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Cult television

Related: cult - television

But one besotted viewer does not a cult make; it takes at least two to swap allusions and in-jokes. --Paul Simpson in The Rough Guide to Cult TV

Twin Peaks (1990) - Lynch, Frost, et al


Cult television, like , cult figures, cult film and cult radio, attracts a band of aficionados devoted to a specific television program.

Cult television series most frequently have science fiction plotlines. Animated series that are geared toward adults, such as Japanese anime and the occasional American series, often reach cult status. Some programs are originally based on comic book characters, so many followers of the comics may watch and collect episodes of the TV series if the adaptation is considered to be good. Cult series also frequently have "darker" plotlines than most television shows. "Lighter" shows can also be considered to be cult television, although they frequently feature social commentary and humor. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_television [Oct 2004]

Twin Peaks: television series

Twin Peaks was a cult television series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and directed by Lynch, Frost, and others (Lynch invited various directors to guest-direct particular episodes). It was co-produced by Aaron Spelling's production company and ran for two seasons on the ABC network in the United States from April 8, 1990 until 1991.

This was a genre-busting series which explored small-town USA via the eponymous town of Twin Peaks. The pilot was filmed in the real-life town of Snoqualmie, Washington, not far from Seattle, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

With a particularly haunting theme tune by the composer Angelo Badalamenti, and songs sung by Julee Cruise, the series set out to establish its credentials from the very outset as hip, urban, ironic, and knowing. The series opened on the murder investigation of a high-school girl, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). The gradual unravelling of the tale exposed the darker secrets and unreal lives of the town's inhabitants. As with much of Lynch's other work (such as Blue Velvet), Twin Peaks is largely concerned with the difference between the veneer of respectability and the seamier side of life lying beneath the surface. It's also an argument against the rationalism of the mystery genre, since dream analysis and intuitive techniques are treated as valid investigative techniques.

The series is particularly memorable for the performance by the actor Kyle MacLachlan as Special Agent Dale Cooper, who had the most famous line from the series (which became a catch phrase): "That is a damn fine cup of coffee."

The overseas (non-US) version of the pilot episode included additional footage. It was released theatrically overseas as a stand-alone story, 20 minutes longer than the TV pilot, with a different ending added to it to bring closure to the story.

A prequel movie of the series, Fire Walk With Me, was subsequently made by Lynch who co-wrote the script with Bob Engels (a writer from the series). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twin_Peaks [Oct 2004]

Twin Peaks episodes 1-7

    Twin Peaks episodes 1-7 (complete first season except the pilot) [Amazon.com]
    Twin Peaks devotees, who have kept the mystery alive on myriad Web sites, will jump at the chance to return to the spooky town that might just be the anti-Mayberry. Rarely syndicated, the Twin Peaks television series has lost none of its quirky and queasy power to get under your skin and haunt your dreams. So brew up a pot of some "damn fine coffee," dig into some cherry pie, and lose yourself in David Lynch and Mark Frost's murder mystery and soap opera, which unfolds, in one character's words, "like a beautiful dream and terrible nightmare all at once." Twin Peaks was a pop culture phenomenon for one season at least, until the increasingly bizarre twists and maddening teases so confounded audiences that they lost interest in just who killed Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). This series was a career peak for most of its eclectic ensemble cast, including Kyle MacLachlan as straight-arrow FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, Michael Ontkean as local Sheriff Harry S. Truman, Sherilyn Fenn as bad girl Audrey Horne, Peggy Lipton as waitress Norma Jennings, and Catherine Coulson as the Log Lady. Alumni enjoying current success include Lara Flynn Boyle ("The Practice"), as good girl Donna Hayward, and Miguel Ferrer ("Crossing Jordan"), hilarious as forensics expert Albert Rosenfield (who has absolutely no "social niceties"). This four-disc set contains the first season's seven episodes, minus, curiously, the series pilot. Newcomers will be scratching their heads over the "Previously on Twin Peaks" prologue, but an accompanying booklet sums up the story. Special features include episode introductions by the Log Lady (originally broadcast on Bravo), commentaries by assorted episode directors (but not Lynch), and features from the archives of the fanzine Wrapped in Plastic. --Donald Liebenson

The Rough Guide to Cult TV (2002) - Paul Simpson

The Rough Guide to Cult TV (2002) - Paul Simpson [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

‘I hate television. I hate it as much as I hate peanuts
but I can’t stop eating peanuts’
Orson Welles

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin. There is, alas, no hard scientific formula for deciding whether a TV programme is cult or not. You can pore over the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary (which will invoke such ideas as religious worship, homage and fashion) but ultimately whether a show is cult or not is as personal a decision as whether you preferred Jenny Hanley to Valerie Singleton, or World Of Sport (with its breathtaking coverage of the World Target Clown Diving Championships from Florida) to Grandstand.

But certain qualities help define what’s cult. An obvious and irritating sign is that ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ moment when your peers quote huge chunks of dialogue to each other and titter. But one besotted viewer does not a cult make; it takes at least two to swap allusions and in-jokes.

Swift and irrational condemnation by the legendary Mary Whitehouse once helped many shows become cult. Since she departed to the green room in the sky, the Daily Mail has done its best. But it’s not the same. The indignation needs to be dispensed by a woman who looks like the result of a genetic experiment involving Dame Edna Everage and Barbara Woodhouse to be truly effective.

Nor is a show’s cult status directly related to its quality. A cult programme can be inspirationally great (like The Singing Detective), so weird that even regular viewers aren’t sure what’ll happen next (Spike Milligan’s Q series) or, like Crossroads, as cheesy and as full of holes as Switzerland’s annual output of Emmental. It takes a certain nerve to set a soap opera in the glamour-free zone that is the Midlands, shooting every scene in one take even if the set began to shake, and start a glorious tradition whereby characters aren’t written out but simply forgotten. In 1967, Benny Wilmott, a teenager who ran the coffee bar, was told by Meg Richardson to ‘go out and buy a bag of sugar’, an errand from which he had still not returned when the show closed 20 years later.

A cult show is usually an original. In 1971, American humorist Fred Allen noted, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of television.’ The industry’s default mode is to repeat a success until the repetitions stop being successful, which is why most of the time it’s the originals we cherish, Monty Python rather than The Goodies, Morecambe And Wise not Hale And Pace (whom Victor Lewis-Smith accurately described as ‘the world’s only known comedy double act consisting of two straight men’). For most of us, Hamish Macbeth is a work of subtlety and Monarch Of The Glen is a poor copy with the quirkiness removed to make space for extra shortbread. Catchphrases help, be they as blatant as ‘Nice to see you to see you...’ (there is something almost Pavlovian in the way we all feel obliged to shout ‘nice!’) as apparently innocuous as ‘Are you sure that’s wise?’ or even ‘Hands that do dishes can be soft as your face.’

A programme’s cult value isn’t just determined by the show itself – we play our part. Children’s susceptibility to media influence is debated by sociologists, leader writers, programme-makers and politicians. Yet the influence, good or ill, is obvious in the number of programmes, one-liners and slogans that enter our young brains to pop up at random for the rest of our lives. For Britons of a certain age, there was a time in their lives when Biddy Baxter was one of the most important people in the world, almost as eminent as the prime minister, a remote god-like figure who moved in mysterious ways to produce the wonder that was Blue Peter. Many of the shows which have stuck with us were those we saw before we grew up (or before we reached the age at which we are officially deemed to have grown up): Roobarb, Tiswas, The Demon Headmaster, et al. This isn’t always true, but it’s true an awful lot of the time. --Paul Simpson

Cult Television (2004) - Sara Gwenllian-Jones, Roberta E. Pearson (editors)

Cult Television (2004) - Sara Gwenllian-Jones, Roberta E. Pearson (editors) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

A television series is tagged with the label "cult" by the media, advertisers, and network executives when it is considered edgy or offbeat, when it appeals to nostalgia, or when it is considered emblematic of a particular subculture. By these criteria, almost any series could be described as cult. Yet certain programs exert an uncanny power over their fans, encouraging them to immerse themselves within a fictional world.

In Cult Television leading scholars examine such shows as The X-Files; The Avengers; Doctor Who, Babylon Five; Star Trek; Xena, Warrior Princess; and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to determine the defining characteristics of cult television and map the contours of this phenomenon within the larger scope of popular culture.

Contributors: Karen Backstein; David A. Black, Seton Hall U; Mary Hammond, Open U; Nathan Hunt, U of Nottingham; Mark Jancovich; Petra Kuppers, Bryant College; Philippe Le Guern, U of Angers, France; Alan McKee; Toby Miller, New York U; Jeffrey Sconce, Northwestern U;

Eva ViethSara Gwenllian-Jones is a lecturer in television and digital media at Cardiff University and co-editor of Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media.

Roberta E. Pearson is a reader in media and cultural studies at Cardiff University. She is the author of the forthcoming book Small Screen, Big Universe: Star Trek and Television. --via Google book search

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