Whenever we see Redditors sweating out elaborate theories about our favorite TV shows now-a-days, it’s because of Lost. Whenever we see deep-dive online recaps, it’s because of Lost. Networks preferring a shorter, more compressed series with a definitive ending in mind.. ? That’s because of Lost. Lost changed TV in a defining manner, for better and for worse…
The seeds of the current golden age of television, were sowed by the likes of Twin Peaks and X-Files, and this ‘TV Renaissance‘ went into the next gear when Lost came in 2004. Here are the elements which Lost either successfully brought or failed to inculcate into the world of television, which had a massive impact on the future TV shows :
Unparalleled Fan Engagement
The timing was fortuitous. Lost debuted just as social media was entering adulthood, and the show became the quintessential 21st century viewing experience. When Lost began, Facebook was in its infancy and Twitter was still two years away. But it was clear the current was changing… Lost fans had multiple ways to discuss the show: a barrage of forums and fan sites, its own rabidly detailed wiki Lostpedia, and a host of IRC channels in which fans would congregate on episode nights to discuss the show in real-time.
It turned watching television into something more active.. a weird Easter egg hunt with clues hidden both on and off screen, in-games, podcasts and books. If it happened a few years earlier, it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as big of a hit. Lost not only encouraged recapping, reviewing, and theorizing.. it required it !!
Another way fans interacted with the show were podcasts, like the popular Lost Podcast with Jay and Jack, and ‘The Fuselage‘, a message board sponsored by J.J. Abrams himself, which frequently held Q&As with the cast and crew. It was an extremely direct line of communication between the stars and their fans. In that sense, it was Twitter before Twitter..
It helped to normalize the idea that television can be watched intimately with millions of people not currently seated on your couch and that episodes don’t end when the credits roll — they stretch and bleed into the rest of the week through a plethora of chat windows, status updates, and ill-advised googling…
This addictive clue-hunting mindset has since seeped into how we watch and analyse TV today, formulating crazy theories about shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, etc… It was Lost that revolutionized your Monday morning water-cooler talk about last night’s episode of GoT and Westworld !!
Targeting a Global Reach
For a show about people stranded on an island, it sure managed to visit tons of countries (via flashbacks and, later, flash-forwards). The main cast featured an Australian, a Korean couple, a former Iraqi soldier, and two Brits (one English and one Scottish), as well as a throng of minor characters from other places like Brazil, Japan, and the Canary Islands. And many of its American characters, like everyman Hurley, were bilingual. The survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 were, by all accounts, what you might actually find on a trans-Pacific flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. Perhaps as a result, Lost attracted a truly global fan base. The $14 million pilot attracted 18.6 million viewers in the US and 6.75 million when it debuted in the UK in 2005. Speaking of which, one of the all-time best television pilot in my view…
In 2006, it was named the second most popular show in the world, after the CBS powerhouse CSI: Miami. The show’s complex plot and cavernous mythology made it ideal for those fans from all over the world to investigate together and write about on the internet.
Requirement of Definitive Ending
Lost’s characters and extravagantly high concepts captivated people in their millions. Sure, you could argue that it was let down by its final episode, which hastily tried to wrap things up with woolly faux-spiritualism. But Lost was such a hit that ABC didn’t want it to end. “Keep churning out episodes,” it said, “and we’ll cancel it when you stop making money.” This tactic had worked for hundreds of other shows in the past, but Lost wasn’t like other shows. Lost had a huge central mystery that needed to be solved. So, at the financial behest of its network, the showrunners found themselves having to spin their wheels indefinitely.
Once it could accelerate towards a definitive ending, the wheel-spinning was replaced with beautiful, streamlined narrative thrust. The third series climaxed with a masterful two-parter that swept away the dead wood while throwing in a plot twist so gigantic that it would become the cornerstone of the entire show.
But when executives saw how vastly Lost improved once it was truncated, everyone else followed suit. The first series of Breaking Bad consisted of just seven episodes. Shows were suddenly being given series that fitted their length. As a result, television flourished. The golden age of TV exists because nobody cared about an episode about Jack Shephard’s tattoos… In a way, Lost improved television for ever !!
The recency bias would make your views skewed towards the backlash to the underwhelming series finale rather than the brilliance of everything that came before. When the ending of Lost didn’t live up to the audience’s impossible expectations. (something i’m worried about for Game of Thrones as well !!) , a vocal minority of Lost fans thought that the ending ruined the show completely. People actually put their lives into it. They felt they were hurt…
Nearly ten years after arriving at its conclusion, Lost, with its twists, turns, and contrivances, remains a locus of controversy. But if the story’s lingering questions and unresolved mysteries still drive debate about its subjective qualities, there’s no denying the impact J.J. Abrams’ and Damon Lindelof’s mind-bending baby had on television during and after its six season run.
The truth is, Losties would never have been satisfied with the show’s ending, no matter what form it took, because it pulled the plug on their endless, joyous speculating. Game of Thrones is doing something similar today, but there really are no apt comparisons. There will never be another Lost.