By Paula Hendrickson
Three types of people are watching TV these days: Lost fans, disillusioned Lost fans, and those who never got into the series that helped re-energize what in 2004 was a dying art form—the serialized drama.
With Lost entering its sixth and final season at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 2, it’s a good time to look back on how this often confusing, mind-bending series has forever impacted television as we know it.
When Lost first debuted, millions of fans and critics who loved the powerful pilot episode probably wondered how the writers could sustain a series about a plane that crashed into a tropical island.
Turns out, the producers themselves weren’t thinking beyond ABC’s initial 12-episode commitment. At least that’s what executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse told me in 2008, when I spoke with them for a Variety article.
At that time, Lindelof said: “As we were shooting the pilot, I was convinced it would never get picked up. After we were picked up, I was convinced we would be canceled. And once we’d been on the air for a year, I was convinced the show would be canceled after its second year.”
In an era when most hour-long dramas were episodic procedurals with plots nicely resolved each week (one notable exception being Fox’s 24), Lost gave us a constantly-evolving storyline that raised more questions than it answered. Another ABC series that debuted the same season, Desperate Housewives, also told a serialized tale, and the immediate success of those two shows led other networks to re-consider the viability of serialized dramas. Lost also single-handedly disproved the theory that a science-fiction series couldn’t draw a huge audience.
Early on, fans voiced their frustration about how drawn-out some of the mysteries had become. Some fans grew tired of waiting for answers and stopped watching; others voiced their complaints on fan boards and at live events like Comic-Con. Cuse and Lindelof paid attention.
Said Cuse: “We’re responsive in the sense that certain questions percolate up. Like when we hear from the fan community a need to understand why it is Hurley is on this island and hasn’t lost any weight, well, that’s a question we try to answer narratively in the show. When we hear that the audience doesn’t like Nikki and Paulo—these two characters that we introduced in season three—we buried them alive in the sand. We had come to our own kind of conclusion that they weren’t really working, but the fans really provided the affirmation that that was a mistake and we needed to course correct. “
That’s not to say the fans are calling the shots, just that the producers pay attention to what their fans are saying.
Secrets of the final season are so closely guarded that as of late January, most ads were filled with images from the first five seasons. That’s how I like it. I hate spoilers and want the final season to be full of surprises. I just hope that when the final episode airs, we’ll finally have some solid answers.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Jan. 27-Feb. 2, 2010 issue