The end of “Lost”
Last Sunday saw the conclusion of a television drama that has entered the public conversation in a way that few others have ever achieved.For the last six years, folks worldwide have welcomed Jack Shepard, John Locke, Kate Austin, James Ford and countless others into their homes, enthralled with their conflicts and rapt attentively to their uprisings and downfalls. It is with great – indeed, sorrow in the cases of many – that ABC’s “Lost” has finally come to an end. I won’t talk about that finale here, though perhaps I’ll put a post up about it later. Right now, let’s talk about the show’s impact on television as an industry.
In many ways, the end of Lost is more than just the conclusion of an epic television drama. It is more than the resolution to story arcs and loose threads that viewers have pored over and mulled endlessly for years – and not just because a good many of those mysteries just never got answered. No, the end of Lost also represents the finale to another chapter of scripted television. It’s not the end, per se, as viewers still have programs like “Chuck” and “Desperate Housewives” and “How I Met Your Mother” to turn to, but like with all forms of heavily commercialized entertainment, costs are only increasing.
It’s well known that Lost was a significant gamble, with its extraordinary budget and at-times meandering plots, which sometimes shed viewers along its six year journey. But on the whole, it is regarded as overwhelmingly successful. And really, credit to the writers and producers who can create a show about faith and make it work on network television.
But we all know that for some time now, and certainly now more than ever, network executives are going to be desperately searching for the “next Lost.” And really, how does one manage that? This isn’t a statement to say that one cannot follow up or even surpass Lost. Far from it, truth be told. I’d love to see it happen. But like any good business endeavor, one can expect the networks to trim the costs while providing the product. And we can see this across the channels, as scripted programs are shut down in favor of cheaper-to-produce, recyclable “reality” shows.
One thing we can know for sure, is that when the next “Lost” comes around, we won’t know it’s the next “Lost.” It won’t look anything like “Lost.” Heck, we didn’t even know “Lost” was going to be what it was for a while into the series.
With that said, we know that “Lost,” and the great successful shows before it, were built on great characters. It’s no more clear than in our most recent example: It didn’t matter at all whether Jack was doing surgery or fighting some ancient monster to the death. It made no difference whether Sawyer was a con man or a cop. We didn’t care that Kate was a killer once she was on the island. They were compelling characters that audiences gravitated to, and that is one of the biggest, most important pieces to the puzzle. It’s plausible that some audiences would have watched Evangeline Lilly make macaroni art for an hour a week and still called it good – such is the power of character.
The other big victory that “Lost” scored, was the way it engaged its audience. Some people, maybe most people, look at them now as loose ends, but the many mysteries that the show introduced, they were able to bring fans together and interact in a way that hadn’t been done in some time. What were those numbers? What was their significance? We may never know, but we do know that a few thousand people have played the numbers in various lotteries around the world since they appeared in the show.
But ultimately, it will be some time before we see the next “Lost”, whatever it may be. Networks have been trying to create it ever since the show became popular, and while they’ve tried, many have failed. Shows like “Life on Mars,” “Heroes,” “FlashForward” and “Surface” come to mind, and those are only a few of the big-budget losses that the networks have endured. It’ll take some time for their wounds to heal, and for the right pitch to come around. However, I guarantee you that when it does, it won’t matter what the concept is. If it has good characters and good hooks for the audience, I promise – we’ll watch it.