Monday, November 28, 2005

Making Sure "Lost" Doesn't Lose Its Way

Despite Ratings Juggernaut, Now Is Actually A Good Time To Start Planning Show's Finale
With word over the weekend that "Alias" would be wrapping up after five seasons, series creator and producer J.J. Abrams should perhaps also contemplate the future of his current cash cow "Lost."
Now, you might think that to even talk about wrapping a show that's one of the lords of the Nielsens in its second season, and is creatively still firing on all cylinders is cause to think I've been spiking my latte with all manner of illicit substances.
But let's pause for just a moment. I'm not one of the Others, you know somebody who works for another network. Like you, I wait for John Locke to morph into Colonel Kurtz. I enjoy watching Evangeline Lilly all hot and sweaty as much as the next guy. And no, I don't assume it's Greg who's behind Dharma.
But the show's very nature means it's constantly flirting with the shark, let alone threatening to jump over it.
Eventually, there are only so many mysteries to uncover about the island. The real Others? Well, how long are we going to keep them in the brush? You know there'll be a rumble in the jungle before long, and it's sure to be a doozy. Even the most dedicated blogger will soon tire of figuring out what Walt's saying backwards.
As for the hatch, no problem in stringing us along -- at least for now -- but don't expect viewers to have endless reservoirs of patience.
So far, "Lost" has delivered. The larger question is how many variations on the same theme will keep us hooked?
Five years would be a great time frame to compact all of the tension, twists, action, premature deaths and cliffhangers that we could stand to presage a dynamite finale that, if done right, could deliver ratings that would be the latter-day equivalent of a M*A*S*H or "The Fugitive" finale.
Of course, that's too much to expect, assuming "Lost" maintains its ratings juggernaut. There are simply too many spots to sell, too many millions for Disney, J.J. Abrams and Darren Lindelof to pocket for the show's natural arc to play out. And don't forget the DVDs, iPod downloads and $24.95 T-shirts.
Rare is the program that goes out on its own terms. Usually, it's more of a case of overstaying one's welcome ("Seinfeld" and "NYPD Blue" quickly come to mind) before riding off into syndication sunset.
Instead, the legacy of "Lost" could be a package of 110-120 episodes that allow the writers and producers to hit us with the good stuff right away, and not string out storylines merely because they have to.
With "Alias," the decision to end was made easier by declining ratings. Better for "Lost" to go out on its own terms so it can one day be found in the annals of TV's best programs.

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