An longtime acquaintance of David Lynch and Mark Frost, the agent Tony Krantz (b. 1959) set up a meeting between the two co-creators of Twin Peaks, and that became the almost mythological birth of the popular television show. Krantz began his career as an agent, and he spent 15 years at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), yet today he has many different functions and titles, including producer, writer and director. Having worked on shows like Beverly Hills 90210 (Fox, 1990-2000), Melrose Place (Fox, 1992-1999) and The West Wing (NBC, 1999-2006), Krantz has been a part of the transition from the ‘three-network era’ to the current ‘Golden Age’ of television, but he still describes Twin Peaks as the “artistic high point” in his career. We might think of Krantz as a representative of the film and television industries, yet he had a profound love of the arthouse film Eraserhead (1977) and, in fact, used that movie as something of a “litmus test” when dating girls. I talked with Tony Krantz about Twin Peaks, David Lynch and the changes in the television industry.
AH: How did you get involved with Twin Peaks, and how did Twin Peaks become a reality?
TK: That was really because of me because I was a TV agent, and I was also David’s agent. Nobody had ever thought of bringing David Lynch to TV. The thing that David did was that he was really the first movie director to get into TV. You see it often nowadays with directors such as Steven Soderbergh, but back then it wasn’t normal for a renowned film director to go into television. Television was always seen as the poor stepchild of the entertainment industry.
AH: You knew Mark Frost and David Lynch, and that was how you became a part of Twin Peaks. I have also heard you say something about Eraserhead being used as a kind of litmus test. Could you give me that story?
TK: I was single back then, and what I would do is that I would make an evaluation whether or not I liked a girl on the basis of whether or not she liked Eraserhead. I loved David Lynch, and we were pretty close back then, so if a girl thought that Eraserhead was just strange or meaningless, then, I knew that she wouldn’t be interesting to me.
Eraserhead (1977) was used by Tony Krantz as a “litmus test” when going on dates.
AH: Twin Peaks has often been described as one of the most important and influential TV series of all time. Do you think that it had an impact on modern television drama, and, if so, how did it change the standards of television?
TK: There was a very famous quote from the Brandon Tartikoff, the former president of NBC’s programming division, saying “Tried and true is dead and buried.” Tartikoff meant that network series had to shake things up, and Twin Peaks did that.
The quirkiness that Twin Peaks had in it was never seen before ,a nd there was a line of demarcation, a moment that Twin Peaks demarcated between fairly traditional television drama and a kind of odd and quirky TV drama which hadn’t been seen before. Before Twin Peaks it was as if drama in television was in the missionary position. Twin Peaks made it okay to mix it up.
Twin Peaks, in many ways, is a little bit of a comedy. There are comedic elements, though people tend to emphasize the darkness and the horrifying elements of Twin Peaks. There was a moment when David Lynch and I saw Blue Velvet, and David Lynch was laughing all the way through. He apparently saw it more as a comedy, and you could definitely see it through that lens. Twin Peaks had that element as well. There were oddities such as The Log Lady and Kimmy’s character. We were living in a world of Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, but here was a show that was weird and odd and which mixed different genres and sensibilities. We had never seen any of these things mixed with the genre of drama. That was one thing about Twin Peaks which was groundbreaking. The other thing was David Lynch – the fact that David Lynch would even direct a television show.
Tony Krantz emphasizes the funny moments and characters from Twin Peaks, including Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson, left) and The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson, right)
AH: You say that David Lynch wanting to create a television show was groundbreaking in itself. Could you elaborate on that?
TK: There was an artistic style to Twin Peaks that was also new where it was a director’s vision, as opposed to traditional television shows which could be executed in a good way, but without have a clear director’s touch. One example is when Laura Palmer’s mom gets the phone call, saying that Laura is dead. The length of that sequence, of the phone call itself, would have been cut in half in a normal television show. But here it was stretched out, and it was that kind of creative choice that had never been in TV drama.
Now movie sensibilities are being brought into TV, and many film directors seek to do television.
AH: Television, especially network television, is usually a rather restricted medium following the principle called “least objectionable programming.” How did Mark Frost and David Lynch manage to get the artistic freedom needed to do Twin Peaks? It seems staggering to me that they could do that show on ABC in 1990.
TK: There were standards and practices which were the network censors. I don’t know about the edginess of it, though. Twin Peaks was edgy perhaps, but I don’t know whether it was edgier than a show like Hill Street Blues.
AH: How can we see the influence of Twin Peaks on today’s so-called quality-TV shows in the US and abroad, and which series are, in your view, most clearly inspired and influenced by Twin Peaks?
TK: We live in a very exciting time in TV, a time where everything goes. I have directed movies, and right now I am doing a TV series version of The Phantom of the Opera, set in 1919 in Paris and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the director who made Amelie. There aren’t any restrictions really in terms of content. A TV show can be about cannibalism – just look at Hannibal – and I wouldn’t say that the quirkier, the better, but TV is definitely less restricted than it was during the three-network era. It is a world with so many different buyers and outlets – Hulu, Amazon and even Vimeo – and everything is possible.
The official trailer to Eraserhead (1977), one of Tony Krantz’s personal favorites: