urx unit loader 'Lost' producers discuss the endgame

Damonlindelof_240_2 As you may know by now, ABC announced Monday that it will bring the saga of Lost to an end in the 2009-10 season, with 48 more episodes spread out over three 16-episode seasons. That would put the end date in the 2009-10 season.

Zap2it got showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof on the phone Monday afternoon to discuss the decision and what it means for fans who will watch it play out.

Question: So how does it affect you, knowing when you’re stopping?

Lindelof: It’s both exciting and terrifying, as alternately the process has been from the very beginning. We’re really excited that we’re actually gonna get to do it — we get to write the words "The End," we get to answer questions and show the audience what this is all about, what the island is, why these people came there, etc. But it’s also terrifying in terms of — we never get to hide behind the spectre of cancellation and say, "Wow, if only we hadn’t been cancelled we really would’ve blown your minds." Now it’s kind of all hanging out there. I feel a bit like the emperor — suddenly here we are standing naked before our entire audience, and you get to see us …

Cuse: Damon’s naked, I’m not. I want to be clear about that.

Lindelof: … And that will determine whether or not we have any clothes.

Cuse: For us, it really allows the opportunity to sort of plan our remaining mythology and know exactly how many more episodes we have to tell our story. I hope it will give our audience a sense of confidence, or let’s just say eliminate the unease. When a show is a story-based show like ours, it’s open-ended, it’s hard to invest yourself without there being a sort of gnawing feeling, and that feeling manifests itself in questions like, "Do you guys know where you’re going? Are we gonna get answers?"

Hopefully now with a specified end date, our audience will feel some comfort in knowing exactly how much of the journey is left. You know we’re about 60 percent of the way there, we’ve rounded the turn and headed for home. As storytellers, it really allows us to say, "OK. We have 48 more bricks and mortar to put up, and then the structure of Lost will be completed."

Lindelof: … We’re now messaging to the people still on board the show [that] "Hey, you’re actually coming down the hill now as opposed to still going up it." You’ve seen [71] hours of the show by the end of the season, there are only 48 left. So you’ve come along this far, you deserve to know how much further you have to go.

Does this make it easier — if you know how much you have left to go and at least in some way where you’re going, is it easier to fill in what’s in between?

Both: Absolutely.

Carltoncuse_lost_240Cuse: It’s so hard to — we have all these mythological milestones, and we never knew exactly how long we had to make them last. How many seasons, how many episodes. Now we do, so it’s enormously helpful for us as storytellers to basically know that we have only 48 chapters and three books of the show left, and then the story will be done. It’s like J.K. Rowling saying there’s going to be seven Harry Potter books. It gives that audience a real certainty about their kind of investment of time and energy in that story. You knew right from the start exactly what the journey of that story was going to be. Now it’s something our audience has.

How did you arrive at the number 48?

Lindelof: For us the number started primarily as the result of looking at [the second part of] this season and saying, you know, we started in February and are going to end in May, it’s gonna be 16 consecutive weeks. People have responded incredibly well to the show. For the first time the audience is watching the show exactly the way we’re writing it, one episode at a time, without reruns. And that works incredibly well for us. When we started talking about a number larger than 16 in terms of sustaining — you know, the way 24 does, they air their first four hours sort of consecutively … we felt airing the show that way might fry people’s brains. You can only put so much on your plate with Lost, and that just sounded like a really good number for us.

And obviously, as in any negotiation, it required us to acknowledge that television is a business, and the network and studio make money as a result of producing episodes of Lost, and for them to acknowledge that creatively we wanted to end the show. The number was sort of derived from all that.

Does the smaller number of episodes per season allow you to tighten up storytelling, keep the momentum going?

Lindelof: You would think that, and it’s certainly our intent, although we don’t feel like we’ve done a tremendous amount of stalling so far. Some people complain when not a lot of stuff quote-unquote happens in an episode, and we actually feel like emotionally a lot happens. It’s just people are talking about the uber-story. If you look at The Sopranos — last season, the first half of season six I think they only did [12] episodes, but does that mean a lot happens because they only did [12] instead of 18? They can do an entire episode about an amusement park ride breaking down.

Is this enough time to get to everything?

Cuse: Definitely. We spend a lot of time talking about our remaining story. I feel really comfortable … that we can tell our remaining story and fill these hours and make it pretty engaging.

Lindelof: That’s what’s pretty cool for us. It’s not like the audience is going to have to wait until the third of these three seasons to get [answers to] everything they care about. It means that we can shift into answer mode and out of question mode. That doesn’t mean we won’t be asking some questions as we go along — but we don’t have to plant new trees. The forest now has a finite boundary, and we can now cultivate the seeds we’ve planted as opposed to having to drop new acorns in the ground.

Cuse: I will say this, though: I wouldn’t want to give people the wrong impression that all of a sudden we’re just going to start answering questions willy-nilly. I think people who watch Lost break down into two categories. There are people who are hunting for answers and waiting for answers, and I think those people are bound to be frustrated almost under any circumstances. An even when we get to the endgame, the answers we give probably won’t be the ones they wanted.

I think the people who really enjoy Lost are those who just appreciate the journey and are along for the ride, and I think are less concerned about answers and more engaged by the characters and by — this is sort of the entertainment value of an ongoing story. I think for those fans, this new paradigm is going to be really exciting. We’re gonna be doing some things to kind of shake up the show, and I think those fans will be very happy. For people who instantly and immediately expect answers, I don’t think this paradigm changes things drastically. It does, however, give definition to how many more episodes they’re going to have to wait to get answers.

How long were you in discussions with ABC about this? I know in January you raised the idea of an end date.

Lindelof: We’ve been having that conversation since almost the pilot, to be honest with you. It just became official and intensified this year with the fact that our own personal deals were up. And I think for the first time the audience began to vociferously, basically demand an end to the show. I think that really helped us, and it also helped [ABC Entertainment president] Steve McPherson and Mark Pedowitz [the head of ABC TV Studio, which produces Lost], who have long agreed the show should end, make the case to their bosses as well, in terms of saying we have to look at this show a little bit differently than we look at the normal TV model. Normally the more episodes you produce the more profitable a show is, but what if you were to look at a model where that’s not necessarily the case?

Cuse: And Lost is a story-based show as opposed to a franchise-based show, which makes it different from ER or CSI, which are really about an ongoing situation. Lost is a story with a beginning, middle and end, and I think as we got deeper into this season and were producing hours 60 to 70 of the show, we were far enough along for everyone to basically see the endpoint. We’re far enough down the road that we could all have much more serious conversations about, OK, how many more episodes are left? How many stories are left to tell, how many hours [do we need] to play that out? What is the intersection between creative and commerce that makes sense for us and for the network? I think we had to get this deep into the show before we were really able to answer those questions without sort of taking a stab in the dark.

Have you talked with ABC about scheduling? Will it come back at midseason next year?

Lindelof: Yeah. Again, everybody really feels like this model works, running from February to May … ideally that’s what they’d want to do. And also there seems to be a groundswell toward moving it back to an earlier timeslot. Although by the time we get to next February, who knows what the climate will be in terms of what they did in the fall. But that’s everybody’s wish, including the studio and the network.

Lastly, anything we should keep an eye out for in the remainder of this season?

Cuse: Basically the rest of the season is wrapping up the story of our guys vs. the Others. We’ve held out the promise of a real confrontation between these two groups for the whole season, and it’s finally going to come to fruition. The consequences of that conflict really will set in motion, I think with real clarity, what the next season of the show’s going to be and what the show will be beyond that.

So you’re not going to tell me who dies.

Cuse: Well, at least five people die.

Lindelof: But, you know, not like five major, major characters. But a couple of major characters.

Cuse: I think probably if you’re a close viewer of the show you could name all five people.

Your turn: Will the promise of an end date help Lost? As fans, does it help your mindset toward the show?