The story of how Lost came together is pretty fascinating. The show was not conceived by one person. At the start there was no one who had a vision for what the show would even be about. Instead ABC head Lloyd Braun pushed for the show to be created and called upon Jeffrey Lieber, then JJ Abrams and finally Damon Lindelof to write the pilot. Their collaboration led to the most expensive pilot in ABC's history, a fairly extraordinary event in itself, and then to a massive debut audience of over 18 million on September 22nd 2004.
For such a successful show to have come together in this unlikely way is an important part of understanding Lost. The easiest place to learn more about this story is an interview that Kevin Pollak conducted with Lindelof once the show was over. You should be able to track it down here.
Lost's first season was a massive success. Commercially the numbers stayed strong but for a broad network drama the show also received critical acclaim. The key to the show's success was a successful combination of the two different styles of drama television: episodic and serialized.
On the one hand the show was always going to be an ongoing story that viewers needed to see all of. The survivors were trapped on an island and trying to find a way home. However the writers used flashbacks to each character's past to tell stories about their lives before the plane crash. This meant that during season one an episodic formula took hold where viewers would tune in each week to discover what secrets each person was hiding.
The show also balanced traditional mass appeal stories such as child-parent issues or romantic tension with an underlying science fiction concept that the island was not quite what it seemed.
The ability to balance two different concepts is what brought Lost such a huge fan base and ultimately what caused many viewers to lose interest in the show. As the seasons progressed the show became less episodic and more serialized. It also became more and more about the science fiction or fantasy aspects of the story and less about general human emotions.
I watched Lost from its debut on UK television in August 2005 and was immediately hooked on it. By the time season two began I realized that the show had already grabbed me in the same way that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Farscape had done before.
It was during 2007 that I first discovered the growing community of fans who were recording podcasts about the show. This coincided with the completion of my episode guide for Friends which was my first attempt at writing critically about a television show.
The passion I felt for Lost and the size of its fan base helped convince me that writing about American television was something I wanted to do on a more permanent basis. I re-watched and reviewed the first three seasons and began reviewing the show in real time with the start of season four. By the time season five began thetvcritic.org was up and running and I recorded podcasts for the final two seasons. Thanks to Ryan Ozawa and the Lost Podcasting Network I was able to gain a following for my work.
Lost tested the limits of my objectivity. Once I was reviewing it and facing feedback from an audience I had to ignore my own emotional reaction to that scrutiny and try to judge the show fairly. It was not easy. I believe that from season four onwards the writers of Lost built many plot threads whose dramatic resonance relied upon there being convincing explanations. Sadly many of those explanations never came. The mysteries which the first two seasons had developed were largely explained but large parts of the story were not.
The result is that I overrated many episodes in seasons five and six based on an assumption that answers were coming. The most egregious example is the score of 90\100 I gave to the season five finale "The Incident." I rewarded the writers for introducing us to Jacob who had for so long been the islands shadowy deity. It seemed then that answers were coming and that season six would be a fitting finale.
Unfortunately I was wrong and season six was even more strictly constructed around an answer than when it came deflated all my expectations. A re-watch of season six now would doubtless yield much lower scores than the hope inflated ones I gave it. Although I don't think it would make a dramatic difference, Lost will always appear overrated on my ever-fallible system of scores out of one hundred.
However it's important to say that Lost achieved many brilliant things. The combination of science fiction with mainstream appeal was at times as good as any of the major movie franchises that do the same. The use of flashbacks as an ingrained part of the structure of an episode was a clever innovation. The large ensemble cast who shared the spotlight between them was an unusual and highly successful concept. For much of the show's run the handling of mysteries and the slow tease of revelation was as good as I have ever seen.
It's even possible to say in 2011 that Lost might be the last great serialized network television drama. While procedural shows continue to dominate the networks no new serialized show has approached Lost's success. Instead the acclaimed drama series have all moved to Cable where a smaller audience can be justified. With the diffusion of media across different platforms it may be that the future of television will become increasingly defined by niche rather than big-tent shows.
It would be foolish to assume that no new show will emerge or that mass media won't adapt and the definitions I am using will become obsolete. However it remains true that shows which followed in Lost's wake like Heroes, Flash Forward and The Event all sank quickly because they didn't heed the lessons of Lost's success.
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