This season of Lost has been fantastic, a boon to the fans who stuck out some of the show’s previous lulls. The show has been amping up the drama and the mysteries*, and with the new schedule – wherein Lost is running without repeats through the season finale – Wednesday nights have taken on a renewed importance.
Now ABC has revealed the show’s future and, to me, it’s a sign not just of the show remaining at a creative high but a positive portent for the future of broadcast television. The network has said that Lost will come to an end in the year 2010, three seasons from now. That kind of advance announcement is unprecedented in itself, but more impressive is that fact that the network has said that the remaining three seasons will be 16 episodes long each, and each season will run without repeats.
Here’s why this is huge for Lost: the end date came about as part of the contract negotiations for showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, who wanted an end point set in advance. With that end point set – only 48 episodes remaining after this season’s finale – the show’s creative staff now have an outline for how to tell their remaining story. It’s hard to strictly budget your storyline when you don’t know if it needs to be told over 40 episodes or 80, and for a while there ABC was making it seem like they wanted Lost to last seven or eight seasons (and no wonder – the show is still strong in the ratings, despite the whining of fanboys online). The newly finite Lost should, in theory, be free of wheel-spinning episodes.
Here’s why this is huge for broadcast TV: The current TV landscape is one of dragging out popular and successful shows until the end of time. This means that American broadcast TV isn’t story-friendly – the networks want shows that can keep on chugging along without major upheavals that might affect the viewership. Everything needs to get back to an approximation of the status quo eventually. That paradigm works for garbage sitcoms but not for story-oriented shows like Lost, and ABC making a leap for story advances the cause for other well-written shows. Also, the 16 episode seasons mark a break from the current milk ‘em season lengths of 22-24 episodes. HBO and British TV have found that fewer episodes means better television, because you have less filler. This is a lesson American broadcast television has been needing to learn for some time.
I’m excited to see where Lost goes in its new format, especially in light of Lindelof’s claim to Variety that there will be no attempt to extend Lost past its currently decided end: "There will be no extensions or enhancements. That number (48) is absolute," he said. And "once you begin to see where we’re going, I think the idea of sequels and spinoffs will completely go away."
*A word for those who complain that the show doesn’t answer any questions or solve any mysteries: it does. In a major way. But what upsets some folks is that the answers keep bringing up new questions and mysteries – which, one assumes, is the whole point of a show marketed as a mystery from the start. To those who whine that Lost will never solve its mysteries – now there’s an end date. The mysteries will be solved by 2010.