Tag Archive | Lost

Paradise LOST

In an interview with Reuters, LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof admitted that, yes, the writers were just making it up as they went along. They didn’t think the show would be picked up at all, let alone be the runaway hit that stole six valuable seasons worth of time from its viewers by presenting a totally crap ending and basically disappointing everyone with every single plot reveal within the final act of the show.

No, I’m not bitter at all, thanks.

This admission of guilt made me wonder – Did LOST kill the network prime-time sci-fi drama?

I’m going to make this one a pre-emptive yes.

For a very long time I defended LOST to friends of mine who had fallen away from the show.
“That whole thing turned to crap,” they’d say, “Season 3 was a bunch of BS.”
“Oh, but you’re wrong,” I’d reply, “Season 3 was only the ramp-up to Season 4 and Season 4 has been AWESOME!”
Really, you can supplant any two consecutive season numbers into that conversation and that was how the talk went down. Add throwing tantalizing details and some light spoilers in an attempt to get people back into the show and a result of inevitable failure and you’ve got almost a whole night at the bar.

Of course, the show ended, as I detailed in a previous rant, and many of my fellow viewers were disgusted, disheartened, and disenfranchised. Angry masses teemed at the boards (which I visited once or twice shortly thereafter). Much was left unanswered. The mysteries that had been set down from the beginning of the show were no closer to being resolved than they were when Oceanic 815 crashed on that damn beach in the first place. For as much as I defended the writers when everyone told me that they were just making it up as they went along, I argued that there was some grand design and that it would all come together in the end and make LOST one of the most epic shows ever.

Mea Culpa. Mea Maxima Culpa.

Problem was that a bunch of these viewers with the bad taste in their mouths were also sci-fi rookies. They were people who latched on to LOST because of it’s “compelling” character drama (which usually involved Jack crying or Kate being a hardass or Sawyer really having a heart). They may not have realized it, but they were watching a sci-fi show and they liked it.
LOST blew off these viewers as much as they blew off the serious sci-fi fans. It didn’t cost LOST anything, as they baited us all into not touching that dial and watching until the very bitter end.

The cost of LOST’s ultimate failure was the fate of American Prime-Time Sci-Fi programming.

Proof? The Event. Last season’s desperate attempt by NBC to claim the remnants of the disgruntled LOST audience. Questions answered every week but more questions presented along with the overarching question: “What is the Event?”

I stopped caring what the Event would be about half-way through the season. Blah blah aliens blah blah two factions blah blah shady agencies blah blah crap. Sad, really, that I have to sum things up as such, but it’s true. Coming off of LOST myself, it seemed even more that this was made up as they went along. Some weeks, I felt sure that they were just filming episode-to-episode in case they were cancelled.

There is also Fringe on Fox, which I have not watched, but which I understand has a large cult following. I’ve been told I would enjoy this show. I’m sure I would. When I can get access to complete seasons starting with one, I’ll probably get into it. I can only hope that it lasts, because it’s the last best hope for prime-time sci-fi.
They’re also going to give Terra Nova a try. Ten bucks says it lasts the amount of episodes they filmed and dies a silent, private death, far from its target audience.

Other than those shows, networks just don’t want to take the chance. I can’t say I blame them, especially after Lindelof’s confession. Strange, though, that American network television just doesn’t seem able to sustain such things. Sure, there are other shows in the genre going on right now. Good shows. On cable. Easily overlooked by the vast majority of viewers due to the abundance of channels.

The Brits seem to have it right. Look at Doctor Who. Running on BBC1 for decades, takes a 16 year break with a movie in between, then came back for a strong six seasons (going on seven). Why?

Because Brits know how not to run a TV show into the ground.

How, you might wonder, could a TV show that has run for 26 seasons, sci-fi especially, not be run into the ground? There are two main points:

1. Serialization. Each season is encapsulated in its own arc, for the most part. Concentrate on what’s happening within the season, leave clues to what’s going on, and wrap everything up neatly in the season finale with maybe a few questions left unanswered to tease for next season. Show gets renewed due to interest, show generates fandom buzz based on speculation, repeat. Simple system. You’d think that American television could take a hint from this. True Blood did and look at that shit run.

Instead, shows like LOST take one giant, all-important story arc and lay it down at the beginning. Then, they break things up into smaller internal arcs to kill time and distract people from the fact that there has been absolutely no forward progression with the giant arc. It’s a terrible tactic to use as a storyteller. I should know. On my first runthrough of Unlucky Seven, I did just that. I wrote like LOST. I wound up with 70 chapters of shit. When I went back to the beginning, I realized that everything should be one arc, one story, one plot with only subtile subplots and setup for the possible (read: inevitable) sequel book. Trimmed to 26 chapters. Smart, digestible, and hints at more.

2. Number of episodes, number of seasons. Some of the best shows on television (mostly foreign television) ran a max of three seasons. This is mostly notable in anime. Good anime, that is, not DBZ or freaking Pokemon.
Full Metal Alchemist (the original, not Brotherhood) ran two seasons of 24 episodes, threw up a movie as an epilogue, and it was done. Of course, it was so popular that they brought the series back and “remastered” it, changing some aspects and characters and such, but it was so successful because it told a compelling story with good character development and wrapped it all up in a neat little bow rather than drawing it out as long as could be.

As for episode count… Doctor Who is so good and survives so well because it only produces 12-14 episodes in a season. Each episode is its own adventure but chips away at the main plot of the season, wrapping in a grand finale. The amazing thing to American audiences is that a great story can be told within that short a span. Really, this should be entirely feasible by any standard, not just sci-fi. If you need the full 24 episode season, by all means, take it, but finish a story. By season’s end, the viewer should feel satisfied yet tantalized, not frustrated and disappointed.

The reason this practice continues to be standard in America, and the reason that pay-cable channels such as HBO are currently cornering the market on good television series is that the network only cares about the dollar signs. If a show has run its course with a story and should be over but still has a ravenous fanbase, networks will force the writers (never mind their vision) to continue or just get new writers to make that next (largely unnecessary) season happen.

HBO hands the keys to the writers and producers with a simple “lock up when you’re done” and a “come see us about next season if things go well”. No ad dollars involved, no corporate gears turning. They give people 12 – 14 episodes to tell a story, the crew does its job, things turn out brilliant, and people keep coming back for more. They follow the two main rules: serialization and short seasons.

Such a formula cannot be touted as “difficult” by network writers when HBO can compress a George RR Martin book into ten (TEN!) episodes without losing much of the plot.

If network shows, especially sci-fi ones, are to survive, then the rules must be followed. Dollar signs are great, but increased viewership is better… because it brings even more dollar signs.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

I Once Was LOST…

While watching TV last night, I realized exactly how much Lost, most notably the end of Lost, has changed television forever.

While watching my guilty pleasure reality competition show America’s Got Talent, NBC was running a commercial which, as a defunct Lost devotee, caught my interest.

The show is called Persons Unknown and immediately puts off the mystery/thriller show vibe. It seems to be something like The Real World meets Saw; a bunch of people are kidnapped and put in a house full of cameras. More than likely they will be forced to make some sort of insane moral choices to save that which they hold dear. Notable example in the trailer was forcing one woman to shoot her “neighbor” in the room next door in order to save her daughter’s life, tears streaking down her face as she holds the gun on an innocent man.
Surely, this will be another compartmentalized character-driven drama involving strangers getting to know each other and either effecting escape or survival.
Of course, they give you no hint as to who these people are or why they’ve been collected or even where they really are.

Has Lost influenced this show? It’s painfully apparent. However, the influence of one show on another doesn’t really say that it changed television forever.

Within the first few moments of the promo, after a few mysterious images are shown, the voice-over announcer graciously makes a promise to the viewer on behalf of the network:

“By the end of the summer, there will be answers!”

This is how Lost has changed television forever.

I’m sure that many of we former Losties, coming off the ending of a show which we happily donated our time, speculation, and anticipation to, were afraid to put our feet back into the water to another mystery show. A comforting statement, assuring us there will be answers, is the only real way to get the largely disenchanted target audience to invest in such a show so soon after feeling duped and disappointed by an ending so unsatisfactory for everything the show had built around itself.

Was I disappointed in the Lost ending? A week and a few days after watching it, I’m here to tell you that I absolutely was.
It took that long to actually let the feelings sink in; to allow my mind to navigate around the emotional traps set for devoted viewers by the writers. It was the old bait and switch routine. They thought that by giving us every heart-pumping, tear-jerking, impossible-due-to-death reunion that we would forget about all of the questions we really wanted to see answered within the two-and-a-half hour damn near feature length finale.
Tugging on my heartstrings did work for the first few days. I was telling people that I was satisfied. This was largely based in reality. The finality for the characters was somewhat pleasing. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that the whole two-point-five hour affair was just to pull the wool over my eyes. It was distracting me from one painful fact which, it seemed, all Lost fans didn’t want to admit: the writers sucked.
Argue with me if you will about the sanctity of your precious Darlton (that’s the celeb-couple name for head writers Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse to the uninitiated), they were handed the show by a disenchanted J.J. Abrams and had no freaking clue as to what to do. This had been painfully apparent since season three and still we watched. We watched and kept telling ourselves that it would all make sense in the end. We kept making ourselves believe that, someday, all of our questions would be answered.
When they announced that season six would be the last of it, we all thought that every show would be answer after answer until the big shocking (completely satisfying) conclusion. What we got was a bag full of wet farts and a kick in the ass for being suckers.

The necessity of the promise of answers is how Lost has changed television.

How Lost should change television I will detail in the following letter.

Dear Television Writers,


No one on the internet knows better than you do what the story should be.
If you happen to write something which establishes a fandom, there will obviously be people who think they can do your job better than you. They will gather other people, like-minded, via forums and form movements. If they think the two new characters you (seemingly) randomly introduced in the middle of season two who happened to be on the beach but never really surfaced before suck balls, they’re going to tell you that those characters suck balls. They’re going to launch a movement and force you to write those two characters off the show. And, you’re going to do it, aren’t you? You’re going to do it for fear of alienating the viewers involved in that movement because they may make up a large portion of a particular money-making demographic. You’re going to do it because pressure will be on the network to keep the show performing or else.
You are going to sacrifice the integrity of the overall story because a bunch of wanna-be slash-fic writers within your fandom can raise a virtual army to rail against the direction you feel your tale needs to go. They can protest and threaten to boycott if things don’t change to their preference. They probably won’t, but it’s the threat that counts.
It doesn’t matter to any of them if they would have played some sort of master role in your magnum opus because they can’t see the big picture like you can. They only think that they’re seeing through some sort of sham to keep people interested in the show by bringing new blood into the cast.

Of course, that may have really been a sham, but that’s not the point.

I’m just using Nikki and Paulo on Lost as an example here.
Another Lost example might be the explanation of the Smoke Monster.
Could it have been nanites, Darlton? Would that have been a satisfactory explanation? Sure. Up until possibly season four, it would have been perfectly valid and acceptable. Some DHARMA experiment gone haywire would have been a great way to keep things, pardon the expression, more real.
Instead, you listened to the fans. A bunch of them came to you at press conferences and asked if it was nanites. You said maybe. They said: “Well, if it’s nanites, then that’s a stupid bullshit answer.” So, you said: “Oh, then it’s not nanites.”
So, what did we get instead of a plausible pseudo-scientific explanation? We got a dude in a black shirt getting chucked down a shiny hole in some two-digit year AD. Do you tell us what, precisely, the fuck was going on there? No. So, rather than appease all of your fans with a solid answer, you slide around the point and try to appease a portion of the fans who would have been upset with what was probably your original explanation.
Does this work? No. You wound up pissing off all of your fans rather than the small portion who cried bullshit back in the day by giving us a non-explanation.

I can understand the pressure you feel. As a fiction writer, I’m always looking for feedback from my few loyal readers. I always want to hear what they’d like to see done differently. I like to know which characters they’re fans of so that I can put more time and effort into their development.
There is one key difference between your body of work and mine, and it’s not just the fact that you’re on network and I’m on nothing: My story isn’t finished yet.
I know, yours may not have been, either, when you ended the first season, and that’s fine. But, you’re in the public eye. You’ve got one of the most watched television dramas of the last 25 years. Try to at least make it look like you know what you’re doing instead of catering to portions of your fanbase by essentially making things up as you go along. They’re devoted. They’re not going to go anywhere, no matter how much they posture. Your ratings would have stayed intact if you’d have at least thrown us a bone back in season one. Instead, you present us with questions which would go unanswered for the entire distance of the show. Questions which weren’t hard to answer in the first place, but you made them hard to answer. You made it so that there would be no plausible, simple, one-line explanation for everything and you thought that every reveal, no matter how big or small, deserved its own episode.

I am disappointed in you.

But, you have changed TV forever.

Now, they HAVE to give us answers. They have to promise us answers to get us to watch because we don’t want to invest six years of our time in a bunch of bullshit mysteries again.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—