'Lost' producers talk about setting an end date and much more
Could it be time for the “Lost” castaways to start packing their bags?
Maybe not just yet, but executive producer Carlton Cuse said at a Sunday press panel that the show’s producers are in the process of “picking an end point to the show.”
“Once we do that,” he told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, “a lot of the anxiety and a lot of these questions, like, ‘We’re not getting answers,’ a lot of those will go away. They really represent an underlying anxiety that this is not going to go well or that we don’t know what we’re doing.
"[Author] J. K. Rowling has announced that there’s going to be seven Harry Potter books, and it gives everyone a feeling of certainty that the story is driving to a conclusion. It’s time for us now to find an end point for the show.”
“A show like the original 'Fugitive' ended. It was a massive phenomenon,” executive producer Damon Lindelof told reporters after the panel session with the “Lost” cast. “But they had the [guts] to let Richard Kimble catch the one-armed man and end it. If you could make a case for that then, why not now?”
Producers would not offer specifics on when that end point would come, but there were a few clues that the show’s fifth season might be its last. After the panel discussion, Lindelof reminded reporters that he had said since the start of the series, which is in its third year, that he thought “Lost” would last “about 100 episodes.”
“I would not want to go back now and say, ‘Oh, now that we’re in Season 3, I think it could go much longer,’ because I think that would be duplicitous,” Lindelof said. “That’s how I felt back at the time [of the show’s debut], that’s how I still feel.”
“The reality is, they can produce a sixth or seventh or eighth season, but would anyone be watching? Because the show would be so miserable by that time,” Lindelof said, who was reminded by one reporter that ABC could continue making the show without the involvement of the show’s current creative team.
“We were surprised when we went to ABC and started having that conversation,” Lindelof said. “As opposed to them saying, ‘Fine, we’ll bring on new people,’ they said, ‘Well, when do you think it should end?’ And the conversations began.
“Obviously they want the show to go on as long as possible,” Lindelof added. “And all that we can say is, ‘There’s a show with us running it and there’s a show without us running it, and if you want the show with us running it, this is when we think it should end.’ And like negotiation, therein lies the rub. I think you’ll find, if you talk to [ABC entertainment president] Steve [McPherson], in Steve’s vernacular, he’s begun to embrace the idea that the show needs to end. Now the question becomes when.”
When the show returns from its winter break Feb. 7, the story line of Jack, Kate and Sawyer versus Juliet and Benjamin of the menacing and mysterious Others, which occupied most of the first six episodes of Season 3, will wrap up, the producers said. That news pleased McPherson, who said earlier in the day that he missed seeing the extended “Lost” cast in Season 3’s first half-dozen episodes.
“I think, for me, the show that I really kind of really, really invest in, you'll see when [the show comes] back, which is everybody together and really that kind of emotional experience,” McPherson said. “I thought it was really a riveting six [Season 3] episodes, and the production values, I think they exceeded even their own standards. But again, I like it when they're all together, and I think we're headed towards that.”
Click below to read much more on "Lost."
Some of the following information comes from the “Lost” panel discussion, and some is from an interview that Damon Lindelof did with several reporters after the panel. Following that is a list of mild spoilers for the rest of the season. That section will be clearly marked. You can read this first chunk and you’ll be fine, but stop reading when you get to the spoiler warning if you don’t want to know about future plot developments.
The transcript for this first section of the post, by the way comes from the official TCA transcriber.
Carlton Cuse on the fact that there have already been multiple – and sometimes repetitive – flashbacks on the show: “That is one of the challenges of the show, and I think it's one of the reasons that the show ultimately does need an endpoint. Yes, there are not an infinite number of flashbacks. It's hard to top yourself. Nothing is as engaging as that first flashback story when you find out that Hurley is a lottery winner. It's pretty hard to go back and tell another story that has the same sort of visceral impact as that sort of basic piece of knowledge.
“But we sort of view the flashback stories as little New Yorker short stories, and we do believe that we have enough stories left to tell for all of these characters that will take us through the remainder of the series.”
Damon Lindelof on whether there has ever been pressure from the studio or the network to not give answers: “There has never been any pressure ever from the network or the studio in terms of how quickly we -- you know, we answer questions. In fact, to be completely candid, the only pressure that we've ever received from them is ‘Answer some [gosh darn] questions.’”
Cuse on whether he saw the show’s focus as relationships or mythology: “We want the characters to focus on primarily their relationships with each other. We always view the show as a character show with a mythology frosting over the top.
“All the questions we get asked are about the mythology. But when we sit down and we work on the stories, we're primarily spending most of our time talking about these characters and how they interact. And I think that if the characters became focused on the mythology, a lot of people would drop out. I think there's a much larger audience that's much more interested in who is Kate going to choose than the details about who Alvar Hanso is.
Lindelof on relationships vs. mythology: “To just add one more thing. When J.J. [Abrams] and I were first designing the show, he specifically said, ‘Don't make the mistake of having the characters talk about Rambaldi all the [gosh darn] time.’ And the reality is, you'd be asking a much different version of that question had we gone down that path where all the characters were more interested in solving the mysteries of the island than they were in sort of getting through the day or who lied to who or this sort character.
“Because for us, yes, the mythology is very important and we don't throw it away piecemeal. But at the same time, we approach every episode as, this is a Jack episode; we're going to explain a little more why the guy needs to fix things all the time and let the island story support that obsession. Unfortunately, the side effect of that is that the audience doesn't feel they're getting answers to mysteries in the time allotted.”
On the wisdom of adding the new characters Paulo and Nicki; here Lindelof addressed, as one reporter put it, “what is the point” of them: “The reality is, and this is something that you guys have asked us about in the past and is a very legitimate point, is, what the hell is going on with the other 35 people who nothing ever happens to?
“We saw Dr. Artzt explode and every once in a while one of them will forward for a fleeting moment, but are they just [‘Star Trek’] red shirts? Are they just monster food? What has their experience been? Why aren’t they participating in the primary decision making on the island?”
Cuse on the show’s declining ratings: “I think the question is, what size audience does ‘Lost’ deserve to have? I think that we never -- no one expected the show to work. No one expected it to work and have a huge audience. And I think there is a natural attrition due to the fact that this show requires sort of vigilant maintenance. You have to keep up with it. And I think that there are people who fall away because it does require you to really keep up and on the episodes.
“It's a complicated show. It's hard to drop in and out. You can, but it's not as rewarding as if you watch everything. I think a lot of those people may be watching the shows on DVDs. They may downloading it. They may be watching it streaming on ABC.com. And I think we still have a very large audience, and we are happy with the audience that we have.”
This exchange was pretty funny, so I’ll reprint it in its entirety:
Question: “Is there a reason [Benjamin Linus] couldn't have, way
back when, before the Others started killing people, just wandered on over and said, ‘Hey, welcome to the island. I hear you're a spinal surgeon. I've got a tumor. Could you help a brother out?’ (Laughter.) Why does it have to be that convoluted?”
Lindelof: Well, I suppose there's certainly -- you know, there's certainly a point to be made for that version. But I would argue, no offense to your writing skills -- (Laughter) -- that that version is considerably less intriguing for a mystery show. You know, the reality is, you know, if, when Kate was first stitching up Jack, you know, she's like, ‘Who are you?’ he's like, ‘I'm a spinal surgeon. I've got some hardcore father issues. I don't think I'm going to be a good leader,’ and she's like, ‘You've got father issues? I blew up my [gosh darn] stepdad,’ you know then it would have been like, ‘Why even do the show?’ because everything's right there. (Laughter)
This part is excerpts from an interview that Damon Lindelof did after the panel discussion with several reporters.
On the show’s time switch to 9 p.m. Central: “It’s a time switch we were generally pleased with, because we lose almost 30 percent of our audience every year when we’re programmed against ‘Idol.’ To be completely honest with you, the family audience is that 30 percent… I do think we’re going to take a hit, but the hit will be comparable if not a little better than going up against a show that 27 million people watch.”
On the length of the show’s run: “When you guys were asking at the very beginning, when you’d sent the pilot and you’d said, ‘Seriously, how long can this thing go, how long can it sustain,’ I’d say, I can’t answer in terms of seasons, but I have been consistent in terms of saying, it’s always felt to me like the story is going to last about 100 episodes. The end of Season 4 is 93 [episodes]. So does that mean it’s five seasons or whatnot?
“I would not want to go back now and say, ‘Oh, now that we’re in Season 3, I think it could go much longer,’ because I think that would be duplicitous. I can only answer that question of, ‘How long do I think it should last,’ the way that I felt at the very beginning. Because to say now I’ve changed my mind about it, you could go, but you said back then…. That’s how I felt back at the time, that’s how I still feel.”
Lindelof’s answer to the question of whether, by ending “Lost” after a reasonable run, ABC would be the first network to end a hit show when it should have ended, not far too late: “I guess they would. The good news about a guy like [ABC head] Steve [McPherson] or a guy like [ABC executive] Mark Pedowitz is, we all looked at each other at the very beginning and said, ‘By the grace of God would this show even survive 13 episodes.’
“So Carlton and I are now able to sit down with them and say, ‘Remember in the very beginning when you guys were having us convince you that this thing could go on for years and years and years? And we all agreed it couldn’t?’ Well, now just because it’s successful doesn’t mean that’s changed.
“The reality is, they can produce a sixth or seventh or eighth season, but would anyone be watching? Because the show would be so miserable by that time. Was it really ‘The X-Files’ anymore when [David] Duchovny and Gillian Anderson weren’t on the show? For me ‘The X-Files’ wasn’t about, ‘Have aliens invaded?’ it was about Mulder and Scully, a skeptic and a believer. Once that element of the show was gone, the show was over. We don’t want to produce those episodes of ‘Lost,’ and in fact, we’re not going to produce those episodes of ‘Lost.’”
On what the show is about: “This show is about people who are metaphorically lost in their lives who get on an airplane and crash on an island and become physically lost on the planet Earth, and once they are able to metaphorically find themselves in their lives again they will be able to physically find themselves in the world again. When you look at the entire show, that’s what it will look like.”
On whether ABC would do the show without them: “We were surprised when we went to ABC and started having that conversation. As opposed to them saying, ‘Fine, we’ll bring on new people,’ they said, ‘Well, when do you think it should end?’ And the conversations began.
“Obviously they want the show to go on as long as possible and all that we can say is, ‘There’s a show with us running it and there’s a show without us running it, and if you want the show with us running it, this is when we think it should end.’ And like any negotiation, therein lies the rub.
“I think you’ll find, if you talk to Steve, in Steve’s vernacular, he’s begun to embrace the idea that the show needs to end. Now the question becomes when.”
On when the announcement of the end date might come: “It all depends. I would anticipate that that announcement will be sooner rather than later. Because again, you don’t want to make it in a way that it seems like it is reactionary. [Like] ‘The O.C.’ saying, ‘We’re going to end “The O.C.!”’ No, you got canceled. …
“The whole point of it is, to say we’re going to end a show when the show is still thriving -- I think that will bring [back] a lot of the audience who left to say, ‘I was wrong! They are going to give [an ending] to me, whether I like it or not is yet to be determined.’ I think the question the audience is asking is not, will the answers they give us be satisfying, but it’s, will they give us answers at all? And I think that’s a very good question to ask, because they haven’t been promised a seventh book [as J.K. Rowling has done with Harry Potter]. I’d be asking the same question."
On whether the show would ever have a cliffhanger like the “what’s in the hatch” Season 1 ending: “I don’t know if we will ever have a cliffhanger like what’s in the hatch, and the irony of that cliffhanger was, although people were ultimately satisfied with what was in the hatch, all we heard over the course of that summer was how angry everybody was so that makes us say we never want to have a cliffhanger like that again. …”
On the inevitable backlash: “Joss Whedon said something very funny when he and I were talking. He basically said, the critics and the fans always hate the season that you’re in, and wish that it was like the season that preceded it. And it’s true. The reality is, when we were in Season 2, everybody hated it, everybody hated Michelle Rodriguez, hated the tail section stories. Now we find ourselves in Season 3, and everybody’s hating it, and they wish it was more like Season 2.”
On would they ever do as “Battlestar Galactica” has done and jump one year forward: “First off, that’s an amazing show, and if we did it people would think we were ripping them off, and they’d be absolutely right. It’s a slippery slope and you have to execute it well, because when ‘Alias’ did it, it was a complete and utter disaster of unmitigated proportions. … Suddenly you have a paradigm where the characters are keeping a secret from the audience [as happened on ‘The Nine’].”
On the battering they get from various groups of fans (mythology fans, relationship fans, fans of the beach characters, etc.): “We feel battered, but it’s a battering we enjoy because if I was only talking to two reporters right now as opposed to nine, it would mean that you weren’t interested in the show anymore.
"I think what’s cool about the show is that it is polarizing. We’re not afraid to anger people and the thing is, we acknowledge we’ve always been writing what should be a cult show. The fact that it has crossed over to the mainstream, if we started writing it for the mainstream, then we’re doing something different than what we were doing in the first place.
“All we can do is the show that we know how to do, what’s cool for us. We all the time are aware of wow this episode is going to make the diehard geek crowd really angry. Because we are diehard geeks. But at the same time, [it could be a case of] it’s time to do a Hurley story that’s sort of slower and funnier and doesn’t advance any mythology. But if we actually sat down and said, it’s time to appease my mom.
“At the end of the say, the season in its totality and the series in its totality is all that really matters. What’s really sad to me about a show like ‘The X-Files’ is how great it was for six years. And we don’t look back on that show and say, ‘It was great,’ we say, ‘It was great, but…’ and that but is a very depressing thing. A show like the original Fugitive ended. It was a massive phenomenon. It went off the air with a 44 share. But they had the [guts] to let Richard Kimball catch the one-armed man and end it. If you could make a case for that then, why not now?”
THESE ARE SPOILERS BELOW. STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW SPOILERS. They're just wee spoilers. But still.
Just some quick hits on some things that are coming up:
- We have not seen the last of Michael and Walt.
- We will be seeing Bernard and Rose again.
- There will be revelations relating to the Season 2 finale scene of an Arctic scenario: “Not in these first batch of episodes, but by the end of the season, we will be paying off that reveal in a very significant way. The idea that Penny is looking for Desmond is something that comes in to play [in episode 308] but it doesn’t pay off on the island until the finale [of the season].”
- Robin Weigert, a.k.a. Calamity Jane on “Deadwood,” plays Juliet’s sister in episode 307, and she will be back later in the season.
- We’ll learn more about Nicki and Paulo in episode 314.
- It sounds as though Juliet and Ben will be around for a while. More on that from Lindelof: “I think it’s safe to say that we will see the last of Alcatraz Island [where Jack, Sawyer and Kate were held] by around the ninth episode of Season 3. Then we’ll be shaking things up a bit. … I love Ben and Juliet, I think they are the face of the Others right now, they are fascinating characters that we still have many stories to tell. I would not fear their death any time soon. Although a lot of people hate them and want them to die.”
- There will be a big reminder this season that on the island, it’s still November of 2004 and only three months have passed, which will help lead to “a major shakeup coming soon.”
- Rob McElhenny, one of the stars of FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” has a small role on the Feb. 7 episode of the show. There are also references in that episode to “Star Wars” and “Clockwork Orange.”
Photos: Matthew Fox as Jack and Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet in "Not in Portland," the Feb. 7 episode of "Lost." M.C. Gainey, Michael Emerson and Fox in the same episode.
Source: Chicago Tribune