On the Air: Watch the 1950s Sitcom by David Lynch and His Twin Peaks Co-Creator Mark Frost

In “David Lynch Keeps His Head” (uncut ver­sion here), David Fos­ter Wal­lace’s Pre­miere mag­a­zine report from the set of Lost High­way, Wal­lace rat­tles off the “enter­tain­ments David Lynch has cre­at­ed and/or direct­ed” includ­ing “Eraser­head (1978), The Ele­phant Man (1980), Dune (1984), Blue Vel­vet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), two tele­vised sea­sons of Twin Peaks (1990–92), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), and the mer­ci­ful­ly ablat­ed TV show On the Air (1992).” (To ablate, a verb Wal­lace uses again in the arti­cle in ref­er­ence to a sev­ered head, means “to remove or dis­si­pate by melt­ing, vapor­iza­tion, ero­sion, etc.”) Even Lynch die-hards may nev­er have caught a glimpse of On the Air, which Wal­lace lat­er describes as “bot­tom­less­ly hor­rid” and “eutha­na­tized by ABC after six very long-seem­ing weeks.” Clear­ly the author of Infi­nite Jest, despite great­ly respect­ing Lynch’s unprece­dent­ed­ly sur­re­al prime­time dra­ma Twin Peaks (its first sea­son, at least) and cred­it­ing Blue Vel­vet with reveal­ing to him the very pos­si­bil­i­ties of art, could­n’t stom­ach this show. Now you can watch all sev­en episodes of On the Air on Youtube, three of which aired in the Unit­ed States, and judge for your­self.

The series, which debuted and end­ed in the sum­mer of 1992, takes place in 1957, peer­ing behind the scenes at the fic­tion­al Zoblot­nick Broad­cast­ing Com­pa­ny, pro­duc­ers of the hap­less vari­ety pro­gram The Lester Guy Show. Lester Guy him­self, an alco­holic sil­ver-screen lead­ing man who rose to fame by stay­ing out of the Sec­ond World War, spends most episodes vying for pop­u­lar suprema­cy against his cast’s blonde ingenue Bet­ty Hud­son, who may remind you of an even sim­pler ver­sion of Sandy Williams, the Lau­ra Dern char­ac­ter in Blue Vel­vet. The series appeared as the sec­ond col­lab­o­ra­tion between Lynch and Mark Frost, co-cre­ator of Twin Peaks, which brought their sig­na­ture sen­si­bil­i­ty of intense vivid­ness and vague­ly haunt­ing unre­al­i­ty to the detec­tive genre. On the Air brings it to the clas­sic goof­ball sit­com. Watch the first episode (ranked as #57 on TV Guide’s “100 Great­est TV Episodes of All Time” list) and, to expe­ri­ence either the utter genius or the utter train­wreck, you’ll want to watch the fol­low­ing six. “There was a lot of laugh­ter on the set,” remem­bers Ian Buchanan, who played Lester Guy. “Maybe we were too hap­py. Every­body I knew on suc­cess­ful shows was mis­er­able.”

(日本人 Lynch-heads, take note: each episode includes Japan­ese sub­ti­tles.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Lynch’s Sur­re­al Com­mer­cials

David Lynch Presents the His­to­ry of Sur­re­al­ist Film (1987)

David Lynch Presents the His­to­ry of Sur­re­al­ist Film (1987)

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Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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