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So here is a rather belated third episode of my four-parter devoted to tip-top time-travelling televisual treat, Lost.


In parts one and two of this rather indulgent series of posts I suggested that Lost will come to be seen as the defining TV show of the decade (and not just because it will have lasted for most of it). This will be, I believe, due to the ways in which it tells its stories (vaguely and deliberately without signposting) and the way that those stories are written (generative and emergent), amongst other things.

The aspect of the show I wanted to spend a little time on in this post is the role of Lost‘s writers, and the space they occupy in the ecosytem surrounding the show.

When reading other posts, comments and messageboards about Lost, I’ve found that its often compared unfavourably to Twin Peaks , a show which more than any other tends to be held up as the zenith of enigmatic mystery programmes. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of mister D. Lynch – the only films I’veĀ  managed to sit through without feeling annoyed are The Elephant Man, The Straight Story and Eraserhead– but I do think it’s interesting to compare the two series. If I’m going to claim that Lost is worthy of being held up as defining of our current media culture, then a comparison with Twin Peaks should throw any alleged innovations into sharp relief, coming as it does from its own very different televisual milieu – that of the early 1990s.

It’s strange how dated the graphics look now, though the Badalamenti score still sounds eerie and brilliant.

Now whilst I think the concerns of the two series are poles apart (Lynch is primarily an auteur translating his signature concerns into a new medium, whereas Cuse, Lindelof and Abrams seem like far more pragmatic TV people) they do bear some similarities:

  • Twin Peaks is credited with introducing filmic cinematography to TV, with each episode costing over $1m to create. These high-production values are now part and parcel of the televisual landscape (see also the short-lived Carnivale) with Lost as the most obviously ‘cinematic’ of recent big-budget shows – the opening episode of the series featuring the crash of Oceanic 815 cost a reported $14 million.
  • both shows are were commissioned and broadcast by the Disney-owned ABC network, one of the ‘big-three’ US networks. Given the tortuous, mazy nature of the plotting of the two shows, the aforementioned expensive production values, and both series’ propensity to defy the tropes of genre (particularly in the case of Twin Peaks) this is surprising. As it was, both were big ratings successes for a mainstream broadcaster that has traditionally been amongst the more conservative forces in US television.
  • The themes around Lost‘s peculiar mode of storytelling that I identified in parts one and two of this series are also true of Twin Peaks. In both shows the main story is told vaguely, generating theories upon theories about the possible direction of the plot and engaging the audience in an active mode of consumption more akin to playing a game than passive viewing. Also, Lynch (as is his wont) kept things interesting by improvising on-set, famously casting set decorator Frank Silva in the fabulously scary role of ‘BOB‘ after he was accidentally filmed in a scene. This sort of free-form approach is mirrored in the writers’ and producers’ approach to Lost, and is something I wrote at length about in part two of this series of posts.


Now this is where we start to look at some of the differences between the shows.

I’m going to ignore the Lynchian queasiness of Twin Peaks versus Lost‘s seemingly more earnest approach, as this stylistic difference is so obvious it goes without saying: Lynch wasn’t really making a TV show, he was making ‘David Lynch’s take on TV’ – a series that attempted to transcend the strictures of genre television. Lost on the other hand is very definitely primetime mass audience fodder, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned, any comparison of the respective shows’ unique artistic vision would be likely to see Lost lose out.

What I’m interested in is less about the content of the programmes or even what appears on the screen, and more about the differences between the shows’ internal engines and their relation to what I’ve referred to as their ‘ecosystem’ – essentially how they were concieved, created and consumed within their respective cultural environments.

Both are mystery shows that refuse to give anything away too cheaply (driving hordes of fanatical viewers to speculate wildly on possible explanations) and because of this both series’ also became part of culture more broadly; both were satirized and celebrated in mainstream media and referenced by numerous other TV shows, movies and comic books. However, where Twin Peaks was perhaps the ultimate in ‘watercooler’ TV programming, igniting debate about what was actually happening in the show, it remained essentially tied to one man’s vision, a creator who remained very much aloof from his audience. Lost is fundamentally different in that it is a child of the internet age, and as such is part of a changed media environment.

In short, Lost has the web.

Twin Peaks had many committed fans (and still does) but it didn’t have forums, chatrooms, blogs, and wikis – the focus for mass fan conversations and theory-swapping, as well as the site of interesting interfaces between the viewers and the creators . It also didn’t have access to new digital distribution and storytelling platforms that have become important parts of the Lost ecosystem- Youtube, podcasts, and ARGs, DVDs and PVRs.

One of the most important shifts that this digital ecosystem has allowed lies in the potential for writers to experiment on, commune with and draw inspiration from the audience for their show.

Remember this?

The dharma shark!

The dharma shark!

The ability to pause, rewind, examine and then post, share and discuss the content of the show with potentially millions of other dedicated LOSTies allows the writers to increase (by an order of magnitude) both the amount and the obscurity of the ‘clues’ they provide. The celebrated DVD easter eggs, the clues and hints in the official podcast, the two (at last count) Lost ARGs- as well as what actually happens onscreen frame by frame- are all pored over by fans producing hundreds of thousands of hours of analysis. This then results in many long and complex theories (this is one of my favourite theories actually- that Lost is actually generated through a complex game being played between Lindelof and Abrams– though the writer lost me with his revelations about eye colour as his evidence runs to hundreds of pages). These theories are ultimately what fuels the show’s ecosystem, providing the necessary nutrients to support the diversity of content provided by the writers.

Now Twin Peaks generated loads of discussion too, with one important distinction – the discussion between fans of Lost happens in public, and is closely observed by the writers of the show. In fact, popular site the fuselage is an official Lost fans forum sponsored and frequented by Lost’s creative team.

In previous posts I’ve looked at how the characters of both Ben and Desmond were plucked from the supporting cast and put centre-stage because of the power the actors brought to their roles. The audience’s immediate recations to them were also very important, however, as demonstrated in this quote from Cuse:

“you’re right about Michael Emerson [Ben]. He’s the biggest example of a character who we just fell in love with beyond our expectations. I would say Desmond would also be in that category. The audience really fell in love with him right from the get-go and he quickly moved right into the mainstream of our cast.”

The fact that the writers and producers of Lost allow themselves room for this type of improvisation or ‘generative storytelling’ (as I termed it) allows them to be highly reactive to the characters or plot elements (i.e. Hurley’s numbers) that grab the fans’ interest. It also works the other way however, moving characters introduced by the writers from the centre to the periphery when the elements just don’t seem to ‘click’…


The ill-fated Nikki and Paulo are a good case for what makes Lost such an interesting series to me. The writers made the decision to introduce these new characters, handled the introductions badly and then acted swiftly and resolutely when it didn’t work out. It is the way in which they decided to write off the Nikki/Paolo experiment however that really demonstrates Lost‘s special kind of brilliance.

The episode of their demise, Expose, is one of my favourite Lost moments- not because of the noirish theme and the gruesome finale, but because the whole episode is basically a gift to the fans of the show. The new characters that the viewers loathed were killed off in a hilariously OTT double cross (with spiders!) which served as both apology and admission of failure by the writers- but the show also integrated them, by way of flashbacks right into the first episode of the series, giving us all-new perspectives on some pretty old Lost lore, and resolving one dangling plotline (Sun’s kidnapping by Charlie)- a rare and satisfying occurrence.

This kind of ‘easter egg’ doesn’t come cheap. The cost of returning to the spectacular crash that opened the series, editing in the new characters (to the extent of bringing back actors who had been killed off in previous seasons) only to kill them off at the end of the episode must have been considerable. At the same time, they gave the actors they’d hired to play the ill-fated Nikki and Paolo a whole episode to themselves in which to shine. Way to turn a crappy situation into a win/win for all involved.


Nikki is edited back into the crash of Oceanic 815

I don’t know another programme where this kind of relationship would even be attempted, let alone pulled off with panache. For me this demonstrates another aspect of what makes Lost worthy of comment – not only is Lost a game, not only is it an experiment in generative storytellling, Lost is also a property shared between writers and viewers. Lost is a conversation.

So whilst Twin Peaks blazed a trail that Lost is deeply indebted to (openly admitted by the writers), it is a markedly different beast in my opinion, with different artistic concerns and a new mastery of a different media ecosystem. Also, unlike most things involving David Lynch, Lost will have an ending that at least goes some way to satisfying the fans who’ve sat through it.

For my fourth (and definitely FINAL) post in this series, I’m going to look at the blurring between the fictional world of Lost and the real world of the viewer, and also consider the particular challenges the show faces as a primetime ratings driver.

Apologies for the length of this one, I got a bit carried away!



I work in media as a strategist. I like art, robots, comics, interaction design, karaoke, wildlife photography, indian food, campari, gaming, American TV (teen drama included), reading non-fiction, reading fiction and listening to music. I also have a tenori-on because I'm so rad.

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