Posted on Friday, September 20th, 2013 by Germain Lussier
A document recently leaked online detailing a version of the hit TV show Lost that never was. It details a show that’s much more episodic, less mythological and almost the exact opposite of the show that ran for six seasons on ABC. Dated May 5, 2004, four months before the first episode aired, some might look at this document and laugh. “Oh look, they really didn’t ever understand what this show is!”
However, we went to the source — show creator Damon Lindelof – who gave us the full details on this document.
This document outlines the version of Lost the network wanted, but one that Lindelof and J.J. Abrams didn’t. In going against this design, we were rewarded with one of the best and most polarizing TV shows of all time.
Right off the bat, we have to mention Lindelof was not happy this document leaked online. This “series format” was never meant for public eyes as its sole purpose was to prove to ABC the same thing Lost had to prove to its viewers: that this show was not just scripted Survivor. It was a viable show with a long shelf life.
Lindelof explained exclusively to /Film that during production of the pilot, a team of writers was tasked with coming up with ideas for the long run of the show, proving it had longevity. After nine weeks of hard work, this document was the result. And it worked. ABC picked up the show, which never would have happened without this document. However, once those writers got to writing the actual series, many of these ideas got thrown away.
It’s long, over 20 pages. Here is just a sampling of the many surprising and fascinating ideas within.
- The document claims the show will be self-contained and not have a serialized structure. “We promise.”
- It says the show won’t fit into one specific “franchise,” but instead can be many genres, such as a doctor show, lawyer show, cop show or character drama.
- Everything in Lost was supposed to have a scientific explanation.
- Claims the show will have no “ultimate mystery.”
- The mystery of “the monster” would be solved in “the first few episodes.”
- Most of the plane’s passengers were never supposed to show up again.
- The characters would live in a “primitive Melrose Place” that could be built on a soundstage.
- Guest stars would be a part of the show.
Knowing the show, may of those are straight up lies. So here’s what Lindelof explained.
Before production the pilot of Lost began, ABC was “very concerned about the premise’s viability as a series.” So four writers (Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Paul Dini, Jennifer Johnson and Christian Taylor) were hired to come up with ideas that would ease the network’s concerns.
“The job of these writers was, after eight or nine weeks, to present a document to ABC, after they saw the pilot, to try to convince them to order the series,” Lindelof said. While he and J.J. Abrams were working on the pilot in Hawaii, Lindelof would frequently call the writers in LA and hammer out ideas.
At the same time, ABC hired Steve McPherson as new president. McPherson had previously ran Touchstone Television, which was in production at the same time on another Abrams show, Alias.
According to Lindelof, McPherson had two major concerns about Lost while the pilot was being produced. “They were very concerned about Alias‘ longevity because, in their estimation, the show had become too serialized and too genre,” Lindelof said. He explained further:
So, per J.J., we made a very specific effort in this document to say we were not going to be serialized, we were not going to be genre and we were not going to do what Alias had done. So even though I think it was our intention to do all of the above, we needed to put that in the document because the document was essentially a letter to ABC saying ‘Here’s what the show’s going to be.’
So after nine weeks of work, breaking down thirty-three possible “self-contained” story lines (many of which did end up getting used), ABC liked the document and picked up the show. Which of course is where things all changed.
Work on writing the full first season of Lost began at the end of May 2004, roughly three weeks after the submission of the document. However, “by the time we started breaking the first two episodes, it was already very clear to everyone in the room that the document that we had written to get the show picked up was going to be completely and totally null and void,” Lindelof said.
The first post-pilot episode, Tabula Rasa, was a Kate episode that stuck pretty closely to the document. By the next episode, Walkabout, which revealed that John Locke had been in a wheelchair (a mysterious idea purposely not mentioned in the document), Lindelof and the writers had fully embraced everything the document forbade.
So how did they get away with it? Why did ABC allow Lindelof and his team to continue down a road they specifically said they weren’t going to travel? The co-creator didn’t say, but the number “18.65″ might provide a clue. That’s how many millions of people watched the first episode of the show. In its first season, the show averaged about that many viewers — massive numbers for a new show — and it seems all those concerns about the show being “self-contained or serialized” went away when the audiences showed up.
Yes, Lindelof and his team lied when they promised Lost would be self-contained. Some fans might feel that was the first of many broken promises. What this document proves, however, is that Lost was always about taking risks. Some risks worked, others did not, but either way it’s an enlightening piece of a puzzle that continues to enthrall.