In a move that, if successful, will placate so many, Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof has announced at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena that he and fellow executive producers JJ Abrams and Carlton Cuse are in negotiations with ABC to determine when the show should end.
This is shocking and blissfully good news. Although Lindelof does not state when that end will come (he hints toward the fifth season though) or when it will be announced, this is a huge turnaround from his previous comments that he, Abrams, and Cuse want to know when they can end their show but that their hands are tied by ABC’s economic desire to keep the show going as long as it is successful. One can imagine numerous factors that led ABC to consider the idea, principally the additional revenue streams of DVD and paid downloads and the bad precedent set by the stigma of The X-Files’s prolonged and neutered life, a dwindling existence made more unpleasant by the memory that creator Chris Carter had originally envisioned a mere five seasons for the series. The Sopranos stands as another example of self-harming elongation.
Lindelof has always been a refreshingly candid TV producer, clearly passionate about his show and willing to discuss the corporate obstacles that stand in their way or carefully considering objections to the show’s direction. Some choice and delightfully canny comments from he and Cuse include:
– “We were surprised when we went to ABC and started having that conversation. As opposed to them saying, ‘Fine, we’ll bring on new people,’ they said, ‘Well, when do you think it should end?’ And the conversations began.”
– “So Carlton and I are now able to sit down with them and say, ‘Remember in the very beginning when you guys were having us convince you that this thing could go on for years and years and years? And we all agreed it couldn’t?’ Well, now just because it’s successful doesn’t mean that’s changed.”
– “The reality is, they can produce a sixth or seventh or eighth season, but would anyone be watching? Because the show would be so miserable by that time. Was it really The X-Files anymore when [David] Duchovny and Gillian Anderson weren’t on the show? For me The X-Files wasn’t about, ‘Have aliens invaded?’ it was about Mulder and Scully, a skeptic and a believer. Once that element of the show was gone, the show was over. We don’t want to produce those episodes of Lost, and in fact, we’re not going to produce those episodes of Lost.”
– “At the end of the day, the season in its totality and the series in its totality is all that really matters. What’s really sad to me about a show like The X-Files is how great it was for six years. And we don’t look back on that show and say, ‘It was great,’ we say, ‘It was great, but…’ and that but is a very depressing thing.”
– “We’re no longer going up the hill. We’re starting to come down now.”
Can we ever recall a time when a network announced the end of a series potentially up to two years beforehand? Lindelof cites Richard Kimble catching the one-armed man in The Fugitive as an example, and that was in the 1960s. Interestingly, the ABC executive present at the panel, Steve McPherson, told reporters afterwards that no such discussions had taken place – either Lindelof let the cat out of the bag or he is trying to build support for the notion. Here’s hoping the publicity doesn’t jeopardise the move.
Regardless, if ABC goes ahead with this, it should rightly be hailed as a compassionate groundbreaker for the preservation of artistic integrity in television. To set such a long-term vision for a massively popular show’s end flies in the face of all accepted wisdom about American free-to-air network programming. And for viewers, the announcement will finally deliver the umbrella answer to all of the questions that Lost’s mythology has posed: yes, you will get the answers, and we will not drag them out. ABC is no doubt aware of this positive effect, as the ending announcement could bring frustrated viewers back to the show. There will be concrete proof that Lost knows where it’s going and you need not feel like a schmuck, so come and enjoy the ride.
Whether the audience likes the answers to Lost is another issue, but would have been regardless. For now, let us just bask in the possibility, however uncertain, that one of the most narratively visionary and deceptively demented television series of our time will be a ride blessed with unassailable creative integrity from here on out. Things could still go pear-shaped, absolutely, but a line has been drawn in the sand, and that’s something.
In another spot of good news, ABC appears to be bowing to pressure about how the series is broadcast. McPherson suggested that the all 20-something episodes of the fourth season might well be broadcast consecutively, following the successful 24 model, as opposed to the 6 and 17 episode chunks that the third season has been delivered in.