Tube Talk: ‘Lost’ expectations: Is Lost losing its appeal?

Last summer when ABC announced they were breaking Lost into two mini-seasons, so to speak, I thought it was a good idea. I still do. It was frustrating last year, never knowing for sure when a new episode would air. In many offices, the typical Thursday morning conversation probably started with, “Was there a new Lost last night?”

With Lost’s ratings softening a bit—CBS’s CSI: Miami beat out Lost in total viewers throughout the February sweeps, and Lost is barely hanging on to its lead in the 18-40 demographic—you have to wonder what impact the mini-seasons experiment had.

I spend my days talking to a lot of TV viewers, many of them Lost fans, and while some of them hated the idea of waiting through a three-month hiatus starting just six weeks after the four-and-a-half month hiatus ended, most seemed to like knowing that, once the show was back, they wouldn’t have to guess when new episodes were going to air.

But things change fast. A year ago, missing an episode of any show left fans in a lurch. Today, more and more shows—including Lost—can be seen on demand online for free, making it almost impossible to miss an episode. Given Lost is still top in its timeslot with a fairly Web-savvy age group, perhaps some ratings erosion is coming from people viewing new episodes online.

But that doesn’t explain why CSI: New York’s ratings are inching up every week while Lost’s ratings are slipping. In the fourth week of the February sweeps, Lost was down 2 percent in total viewers, and CSI: New York was up 2 percent. For Feb. 28, in total viewers, Lost had a 7.6 rating/13 share compared with CSI: New York’s 9.2 rating/15 share.

Maybe the show just isn’t holding viewers’ attention as raptly as it once did. I know I’ve experienced a lack of anticipation about upcoming episodes nearly all season.

At times, it feels as if two different shows are sharing the same timeslot. Kind of like if Buffy and Angel had alternated on a weekly basis—same universe, different locations. There’s Other’s Island, and the nearly-forgotten Lost Island. I get why some of the storylines need to play out separately—after all, it would be hard to incorporate Juliet’s flashbacks into an episode with Sun, Jin and Hurley. (Then again, this is Lost, where apparently everything is interconnected, and apparently nothing’s impossible, like a polar bear on a tropical island.)

One episode tries too hard to expand the mysteries of the island, while the next does nothing to advance the plot. While most episodes still hold my complete attention, midway through the whole story-of-Jack’s-tattoos episode, I found myself reading a newspaper. An old newspaper.

Even with some ratings erosion, Lost still draws millions of viewers. Despite its perpetual unevenness, I’ll keep watching. After all, pacing has been one of the show’s biggest challenges since season one, so it’s not like I haven’t come to expect it.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine, Rockford Life and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, SatelliteORBIT and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to

from the March 28-April 3, 2007, issue

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