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Meanwhile, Back at ‘Twin Peaks’ : Television: The mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder may be solved, but now there’s a new puzzle: Will the series thrive on Saturday night?

Only minutes after last Thursday night’s episode of ABC’s “Twin Peaks,” a call came in from Berkeley.

“I just wanted to get the jump on the competition,” said the breathless caller, determined to be the first to enlighten me about a crucial clue. “The insurance man who called on Catherine Martell tonight was named Mr. Neff,” he said.

Yes?

“Well, the insurance man that Fred MacMurray played in the 1944 movie ‘Double Indemnity’ was named Walter Neff.”

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Of course. Of course ! It’s all so clear now. Laura Palmer--whose death has been the center of “Twin Peaks"--was murdered by Fred MacMurray!

Or was it Arthur Murray? Or Douglas MacArthur?

And by the way, another caller shrewdly noted, wasn’t the 1981 movie “Body Heat” inspired by “Double Indemnity”? And wasn’t Maddie the name of the Kathleen Turner character in “Body Heat” who faked her own demise by arranging the death of her lookalike friend? And isn’t Maddy short for Madeleine, the name of the Laura Palmer look-alike in “Twin Peaks”? And isn’t all this absolute proof that Madeleine really is Laura, who really did murder the real Madeleine? And isn’t. . . .

Oh, forget it.

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I’m exhausted.

Here’s toasting ABC’s decision to renew “Twin Peaks” despite its relatively modest ratings. Just love the show.

But give me a break. I’m frankly relieved that tonight’s episode (at 10 on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) is scheduled to be the last of first-run “Twin Peaks” until fall. I need the breather.

It’s not easy being middleman in this investigation. Week after week theories stream in, and I, as a mere conduit, dutifully pass them on to readers.

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However, is it possible that now, finally, an end is near?

“I don’t want to make this an endless tease,” Mark Frost, co-executive producer of “Twin Peaks” with David Lynch, said from New York about the endless tease he is perpetuating. “You want the investigation to lead somewhere.” Yes, pretty please.

Although “Twin Peaks” is a red-herring haven, Frost said that he and Lynch are not playing games and have known the identity of Laura’s murderer since conceiving the series. “It’s someone you’ve already met,” he said. “We went back and forth with it, and the spotlight fell on different people at different times.”

Yes, yes. But will we learn the identity of the murderer tonight? Not wishing to make this an endless tease, Frost was brutally blunt and to the point: “You might think you have. And maybe you have. But then again, maybe you haven’t.”

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Exactly.

On the other hand, wouldn’t the solving of Laura’s murder mean the end of “Twin Peaks”? After the murder, what’s left?

“A hundred different stories are left,” Frost said. “The murder of Laura has always been just the tip of the iceberg. It was never designed to carry the series. We’ll come up with stories that are equally compelling. There will be more mysteries.”

Not the least of which may be ABC’s decision to shift “Twin Peaks” to 10 p.m. Saturdays in the fall behind the also-just-renewed “China Beach.” The common TV wisdom is that Saturday night audiences are generally older and more conservative, the antithesis of the core “Twin Peaks” viewers whose advertiser-friendly demographics are responsible for earning the series a spot on the fall schedule.

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Can “Twin Peaks” transform its viewers into Saturday night sloths?

“People are watching this en masse, at dinner parties and whatever,” said Frost, who sounds ecstatic about the new time slot. “Now there’s going to be a reason to stay at home Saturday nights. People forget that in the early ‘70s, Saturday was the most-watched night of television of the week. It was where you found ‘The Mary Tyler More Show’ and ‘All in the Family.’ ”

What’s more, Frost said that he prefers facing the Saturday night competition to facing NBC’s “Cheers,” the giant hit comedy that “Twin Peaks” had to battle for most of its initial run. “And ‘China Beach’ is a much better lead-in for us than ‘Father Dowling Mysteries,’ ” he said.

Much of the initial excitement over “Twin Peaks” was generated by the involvement of “Blue Velvet” director Lynch, who directed the “Twin Peaks” pilot and one of the hour episodes. Frost, who has directed an episode himself and has been involved in most of the writing, couldn’t say if any more of the series will be directed by Lynch, whose latest work, “Wild at Heart,” was just named best film at the Cannes Film Festival.

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Meanwhile, back on the who-killed-Laura? front, another tie-in with the movie “Laura” has surfaced, this one by way of Tennessee Williams. As one viewer noted about the appearance of tiny glass unicorns in Thursday’s episode, the unicorn was also Laura Wingfield’s favorite miniature in “The Glass Menagerie.”

And, as someone else pointed out, wasn’t it Laura Avery Sumner in “Knots Landing” who continued living in videotapes even after dying of a brain tumor?

A number of callers faulted me for not mentioning that the “Twin Peaks” connection to “The Fugitive” goes beyond each series having an ominous one-armed man as a character: The one-armed man in “Twin Peaks” and the police lieutenant who stalked Richard Kimble in “The Fugitive” are each named Gerard.

Someone else added that in Hitchcock’s “Marni,” Tippi Hedren went from being a brunette to a blonde, perhaps a tip-off that the brunette Madeleine is really the blonde Laura. (You’ll recall that we covered Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” hair-color puzzle last week.) And, of course, Hedren was attacked by feathered creatures in Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” giving credibility to my own theory that Laura was murdered by Waldo the myna bird (who is named after the killer in “Laura”).

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Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. Waldo the bird was shot to death by Leon Johnson on last week’s “Twin Peaks” to stop him from talking. Don’t be naive. Do we really know that that was Waldo and not another myna bird that Waldo set up to be killed just to throw everyone off track?

I asked Frost about the multitude of movie references in “Twin Peaks.” “Those are things I put in for fun,” he said. “They add up to something, but I’m not sure exactly what.”

An appropriately cryptic response. Then again, can I be sure that I was speaking to the real Frost and not an imposter? I refer you to the 1967 movie “The Frozen Dead.” . . .


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