Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof took a lot of flak from both critics and fans of the mystery drama series during its six seasons on the air, culminating in an all-out online rage-a-thon after it bowed in 2010 with a divisive finale. Generally, it’s felt the screenwriter has ‘redeemed’ himself over the last six years on TV, turning in three acclaimed seasons of The Leftovers with Tom Perrotta, and one hell of a spectacular spin on Watchmen during the final months of 2019.
Now that he’s got some perspective, it seems it’s a little easier for Lindelof to look back on the Lost era and open up about the battles he had with the show’s network, ABC, which began immediately.
“I’m not trying to be diplomatic, I’m trying to give you the most accurate answer the way that I remember it, which is the conversations about wanting the show to end began as early as the pilot,” Lindelof explained in a new interview with Collider. “One of the notes that we were getting back from ABC was ‘When are you gonna resolve these mysteries? And once you resolve these mysteries, why will people keep watching the show?’ And Level One of that was, ‘Well we’re gonna be introducing new mysteries as we go. So hopefully for every one that we answer, we’ve set up a new compelling mystery. If we get that balance right, they’re not gonna stack up.’ I think that we can both agree that we did not get that balance right.”
Lindelof confirms that the smash hit show, which he originally co-created with Jeffrey Lieber and J. J. Abrams, was supposed to wrap up in three seasons – half the length it ended up being – but ABC weren’t receptive to the plan.
“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 [Cuse] 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.’”
Eventually, they managed to start a dialogue with ABC about hitting the brakes on Lost, but the network had a much bigger timescale in mind – they wanted to stretch the story out for ten seasons.
“Then they finally came to the table and we had a real conversation. They were like, ‘We have agreed to let you end the show.’… I just said to [ABC President] Steve McPherson, ‘Thank you. This is what’s best for the show,’ and he said, ‘We were thinking 10 seasons.’ Mind you, we’re halfway through Season 3, so first off how do you even think we’re gonna get to 10? That’s really the same as saying we’re not gonna let you end the show, because how many drama series even get to 10 seasons?”
Lindelof said he and ABC agreed to split the difference, and that helped the writers move forward, as they’d already plotted a general narrative course.
“I was like, ‘I was thinking more like four [seasons]’. Not because I was in a negotiation but because we had actually already worked out the Oceanic 6 story to some degree. We knew that a number of the characters were going to get off the island, they were going to have a very miserable time when they were off the island, and then they were going to come back for the finale. We felt like we could kind of do that starting in the back half of Season 3 and then have one more season, Season 4, which would have been a full season of television, twenty some-odd episodes, to do it all. And they were like, ‘How about nine?’ (laughs). So the agreement was we landed on six [seasons] with less episodes to give us more time in between seasons to plan things out. And then of course the fourth season was cut short by the writers’ strike, but everything else went relatively according to design. Not to say that everything we did worked, but we had a plan and we executed that plan.”
Would you have still been watching Lost at Season 10?