Twin Peaks is coming back.
If you haven’t seen it and you’re looking for the cheapest way to check it out, at the time of this writing the entire series is on Netflix. I’ve read some mixed reports on this but my impression is that since Twin Peaks was shot on film, the HD versions on Netflix were made as film to HD transfers (as opposed to just regular SD video “upscaled” to 1080p or whatever) so for a few years Netflix was probably the only way to see Twin Peaks in HD until the Blu-Ray version came out in 2014.
So the short version is – watch the series on Netflix (or Hulu) for the easiest/cheapest way to watch the show. Buy the Blu-Ray set to get everything including extras, the movie, and deleted scenes.
As for the long version – let’s just say Twin Peaks has had a real rough road on home formats.
Back when Twin Peaks was on the air, TV shows on home video were a rare thing, both due to business and technical/logistical reasons. Besides the fact that people weren’t into maintaining collections of movies on VHS like they do today with DVD (which is a whole different topic that has a lot to do with rental pricing), TV shows on VHS were a space hassle. A standard T-120 tape held two hours in SP mode, which gave the best picture quality so that’s what most commercial releases used. For an hour long show like Twin Peaks this meant you could get about two episodes on a tape. An hour long show has commercials of course but unless it clocked in at 40 minutes or so (most go 43-47), two per tape was the max you could do. Twin Peaks had thirty episodes, so this means an entire run of the show on VHS SP would be fifteen VHS tapes, and at about 1″ per tape this was taking over a foot of space on your shelf. Compare this to the recent Blu-Ray set, Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery which houses the entire series, plus the movie and tons of extras, in a couple of inches of space.
And if you were a retailer, this meant you needed to stock tons and tons of tapes. So as you might imagine, the logistics of this alone pretty much made TV on home video formats a non-starter. Very few shows ever made it to VHS and of the ones that did, they tended to either be shows with a low episode count, or they didn’t get sold retail. The original Star Trek had a VHS release where, for bonus dick move points, they only put one episode on a tape. Star Trek had 79 episodes (80 with the original pilot) so this was quite a commitment of shelf space. Some other shows, like Cheers or Bonanza were only sold through the types of TV commercials where the end screen was blue with a yellow 1-800 number and you bought them via a subscription like a Time Life book series.
Despite all that though, Twin Peaks did see a VHS release from Worldvision, but it was a huge mess. The original set was the first season, which was seven episodes, one per tape (another dick move) at $100. However, it did not include the pilot episode. This would be a plague on Twin Peaks releases for a long time to come.
The pilot episode of Twin Peaks was a problem for a long time because of rights issues. Namely, David Lynch and Mark Frost needed to get it funded (and in 1990 spending a million dollars on a TV pilot for a show that hasn’t been sold yet was damn near unheard of) so they secured funding from Warner Bros. One of the terms of the deal was that they would film additional scenes to construct an ending for the show to make it a self contained direct-to-video movie for the international market. I’m guessing the original market was going to be in Europe, so this version is commonly called the “Euro Pilot”.
In any event, this made it such that any company who wanted to put out a set of the first season either had to pay WB for the rights to the first episode, or release it without the first episode. Apparently this was prohibitively expensive or impossible, especially given the cult/niche nature of the show, so this first VHS set didn’t have it.
Parallel to this though, WB did release a VHS tape of the Euro Pilot, which probably thoroughly confused anyone not familiar with the details.
After the second season, a second VHS set was released by Worldvision, with the 29 regular episodes of the show on six VHS tapes for $100. The way they accomplished this, however, was to put out the tapes using EP mode, which allowed six hours on a T-120 tape. The tradeoff, however, was that the video quality was terrible. To say nothing of the annoyance involved with purchasing the first season a second time.
Parallel to all of this, Worldvision also put out releases of the show on Laserdisc, but it was segmented into four volumes at $125 or so a pop. Still no pilot episode, though again WB did release the Euro Pilot on Laserdisc for another $35.
When DVD came around, Artisan controlled the home video rights to Twin Peaks, so they set out to release the show and this time they were going to get the pilot episode as well. However they ran into the same rights issues as Worldvision and so their release of the first season in 2001 also did not contain the pilot episode. Parallel to this, New Line Cinema announced the release of the movie Fire Walk with Me on DVD but it wound up being a bare bones release due, again, to rights issues. I’ve never been as into the movie as I was the show but apparently it was well known for many years that David Lynch had filmed a lot of scenes that didn’t make it in the final film and these scenes were long considered the “holy grail” for Twin Peaks fans, although Lynch had reportedly stated that the version released in theaters was his “director’s cut” and that no other scenes needed to be in the film.
However, also in 2001 a DVD surfaced for sale from a company called Catalyst Logic in Taiwan, where the rules around copyright are a little more muddied (that or Catalyst Logic didn’t care). It had the original pilot, as it was aired in 1990 on ABC (so, not the Euro Pilot). Its exact origins are unknown, as it clearly is taken from a source other than someone having videotaped it off of ABC but the video quality leaves a lot to be desired. Still, it was the only way to watch the pilot at the time on any home video format.
Following the season one release, Artisan ran into some issues with the second season (combined with less than anticipated sales of the first season, possibly related to the lack of pilot episode) and as a result the second season didn’t come to DVD until early 2007 when some rights expired and CBS (for some reason) released the set.
Finally, most if not all of the issues with the show on DVD were addressed when later in 2007, Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition was released. It contained all of the episodes of the TV show, and for the first time officially had both the Euro Pilot and the original pilot on DVD, along with tons of extras including the “log lady intros” (when the show aired on Bravo at one point, David Lynch directed a series of surreal introductions to each episode with the actress who played the “log lady” on the show). The only thing it didn’t have was the movie but no one seemed to mind.
Finally earlier this year the Blu-Ray boxed set, Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery was released. This has literally everything – all the episodes in HD, both versions of the pilot, the movie, and about 90 minutes of deleted scenes from the movie, something pretty much everyone had given up on. The only things it doesn’t have are a Saturday Night Live skit from when Kyle MacLachlan hosted in 1991 or so, and the music video for “Falling” but those are nearly ignorable omissions.
So it’s sort of surreal that in the past few months we’ve seen the holy grail of Twin Peaks finally be wrapped up in one neat package, and now we’re seeing that a Season 3 (I guess) is going to come out in 2016. I hope they do like Dallas and just pick it up like we’ve just not seen what they’ve been doing for 25 years.