In early 2004, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof took the concept for Lost that had been created by Jeffrey Lieber and turned it into something ABC felt comfortable to spend money on. Basic ideas and thoughts for a project that would run four or five seasons were outlined. The pilot became one of the most expensive ever shot and Disney fired the head of ABC, Lloyd Braun, for giving the greenlight. Still, he turned out to be right in the end. American TV audiences were more than willing to support a show that was not only very well produced, but also promised to offer many surprises ahead.
The story began with Oceanic flight 815 crashing on a seemingly deserted island somewhere in the South Pacific. As we followed the survivors trying to find a way to cope on the island, we also got to know them individually through flashbacks to their previous lives before the crash. After a while, the island turned out to be anything but deserted. It may have been tropical, but that didn’t stop several survivors from spotting polar bears. There was also a mysterious, powerful smoke that snaked through the jungle at times, another survivor who turned out to have been living there for 16 years, a metal hatch that seemed to hide something deep inside the island… and then there was “The Others”, a group of brutal warriors who posed a deadly threat to the newcomers. Over the years, we got to know “The Others” and their history better, learned the secrets of the hatch and its guardian and watched the survivors try to handle every new challenge of this puzzling island without breaking up the group… and losing too many lives.
Always one more ace up their sleeve
Gilligan’s Island (1964-1967) may have been one of the inspirations, but the makers of Lost took the concept far beyond that show’s simple set-up. The project was thoroughly ambitious, with constant references to mythology, religion and philosophy. Fans debated whether or not Lindelof and his crew really knew from the start where to go with this show. They probably did to a certain point, but the final decisions were likely not made until 2007 when they announced that the series would end in 2010. That gave the team a limited time to find closure to more or less every theme and storyline they had introduced in 2004. There were plenty of those and far from all of them were compelling; still, the showrunners always had one more ace up their sleeve and in the final, two-hour episode we got our emotional and spiritual payoff as one of the fundamental mysteries of the show were solved. Much remained in the dark though and fans are likely to keep guessing. The cast always delivered whenever the stories floundered. Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly and Josh Holloway formed an engaging and complex love triangle; Michael Emerson was brilliant as the initially despicable (but subsequently intriguing) “Others” leader Ben Linus, and what a joy it was to see a great character actor like Terry O’Quinn get another role of a lifetime (after The Stepfather (1987)) as John Locke, the only man who saw the crash as the start of something significant.
The thrill of a reality show like Survivor is that we never know what’s going to happen because the characters are real people who behave in unpredictable ways. Perhaps that is why audiences all over the world found it particularly easy to connect with Lost. On the surface it looked like Survivor, and you never knew what would happen to these folks… but it came with twist after twist that made the show frequently more exciting than watching a group of middleclass morons argue over the last bag of rice.
Lost 2004-2010:U.S. Made for TV. 121 episodes. Color. Created by J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, Damon Lindelof. Music: Michael Giacchino. Cast: Matthew Fox (Jack Shephard), Evangeline Lilly (Kate Austen), Josh Holloway (James “Sawyer” Ford), Terry O’Quinn, Naveen Andrews, Jorge Garcia, Emilie de Ravin, Daniel Dae Kim, Yoon-jin Kim, Harold Perrineau (04-08), Dominic Monaghan (04-07), Henry Ian Cusick (05-10), Michael Emerson (06-10), Elizabeth Mitchell (06-10), Nestor Carbonell (07-10), Maggie Grace (04-06), Michelle Rodriguez (05-06), Jeremy Davies (08-10), Jeff Fahey (08-10), Ken Leung (08-10), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (05-06), Ian Somerhalder (04-05).
Emmys: Outstanding Drama Series 04-05; Directing 04-05; Supporting Actor (O’Quinn) 06-07, (Emerson) 08-09. Golden Globe: Best Drama Series 05.
Last word: “That pilot asked a massive commitment from the audience. If you watch a pilot with no predetermined end date, what it’s essentially doing is proposing to you on the first date, saying will you marry me for as long as I’m on. Will you stay tuned even if I frustrate you on occasion? And that’s a much bigger deal now in 2011 then it was in 2004, and I think we take some responsibility for the fact that… there are a number of people who watched the show when it started versus when it ended. We lost millions of viewers along the way for various reasons, but those millions that we lost became very jaded and discontent and sort of pledged never to go out on any more dates. So, they’re very vocal… when you see other shows, like ‘The Event’, that came along after ‘Lost’ that were branded in any way as ‘Lost’-like, just saying, ‘I’m not going to allow myself to get suckered again.’ Or, ‘I just can’t emotionally invest in a show other than ‘Lost’,’ on a more positive spectrum.” (Lindelof, TV Over Mind)