Babylon 5 and Twin Peaks:
On January 9, 2017, J. Michael Straczynski tweeted, “Talk about foreshadowing: Laura in Twin Peaks says ‘I’ll see you again in 25 years.’ Now the new series comes.”
Revelations and the 8 Miles Between Them
His tweet referred to the forthcoming return to television of the 1990–1 series Twin Peaks. Straczynski, who sold the Babylon 5 pilot to Warner Brothers during the final season of Twin Peaks, referenced the show during his pitch.
“I dearly loved Twin Peaks, but if you missed an episode, you were screwed.” While he was quick to distance Babylon 5’s approach to narrative from that of Twin Peaks’s, Straczynski’s love for the David Lynch/Mark Frost series was nevertheless visible on screen and in Babylon 5.
First to make the trip to Babylon 5, appearing as True Seeker Aldous Gajic in “Grail,” was David Warner—fresh from playing Hong Kong businessman Thomas Eckhardt in three Peaks episodes.
Babylon 5’s second season expanded the Twin Peaks connections behind the scenes with Scott Frost—brother of Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost and son of series regular Warren Frost—contributing the script for “The Long Dark.” Frost had written two episodes of Twin Peaks as well as two tie-in publications that expanded the universe of Twin Peaks, much as the Straczynski-outlined comics and novels would flesh out Babylon 5.
The on-camera guest spots in season 2 continued with Russ Tamblyn—Twin Peaks’s suspect-psychiatrist Lawrence Jacoby—as Captain Jack Maynard in “A Distant Star” and Carel Struycken—Twin Peaks’s unnamed giant—as an unnamed trader in “Soul Mates.”
And those are just the actors who made it to the screen. Refugees from Twin Peaks filled the casting paperwork.
Joan Chen—who played Josie Packard, widow of the town’s lumber baron—was approached to play the role of Vice Commander Laurel Chang (renamed Takashima when Tamlyn Tomita took the part) in The Gathering, but was unavailable during the projected shooting schedule.
Michael Horse—Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill from the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department—was considered for the role of Jason Ironheart in “Mind War.”
On January 28, 1994, Michael J. Anderson—iconic for his portrayal of the Little Man from Another Place from Twin Peaks’s famous clue-filled dream sequence—auditioned in season one. “Originally, Harriman Gray [in “Eyes”] was supposed to be a little person…” story editor Larry DiTillio recalled in an August 1994 interview—reprinted in Echoes of All Our Conversations, Volume 1. “…we had [Anderson] come in to read for Zathras. He did an excellent reading…”
When Tim Choate was signed to play Zathras, DiTillio tailored the role of Gray in his newly written script for the actor. DiTillio continued, “…his dialogue to Ivanova was all based on the fact that he was a little person. He had had a hard time when he was a kid, and then the [telepathic] talent came up and suddenly he didn’t have to worry about how big he was anymore, because he had this talent.” The role of Gray ended up being played by Jeffrey Combs after a re-write.
The most famous TP/B5 near-casting came in the midst of season three. When Robert Foxworth double booked himself on Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Straczynski killed off Foxworth’s character, General William Hague, who’d been intended to make his third appearance in “Severed Dreams.” After a chance meeting at a restaurant, Straczynski planned to offer the role to Twin Peaks series regular Everett McGill. He even named the new character Major Ed Ryan, referencing McGill’s Big Ed Hurley, who ran the gas station on the outskirts of Twin Peaks.
As Straczynski recalled in Babylon 5: The Scripts of J. Michael Straczynski, Volume 6, “I loved [McGill’s] work, but for the life of me that night I couldn’t recall his name…” Thus, when Straczynski conveyed his intentions to casting director Fern Champion, he could not remember McGill’s first name and Bruce McGill was cast as Major Ryan. Straczynski continued, “Bruce did an amazing, exemplary job in the role. He brought a friendly, sympathetic but strong presence that made the part come alive.”
Years later, Everett McGill joined Twin Peaks’s top-billed lawmen—Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Ontkean, who played FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper and Sheriff Harry S. Truman, respectively—during the lengthy discussions with TNT and WB about Crusade’s leading man before Gary Cole eventually signed on for the role.
Lenny von Dohlen, who essayed the role of the reclusive orchid cultivator Harold Smith in four Twin Peaks episodes and the 1992 theatrical film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, also read for the role of Dr. Max Eilerson, giving the B5 universe one more last-minute brush with Twin Peaks.
With Babylon 5 newly streaming for free and Twin Peaks returning to television via Showtime on 21 May, the connections keep coming. Joining Twin Peaks for its third season will be two-time Academy Award-nominee Naomi Watts, who auditioned for the role of Major Lianna Kemmer in “Survivors” on November 5, 1993.
Oh, and about the "8 Miles" in the title of this article. Babylon 5 literally was just under eight miles from Twin Peaks. The re-purposed ball-bearing factory where seasons one and two of Twin Peaks were filmed—after the pilot was shot in Washington state—is located at 7700 Balboa Blvd. Van Nuys, CA 91406. Almost eight miles away, via Roscoe Blvd., is the converted hot-tub factory—at 8615 Tamarack Ave. Sun Valley, CA 91352—where the Babylon 5 series was shot.
Jason Davis is the author of Writing the X-Files, available now from Amazon.com. Since 2008 he has been the senior editor at B5 Books, editing two dozen books on Babylon 5. He’s now also the director of the Harlan Ellison Books Preservation Project.