Saving a TV show wasn’t always as simple as getting a hashtag trending on Twitter. Back in 1991, as the second season of “Twin Peaks” was declining in both quality and ratings, ABC decided to pull the plug on the cult sensation without even airing its last six episodes. That didn’t sit well with the show’s diehards, who called themselves COOP (Citizens Opposed to the Offing of ‘Peaks’) and launched a successful letter-writing campaign.
Among the principals of COOP was IndieWire co-founders Eugene Hernandez and Cheri Barner, who took an active role in COOP’s Los Angeles chapter (it was formed in Washington, D.C.). For their efforts, they and other COOPERS were eventually rewarded with a visit to the “Twin Peaks” set as it neared its finale, plus signed notes from both David Lynch and Catherine Coulson. (Also involved was Jennifer Syme, who later went on to work for David Lynch and to whose memory “Mulholland Drive” was dedicated.)
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COOP wasn’t Hernandez and Barner’s first experience with “Twin Peaks.” They’d previously organized student events at UCLA, including a sold-out screening of the season-two premiere that featured a Q&A with several cast members, and was already known by the team at Lynch/Frost Productions. “It was very grassroots. We would organize viewing parties each week to watch the show at different venues around town,” Hernandez said over the phone from Cannes, where the first two parts of the “Twin Peaks” revival screened last month.
Despite existing in the pre-social media era, COOP managed to pick a good deal of media attention. “Twin Peaks” became such a cultural phenomenon during its first season that the attempt to stave off its demise a year later proved newsworthy as well. “It was one of those campaigns that got a fair amount of attention in the press at the time, because there was clearly a passionate, loyal fan base,” said Hernandez, who is now deputy director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
COOP’s ultimate goal of not only having the show air its final episodes but also return for its third season wasn’t realized, but the cast and crew were grateful all the same. Lynch even enclosed a dollar for “a damn good cup of coffee” along with his thank-you note from April of 1991:
Thank you for all your help and hard work in getting TWIN PEAKS back on the air.
I wish I could tell you things looked good for the future of TWIN PEAKS, but episode #22 airing on June 10, 1991 will be the last. People are working in Europe right now on the possibility of putting together a foreign deal which would enable us to continue the show, but I’m not sure this will work out.
If any of you have a good idea, now is the time to pass it on to J.C. Bourque. TWIN PEAKS is not dead in our minds however, one day there may be a TWIN PEAKS movie.
Enclosed is $1.00 for a damn good cup of coffee…and hot.
At around the same time, Hernandez said, Lynch/Frost “reached out and asked if we’d come out with a camera and record a video to create messages from the cast and creators that could be duplicated and sent to all the different chapters who were having their end-of-the-season viewing parties.” He visited the set with a camera and fellow COOP organizers Barner and Bruce Lidl. Said video — which features Lynch, Frank Silva and many others — makes its public debut below.
After explaining the brief, secret history of COOP, Hernandez offers some thoughts on what inspired that level of devotion in the first place. “Lynch really spoke to a lot of people who kind of fell outside the mainstream, for lack of a better word, and I think a lot of his obsessive fans, a lot of the people who really connected with him — his fans tended to be the more artsy outsider types,” he says. “It’s not surprising that a lot of those kind of folks got involved in the campaign and rallied around the show, because he spoke to a certain kind of person.”
It can be easy to forget 25 years later, when so many popular shows — “The X-Files,” “Lost” — have taken a cue from “Twin Peaks,” but it really was unprecedented. “At the time, independent film was the alternative to so much culturally. Suddenly having a mainstream television show by this guy who’s so far outside the mainstream attracted a certain type of person, and I think that’s why people were so passionate about it.”