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How ‘Lost’ Found an Audience

Sean Sweany | Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A man wakes up alone in the jungle. He is wearing a tattered suit with bottles of alcohol in the side pocket. After struggling to his feet, he runs through the jungle to a tranquil beach … until he turns to find an inferno of plane wreckage filled with injured survivors and even more dead people. After a long day of helping the wounded, this man is sitting down to await rescue when he hears a primal, bellowing roar from the jungle.

Welcome to “Lost.”

The show that took television by storm last fall has built a near cult-like following among its fans in a very short time. In an age of reality shows and tired spin-off series from networks, many wonder how “Lost” became such a success.

The answer is really quite simple: “Lost” is the modern master of suspense. Creators have found a way to generate suspense that rivals or at least emulates the style of Alfred Hitchcock and leaves viewers craving more and more.

“Lost” began as a show entitled “Castaway: The Series” and was supposed to be about the survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island.

This copy of the almost dead “Survivor” series was modified when J.J. Abrams (“Alias,” the upcoming “Mission Impossible 3”) and Damon Lindelof (“Crossing Jordan”) were brought in to fix the story and script.

These two came up with the idea of a mysterious island and subplots for each character that are related to the story of the island. Abrams and Lindelof chose to combine theatrical production values with top notch television writing in their show, and this decision paid off.

Each episode of “Lost” focuses on one character using flashbacks. Viewers find out that every character had a very specific reason for being on the exact flight that crashed in the Pacific.

Often, the characters’ paths crossed in the real world without their knowledge. Details like this keep the audience intrigued to learn more about each character.

Usually, when a momentous event is about to occur for one character, the scene will change and focus on the problem of some other character.

The suspense built from this withholding of information can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few episodes, creating real nail-biters for avid fans.

The team working on “Lost” treads a fine line between too little and too much suspense.

If there were not enough suspense in any given episode, it could feel like “Castaway: The Series” would have been. Too much suspense without any resolution would turn viewers away because the show would seem like one giant tease.

One factor that helps the show tread this line is the large number of writers involved. Every one of the writers, each with his own distinct flair, turns out exceptional work.

The crew of “Lost” combines this writing with strong performances from the talented and attractive cast to create engaging, thrilling episodes week in and week out.

It is the characters that keep the show original and sustain it through an entire season.

Most viewers find themselves emotionally attached to one character or another and are thus anxious to find out what will happen to him or her in each episode.

All of the characters have flaws and sins no different from normal people, which viewers discover through the flashbacks.

Knowing that these imperfections will not be fixed in the real world provides a desire to discover how each character deals with their problems in the new society on this island.

Close viewing will reveal that the camera never moves in flashbacks, whereas it moves freely on the island. This is meant to show a greater sense of freedom from past wrongdoings in the real world.

Some critics have suggested that the mystery of the island is perhaps a manifestation of the sins and problems of each character, and that when every character conquers these personal obstacles, the mysteries will be solved and the show will end.

Regardless of the true purpose behind all the mystery and suspense on the show, one thing is certain: people are going to continue watching “Lost.”

The entire team from the first season, which recently won the Emmy for Best Drama, returned to film the second season. Fans can rest assured that the writing, acting and production values of the show in general will continue along the same themes as last year.

Those with tender nerves beware: several more months of spine-tingling suspense await.