The confluence of conditions that allowed for Lynch to connect with viewers who were content with nighttime soap operas like Dynasty and Falcon Crest are myriad, and, in retrospect, somewhat miraculous. Network television had embraced serialized hour-long storytelling (outside of the soap model) in the early 1980s with critically acclaimed shows like Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and L.A. Law, and even indulged light experimentation (Moonlighting beat Buffy the Vampire Slayer to a musical episode by a solid decade). But they still adhered to the unspoken rules of TV; any show that monkeyed with genre formula was still beholden to it.
Ten years prior to the premiere of Twin Peaks, David Lynch couldn't have been a less-likely candidate for network television success. It was implausible enough to consider that the director of the cult movie smash Eraserhead would be singled out by Mel Brooks to direct a black-and-white film based on the life of Victorian Era circus freak Joseph Merrick. But The Elephant Man was a critical and commercial hit, earning Lynch his first Academy Award nomination for Best Director. For a brief moment, it appeared as if Lynch's aesthetic might appeal to more than just the midnight movie crowd. After turning down George Lucas' offer to direct Return of the Jedi, Lynch put this notion to the test with a perverse, mega-budget adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi novel, Dune. The result was the kind of flop that permanently damages, if not completely ends, careers.
Lynch, however, had signed an overall three-picture deal with Dune's producer, Dino de Laurentiis. One of those projects, Dune Messiah, was dead on the slab once the worldwide box office grosses for the first film were tallied; the other was an untitled murder-mystery set in an idyllic small town where darkness lurks beneath the picture-perfect façade of white picket fences and lovingly maintained lawns.