It did not do well and wasn't even a spectacular failure, just sort of disappeared. Some episodes were recently uploaded to Vimeo by producer Gary Grossman.
posted by Nelson at 8:18 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Urgh, quirky America.
posted by Nelson at 9:11 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Curse you, Betty Hudson!
posted by Wolof at 6:40 AM on December 14, 2013

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