News that ABC's "Twin Peaks" had topped all shows with 14 Emmy nominations and that the network had tied NBC in the overall totals with 95 prompted shouts of glee in the second-place network's Century City offices Thursday.
"There's a bunch of happy folks over here," said Ted Harbert, ABC's executive vice president for prime time. "Good news doesn't come in big heaps very often in this business, and so when you do get a big heap of good news, we allow ourselves, to quote (former ABC Entertainment President) Brandon Stoddard from a few years back, 11 minutes to revel in the joy before getting right back to it."
Right back to it for ABC means spreading the news, especially about "Twin Peaks." The quirky soap opera begins eight weeks of reruns Sunday, and Harbert said that beginning tonight, the network will be airing promos touting the fact that the series claimed more Emmy nominations than any other show this year.
Although there is no direct correlation between Emmy honors and ratings--in fact, some of this season's highest-rated series, including "The Cosby Show," "Roseanne" and "America's Funniest Home Videos," were largely ignored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences--history suggests that heavy Emmy recognition can provide a boost to some shows. "Hill Street Blues," for example, was dismally rated when it first hit the air, but after snagging 21 nominations and virtually sweeping the major awards in 1981, viewership began to grow. It eventually became a ratings success.
Harbert believes that even for a show like "Twin Peaks," which already has been blessed with an inordinate amount of media attention, the Emmy nominations can't help but lure more viewers into its weird and wild web of intrigue.
"There are still a lot of people out there, millions of Americans, who have never seen the show," he said. "Maybe they were 'Cheers' fans and they weren't available to watch it on Thursdays. For a brand new show--and remember, 'Twin Peaks' has only been on for seven episodes (plus the two-hour pilot)--this kind of recognition is truly helpful. I think you can draw a direct comparison to 'Hill Street.' There was a show that started slowly in the ratings and the recognition certainly served as a motivation for people to check it out and see what all the fuss was about."
"I think it will help in bringing new people to the show, particularly since we are starting reruns on Sunday," said Mark Frost, executive producer and co-creator of "Twin Peaks." "Fourteen Emmy nominations may be just enough incentive for some people who have resisted before, or who haven't been around at the right time, to make a point of tuning us in."
Overall, ABC was up 10 nominations from last year, while NBC, which has led the Emmy race and the ratings race for the last several years, was down eight. Harbert said that the tie in total nominations is one of the signals that ABC, which narrowed the ratings gap a bit this past season, is closing in on No. 1.
"It's a great tribute to the quality of the staffs our producers have put together," he said, "and proof that if you put on better shows, people will notice. . . . It's terrific for morale. Ratings are so hard to get no matter how good your shows are, this kind of validation is a good motivator to keep on going."
For David Lynch, the director of such eccentric films as "Blue Velvet," "The Elephant Man" and "Eraserhead," Thursday was like a dream sequence right out "Twin Peaks." In his maiden American television effort, Lynch could become the first person to win five Emmys for one show in a single year.
"It's pretty amazing," Lynch said from the set of the show, where he is directing an episode for the upcoming season. "Nothing like this has ever happened to me before."
Lynch was nominated for producing, directing, writing, song lyrics and composing the series' main title theme music with Angelo Badalamenti. (Sam Simon, co-executive producer of "The Tracey Ullman Show" and "The Simpsons," was also nominated for five Emmys on Thursday, but since two of them are in the same category, he could only win five if they tied.)
Lynch's film "Wild at Heart," which opens in theaters Aug. 17, already won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year. He received a best director Academy Award nomination for "Blue Velvet," but didn't win.