There are few TV shows that have reached the level of controversy that Lost did during its initial run, but there’s no denying its impact on television.
Lost debuted on Sept. 24, 2004 and ran until May 23, 2010, garnering millions of viewers each week and helping save a floundering ABC that was in desperate need of a ratings boost. Not only did it skyrocket ratings, but it also redefined TV with its unique storytelling and serialized approach.
Yes, Lost isn’t perfect. Its storytelling was complex, leaving many scratching their heads each week because they, like the name of the show, were lost.
On the other hand, Lost not only changed presentation methods on TV, it also spurned a cult following that impacts nerd culture and the larger entertainment world to this day.
Lost was the right show at the right time. Personally, it is my favorite show of all time and I did thoroughly enjoy the ending, much to the chagrin of many.
It’s been almost 19 years since Lost first hit the airwaves and changed the game. This provides us a great chance to reflect on its impact and how TV is still trying to capture that lightning in a bottle.
Unique Storytelling and Presentation Make Lost Unique
One of the most notable differences between Lost and other shows of the era was the production value.
In 2005, the average one-hour TV pilot episode cost about $4 million to create. Juxtapose that with the reported cost of $10-14 million to create the one-hour Lost pilot, making it the most expensive, at the time, in ABC history.
Anyone who has seen the pilot, or the show for that matter, knows it featured a cinematic-quality presentation. When you tuned in, it looked like you were watching a movie instead of a TV show.
This was more common on cable TV with shows like The Sopranos or The Wire, but you didn’t see this on network TV. Lost really showed what a TV show could do, regardless of the network.
Its impact, however, didn’t stop there. Not only were the visuals astounding for the time, but the storytelling was unique.
The most obvious point is its serialized nature.
Lost was a show you needed to watch from start to finish. You couldn’t miss an episode or else you’d be, ahem, lost.
In 2004, this was unheard of network TV, especially in primetime. Sure, soap operas cornered the market on serialized storytelling and shows like Dallas or Twin Peaks did keep an overarching narrative. Lost was different.
Twin Peaks only ran for two seasons while Dallas was known more for its cliffhangers than an overarching story. Lost continued its complicated storyline through six seasons, paving the way for future shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and many more to build upon this format.
Again, cable was doing this first, but Lost really showed it could be done at a network level, forcing everyone to up their game. Shows like Manifest, The 100, and Jericho all found some success thanks to Lost’s trailblazing.
Furthermore, the weekly episodes were unique. They were character-driven in a way that told each person’s story through flashbacks. These flashbacks allowed the viewer to enjoy the current plot while simultaneously deepening their understanding of any given character.
This was a device that Lost writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz took to Once Upon a Time, which utilized flashbacks to tell the story of various fairytale characters. You can also see this impact in shows like This is Us, The Good Place, and Orange is the New Black.
Lost did end up getting a bit more complicated as it incorporated flash-forwards and the confusing flash-sideways. This added to a shift from more science-fiction elements to mythology and religious overtones.
I, personally, was ok with the shift and really enjoyed the later seasons, but many took issue with the shift. Many also took issue with the perceived no-direction approach.
Series creators J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof assured fans and network executives there was a series bible that lined out the plan for a four-to-five-season story. Lost ran for six seasons, which saw disruptions from the 2007 writer’s strike.
Despite where you fall on the story, the manner in which the writers told it really made for an interesting and enthralling tale. By the end of its run, Lost was still pulling in over 10 million viewers a week.
A Cult Following and the Rise of Podcasting
Not only was the story itself unique, but it left plenty open for discussion and theories. Again, this was not common among network TV shows.
Sure, there were discussions around other shows regarding what might happen next. One of the biggest phenomenons in TV was the Dallas cliffhanger of Who Shot J.R.?
Lost was different. It aired during a time where the Internet was still coming into its own. Facebook had just launched in early 2004 and MySpace was still in its infancy, but the online forums were a hotspot for discussion.
People still gathered around to discuss the previous episode. I was in junior high school when the show debuted and I remember gathering with my friends to discuss the episode.
Not only was Lost a popular discussion point among coworkers and Internet acquaintances, but it also helped bolster a new form of online entertainment: the podcast.
Podcasting had been around since the early part of the decade but really came into its own with the launch of Apple’s iPods during the mid-2000s.
In 2005, ABC produced the Official Lost Podcast, which Lindelof hosted alongside fellow series writer and executive producer Carlton Cuse. It featured interviews with writers, actors, and others involved with the show as well as listener questions.
There are also a host of unofficial podcasts that aired during and after the show’s run.
These podcasts helped inspire numerous talk shows that discuss certain TV shows such as Talking Dead, Talking Bad, and Beyond Stranger Things.
Another area that made Lost the right show at the right time was the rise of the iPod video. During the time, streaming was a new concept and many relied on Netflix to mail you movies instead of its current method.
Apple helped the shift as its iPod video launched in 2005, providing users the opportunity to purchase TV episodes and view them on their device. Lost was one of the first shows available for download via iTunes, allowing for increased viewership.
Not only did it find a home on iPods, but ABC decided to put episodes on its website for streaming. The stunt proved successful as in 2009, the show pulled in over a million viewers.
Lost: An Escape From the Time
So why did Lost prove to be so successful with the fans? I don’t know if we have any specific answers, but I have some speculation.
Lost provided an escape from the woes of the time. Sept. 11, 2001 was only three years prior and the invasion of Iraq was a year prior to the show’s debut.
Additionally, the show ran over a time that saw Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans; Al-Qaeda bombings in Madrid; the Great Recession; Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a U.S. president who was increasingly unpopular each year.
That’s a lot to grapple with, but Lost provided the escape. For an hour each week, we could forget about the turmoil and get sucked into a sprawling mystery.
Additionally, we could talk about it after the fact. We didn’t have to discuss the 2004 presidential election or the ongoing wars. Rather, we could discuss who The Others were and why that dang polar bear was on a tropical island.
It might seem silly now, but the 2000s were a scary time for many. The 9/11 attacks loomed over the decade and a crippling financial situation was devastating for many.
Shows like 24 addressed issues of the day head on, but Lost took us away from those issues and to a world of mystery with characters we came to love, despite their many imperfections.
Those characters were also incredibly diverse. The survivors featured people who were White, Black, South Korean, Iraqi, Brazilian, Spanish, and many other backgrounds. An interracial couple featured prominently in the show as well.
There was someone for many to relate to in the cast, deepening the connection felt by many with the show. Furthermore, these people were flawed.
Through the many flashbacks, we saw characters that were not perfect. In fact, many of those on the island were in need of redemption. Having flawed protagonists helped the show feel more real and deepened the premise of perceived nobodies having a greater destiny.
Lost was the show of the 2000s. It blazed so many trails and, for better or for worse, left a lasting impact on the entertainment world.
Personally, Lost means a lot to me. I watched it religiously throughout my junior high and high school years. It was a show that allowed for bonding with my family, particularly with my dad.
I remember long discussions with him about what was happening each week and I still have the occasional conversation with him about the show long after it ended.
Later, my little sister, who is 11 years younger than I, joined in the fun and shared thoughts and theories. My wife got into the show as well after we married and we still discuss it.
Lost was a heck of a ride and one that has yet to be repeated. Whether you loved, hated, or just didn’t see it, we have it to thank for what we have today in entertainment.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Boss Rush Podcast is the flagship podcast of Boss Rush Media and The Boss Rush Network. Each week, Corey, LeRon, Stephanie, Edward, and their friends from around the internet come together to talk their week in games, entertainment, and more while also bringing topics for conversation, answer listener and community questions, and cover major news and events happening in the video game industry. Watch The Boss Rush Podcast live on Wednesday Nights on Twitch at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT or on Monday mornings at 7 a.m. ET on YouTube and podcast services everywhere. Thanks for listening! You can also get this episode one week early on Patreon.
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