It all started with Survivor. In 2004, the show was in its prime, drawing huge audiences and helping CBS devour the competition in the ratings. ABC in particular was feeling the crunch, and was desperate for a show to siphon off some of the viewers Survivor was drawing. They contacted J.J. Abrams, who was fresh off his success with his show Alias, in the hopes that he would write a script for a series that was essentially a dramatized version of Survivor. Abrams said he would, with the condition that he could include supernatural aspects to the show. ABC agreed, and Lost was born.
The risk that ABC took on creating Lost, and the support it gave the show when its hit status was far from guaranteed, cannot be understated. The two-hour pilot episode, filmed on location in Hawaii and including a plane crash sequence that would rival many big budget films’ special effects, was the most expensive episode the network had ever produced. It premiered Sept. 22, 2004 to a huge audience and critical acclaim, and quickly became a water cooler phenomenon the nation hadn’t seen since “Who Shot J.R.?”
Where did the polar bear come from? How can the bald guy suddenly walk? Where is the signal coming from? What is the smoke monster? Who are The Others? Viewers asked these questions and many, many more, as the show’s writers seemed to take twisted pleasure in keeping their audience guessing. By developing an unusual format of storytelling (each individual episode focused on a particular character in the story, and through flashbacks gave backstory that was often relevant to the action occurring on the island), the writers were able to create one of the most fully characterized casts ever seen on television. These characters (and the superb actors who played them) were often stretched to the limits by the genre-toying exercises indulged in by the writers, but it was the connections felt by viewers to Jack, Kate, Sayid, Sawyer, Hurley, Claire, and the rest that kept the show fresh week after week, cliffhanger after maddening cliffhanger.
Reactions to the series finale of Lost were mixed, but those who would complain are the same people who ask “Are we there yet?” during every road trip. It will be a very long time before television sees another show that challenges and delights its audience in such a myriad of ways, and when that show comes, it too will surely be a Great American Thing.
- J.J. Abrams Preps ‘Pulp’ Crime Drama (tvsquad.com)