There are many differences between TV in the UK and USA. The number of episodes in a series (often 6 in the UK, and more like 24 in the USA), the number of writers working on a show (the idea of the Writers’ Room, common in the USA, is a positive rarity in the UK, though it’s not unknown), and the tendency of American shows to have episodes comprised of clips from previous weeks (if not years), known as ‘clip shows’, are just a few examples.
A show going ‘on hiatus’ in the USA is another. Basically, this means that for whatever reason, the network or channel decides to stop showing a programme before the end of its projected run. It does happen, after a fashion, here in Blighty, but rather than the show just vanishing from the schedules, it tends to suddenly be re-located to some far-flung post-midnight slot; my first personal recollection of this happening was with the comedy Kinvig, though whether it’s because my 10-year-old self recognised the scripting ability of Nigel ‘Quatermass’ Kneale, or that I found something confusingly interesting about the sight of Prunella Gee in a number of materially-challenged costumes, is open to debate.
Anyway, US shows which go on hiatus tend to vanish from the schedules and not come back, or if there’s a concerted viewer campaign, they may return. I don’t know of any notable examples of a show going on hiatus and then coming back and running for a prolonged period (anyone? Seinfeld started off with low ratings but then went on to enormous success, but I think that was more slow and steady than a case of being reprieved, though I could be wrong) – what usually seems to happen is that a show comes back, runs for a few more episodes in order to complete the series (or ‘season’), and then that’s yer lot. I think that’s pretty much what happened to Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip recently.
Further off in the mists of history – and you’ll be relieved to know that I’m finally getting to my point here – the same thing happened with the TV show Twin Peaks. I’ve mentioned before that I adore this show, and have done since it first aired in the UK during my college years, when m’colleague and I used to follow it. I think it’s a terrific show (though not without its flaws, by any means) to this day, and I genuinely feel one could make a pretty strong argument that it paved the way for a lot of solid US Drama that’s followed it, particularly on the non-cable channels; I think it’s hard to imagine The X-Files or The West Wing having been made without TP having proven that there was an audience for a drama with strong serial elements, particularly in an era when video allowed for repeated viewing or catch-up.
Anyway, when Twin Peaks started, it proved an enormously successful show, but during the second series, ratings in the USA fell off quite dramatically, and the network put it on hiatus, six episodes short of completing the series. A letter-writing campaign ensued, which was successful, and Twin Peaks returned for six more episodes, completing its second (and, even I would freely admit, very patchy) series. And then, having lived a surprisingly long time following the last rites of having been put on hiatus, it was announced that Twin Peaks, as a TV series, was finished (though a prequel film was released a year or so later).
In the UK, we were unaware of the hiatus, as the show was broadcast on BBC2 (on Tuesday nights at 9pm, I seem to recall, with late-night repeats on Saturday on the same channel), several months after the episodes had been shown in the USA. In the USA, though, the episode which aired post-hiatus (which is to say, the first of the final six episodes made) was being shown after a lengthy-ish gap in the series, and understandably, the network was concerned that, in order to try and keep or build their audience, they would need some kind of recap.
So, a brief rundown of the events so far was put at the front of episode 24. In the UK, there was only the usual week between episodes, so no lengthy ‘Previously On Twin Peaks’ intro, with a new voiceover from the lead character, was shown. Which means that there was 2’34” of Twin Peaks footage which wasn’t ever shown on UK TV (and no, I’m not going to get into the whole issue of the European Ending versus the Pilot Episode ending, or the editing of Truman’s fight with Jones, here; one day I’ll probably get round to writing a whole slew of posts about TP and what I love about it, and what makes me shake my head indulgently, but not today).
That lengthy parenthesis rather spoiled my intention with that sentence, so let’s pretend I didn’t splice a bunch of bracketed words into that paragraph, and go again: Which means that there was 2’34” of Twin Peaks footage which wasn’t ever shown on UK TV … but it’s now available to view here.
A long and rambling semi-essay to introduce a link there, I know… and now, as I click ‘POST’, I cross the fingers of my non-mouse hand and hope that, to make the above worth it, the link to the clip actually works…