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Lynch, Fincher, ‘True Detective’ and the Unknowable Future of Auteur TV

Lynch, Fincher, 'True Detective' and the Unknowable Future of Auteur TV

After a tenuous stretch of touch-and-go this spring when Lynch and his co-conspirator Mark Frost pulled out of their “Twin Peaks” revival set for Showtime, the new season is back on track. At the TCA summer tour, Showtime CEO David Nevins said that production will start in September in Washington.

But the question of how many episodes we’re getting still hangs in the ether. So does the premiere date, which could be 2016, could be 2017. All a haze, according to Nevins: “I want it as badly and as soon as I think the biggest fans in the world want it … So I’m hoping we make 2016. It’s not clear. It’s ultimately going to be in their control. They’re going to shoot the whole thing, and then they’re going to start posting. The bottom line is when they’re ready. I can’t be any clearer on 2016 or 17, but I’m hoping for sooner than later.”

Though Nevins insisted “I know what his shooting schedule is” and that he expects more than nine episodes, he added that the episode count is “open-ended” because Lynch wrote and will direct the season as “one long movie.” “I’ll let him cut it into however many episodes he wants.”

READ MORE: Showtime Chief on David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival: “It’s His Show”

Nevins is also reportedly resisting input on the scripts. “We’ve had, I
would call them conversations, not notes. But ultimately he has creative
control. He deserves it, and I’m happy to give it to him.”

I’m a devoted apostle of the church of Lynch. The man could film paint drying (and, I think, he probably has) and I’d be right there in the front row. So I’m anticipating that all unease will be quelled when “Twin Peaks” returns, well, whenever it returns. David Lynch has run afoul of the studios before, from re-purposing “Mulholland Drive” from series to film, to following his own strange star on “Dune.” So far, this has amounted to great, big, wonderfully messy works. If the new “Twin Peaks” is a success, Nevins’ strategy could usher a New Wave of auteur TV where networks hand carte blanche and a blank check to showrunners.

But this is David Lynch, and we know who he is. What about the rest of the auteurs headed for TV?

The shifting future of auteur-driven series turned seismic last week when a pile of David Fincher projects set up at HBO were reportedly toast. Deadline learned that budget disputes effectively killed Fincher’s “Utopia,” a remake of a British series he was set to direct from a script by his “Gone Girl” partner-in-crime Gillian Flynn. The pay cable network flinched when Fincher wanted north of $100 million to make the first season (which way-back-when wasn’t enough for Fincher on the first 26 episodes of Netflix’s “House of Cards”).

Then, news bubbled that after a month of rehearsal on “Utopia,” the cast had been released, and the show was dead. HBO retains the rights and may shop another director to take the helm. Which means it’s probably also curtains for Fincher’s 1980s-set music video show “Videosyncrazy,” stalled since June.

READ MORE: Point/Counterpoint: Is ‘True Detective’ Season 2 Any Good? Why ‘Bloodline’ Is Better

The depressing news arrived just ahead of the disastrous season finale of “True Detective,” down significantly in viewership from last year’s run. That first season worked because Cary Fukunaga directed all eight episodes, neutralizing showrunner Nic Pizzolatto’s tendency to overwrite, and undercook.

It’s unclear what grudge, exactly, brewed between these two to push Fukunaga from director to executive producer, but without him “True Detective” had no stylistic cohesion. There were too many cooks in the kitchen, with six directors taking turns behind a camera that simply covered events, telling rather than showing. Pizzolatto forgot to take his head out of his ass and do a show that was accessible. It’s just a big fat buffet of nothing. (To be fair, “Twin Peaks” got completely lost at sea when David Lynch, who only directed a handful of the original series, jumped ship mid-season two.)

You have to wonder: Is Fincher the new scapegoat for HBO’s failure to restrain the prodigal “True Detective” showrunner?

It seems like everyday we’re hearing of yet another film director making his or her way to television: Jill Soloway, Steve McQueen, Woody Allen, Guillermo del Toro, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Lars von Trier, the list goes on. But in this noisy Golden Age of television not everybody can have it their way, and more of these series will need to fully impress (or actually happen) to convince the diehard acolytes of cinema, the true believers who are now a dying breed of refugees, to make their way to the other side.

(Here, Salon offers a strong take on the “dangers of auteur TV.”)

Follow Ryan Lattanzio on Twitter.

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