Lost was only supposed to last three seasons

Even though the hit ABC mystery drama Lost came to an end ten years ago, we’re still slightly obsessed with the show here at /Film. Showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse became superstars during the show’s run, and behind the scenes stories were devoured by fans almost as rabidly as new episodes of the show itself. But in a new interview, Lindelof revealed some details about the making of Lost that I’d never heard before: namely, that the show was originally pitched as a three-season series, and that he and Cuse almost stepped aside as showrunners after the third season.

Collider published a great interview with Lindelof that covers lots of ground about Lost, but I’m most fascinated by the details of the now-famous negotiation in which ABC agreed to let them end the series. Lindelof explains how, as early as the pilot, conversations were being had about when the show should end. But things got more complicated after the show premiered and became a huge hit, and the network didn’t want to let go of a good thing. Here’s how he recalls the negotiation, pointing out how they planted seeds for tons of different mysteries to keep the show interesting beyond just answering a singular question:

Lost was like, ‘What’s in the hatch? What’s up with the monster? Who’s the original Sawyer? How did Locke get in the wheelchair? What is the nature of the island? Why does it appear to be moving? Who are the Others?’ There were all of these compelling mysteries and so we were saying, ‘We wanna have this stuff answered by the end of Season 1, this stuff answered by the end of Season 2, and then the show basically ends after about three years.’ That was the initial pitch, and they were not even hearing it. They looked at particularly me — Carlton came on about midway through Season 1 and he joined the chorus of me — but they were just like, ‘Do you understand how hard it is to make a show that people want to watch? And people like the show? So why would we end it? You don’t end shows that people are watching.'”

During the second season, Lindelof and Cuse met with the network again to talk about how they wanted to end the series, but were again met with the same pushback from execs. Since the duo were only signed on to finish the second season at that point, they started planning to leave the series altogether after the third season.

“Neither side blinked, so we agreed to sign a one-year extension — Carlton and I — with the understanding that we’d be leaving at the end of the third season and someone else would be running the show,” Lindelof said. “Right at the same time Alias had ended, so Lost absorbed a number of the fantastic Alias writers including Drew Goddard, who had already written some episodes of Lost in the second season, and Jeff Pinkner, who is incredible, was gonna kind of be the heir apparent for Season 3.”

I’m not sure I want to imagine what Lost could have turned into if Lindelof and Cuse had left the show after the third season – especially with the fourth season being interrupted by the writers’ strike. Talk about a flash sideways.

I encourage you to head over to Collider and read the whole piece, which has several more great quotes about the limited amount of juice they could squeeze out of the show’s flashback structure, when they crafted the Oceanic Six storyline, and more.

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