For the ‘LOST’ lovers out there….

“Lost” writer gives detailed account of show

Sun, Sep 25 2011

By Tim Molloy

NEW YORK ( – Damon Lindelof only wanted a gig writing for “Alias” when he agreed to meet with J.J. Abrams about “Lost” — and the pair threw in lots of wild elements just because they never expected it to get on the air.

One of the main calling cards of the show — the flashbacks to characters’ lives before they crash landed on the island — was simply a way to cut away from the same old tropical locale. And the out-of-sync storytelling was inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.”

If it seemed like the writers were making things up as they went along, by the way, they often were. And also? Lindelof tried to quit the show, again and again.

These were just a few of the admissions Lindelof shared about one of television’s most beloved shows Thursday on the seventh anniversary of its first airing on ABC.

He spoke during a keynote address at the New York Television Festival, a gathering where independent writers and producers try to meet with executives and find homes for their pilots.

Lindelof was an established TV writer himself, working on NBC’s “Crossing Jordan,” when he first met Abrams. He told interviewer Andrew Jenks, host of MTV’s “World of Jenks,” that he had been “stalking” an ABC executive friend for years to get a job on Abrams’ spy series “Alias.”

Eventually the executive, Heather Kadin, called him in January 2004 saying he could meet Abrams about a project.

“The bad news is,” he recalled her saying, “it’s this ridiculous show idea about a plane that crashes on an island and everyone here doesn’t think anything is ever going to happen with it. But Lloyd Braun who was the president of ABC at the time, just thought he had lightning in a bottle: He wanted to do a drama version of ‘Survivor.'”

Braun had told Abrams he had a script for an island drama but wanted him to “work your magic on it,” Lindelof said. He said Abrams told Braun he was too busy, but would supervise another writer.

“So Heather told me, you meet with J.J., this pilot goes nowhere, but then you get a job on ‘Alias’!”

But the pilot went somewhere. Lindelof came in with plenty of ideas, including nonlinear storytelling and flashbacks.

“The biggest issue with a desert island show was the audience is going to get very frustrated that the characters were not getting off the island,” he said. “My solution was, hey, let’s get off the island every week. And the way we’re going to do that is we’re going to do these flashbacks. We’ll do one character at a time and there’s going to be like 70 characters on the show, so we’ll go really, really slow, and each one will basically say, here’s who they were before the crash and it’ll dramatize something that’s happening on the island and it will also make the show very character-centric.”

Abrams liked the idea, and also had another: “‘There should be a hatch on this island! They spend the entire season trying to get it open. And there should be these other people on the island,'” Lindelof recalled Abrams saying. “And I’m like, ”We can call them The Others.’ And he’s like, ‘They should hear this noise out there in the jungle.’ And I’m like, ‘What’s the noise?’ And he’s like, ‘I don’t…know. They’re never going to

pick this thing up anyway.'”

Lindelof said the idea to tell the story out of chronological order came in part from “Pulp Fiction,” in which John Travolta’s character is killed about halfway through — and viewers learn only at the end that he had failed to heed Samuel Jackson’s speech in the diner about the path of the righteous man.

“That sort of flipped the switch in me, and was something that I really wanted to do as a storyteller and ‘Lost’ was really the perfect opportunity to do it,” Lindelof said.

Abrams and Lindelof quickly wrote an outline, and within days, Braun picked up their pilot. (He was soon fired after greenlighting not only “Lost” but “Desperate Housewives,” and famously vindicated when both shows became huge hits. “Lost” ensured he would always be a part of the show by making his the voice that said, at the start of each episode, “Previously, on ‘Lost.'”)

Lindelof said he almost immediately felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running the show — and repeatedly decided or tried to quit. By its eleventh episode, he convinced Carlton Cuse, who had been his boss on CBS’s “Nash Bridges,” to come in and help him lead the show.

“I was living, breathing, sleeping the show, it was all I thought about, and I would wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning, thinking about Jin,” he said.

He said he agreed with critics who said the show could never last more than a season.

“If we put it on the air and we’re like, there’s a polar bear in the jungle, somebody better know where the (expletive) that polar bear came from,” he said. “That pressure was enormously debilitating.”

Abrams, meanwhile, had “plausible deniability” because he had left the show in Lindelof’s hands to focus on movies, Lindelof said: “When the torch-wielding mob shows up at his house, and they’re like, ‘Where does the polar bear come from?’ he could say, I’m working on ‘Mission Impossible,’ go to Damon.”

He said he resolved to quit after 13 episodes, then after the first season. Eventually the show went six seasons with him and Cuse in charge.

Lindelof eventually recognized unintentional parallels between himself and Jack, the show’s lead character. He said it didn’t occur to him at first that both he and Jack, played by Matthew Fox, were reluctant leaders mourning the recent deaths of their fathers.

Eventually he was given his out from the show that was making him “miserable,” he said. In its third season, ABC agreed it would go six seasons in all.

A turning point came at the end of the third season when he watched dailies of Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) dying. He cried over not only the character, but the impending end of “Lost.”

He also said the show might not have lasted more than three seasons without the Internet, because it allowed fans and the show’s creators to spur each other on. He noted that 23 million people tuned in for the first episode, and only 13 million for the finale — a sign that the show lost many people as it went on. But those that stayed with it did so in part because the Internet gave them somewhere to vent, he said.

“What got them through those periods of doubt and ‘Are you going to break my heart?’ was their feeling that they were communicating with us,” he said.

But trying to please fans was a Catch-22.

“There were these two things happening on the show from the minute it began. The first thing was that the audience really wanted to feel like they had an impact on the show,” he said. “And the other thing was, you didn’t want us to be making it up as we went along. You wanted us to have a plan, you wanted us to have a big binder with the entire show and you didn’t want us to deviate from it. And the audience didn’t realize that there’s a huge contradiction between these two ideas. If you want to have a say, then there can’t be a binder. And if there is a binder, then we’re basically going to be like, ‘we don’t care what you guys have to say. We’re just turning to page 365 and we’re doing Lupitas.'”

He added: “The show had to become sort of an exercise in, ‘Here’s what it’s going to be, guys: We’re going to come out and we’re going to play our set, and once the set is over you guys can shout out what songs you want to hear and we’ll do those for the encore.’ And that was the way that we modulated it, and maybe it worked and maybe it didn’t.

“But the interaction of the Internet and our genuine desire to hear what the fans were saying and make ourselves accessible to the fans was absolutely essential to the show’s success. I am absolutely convinced that we probably would not have made it to season three or season four at the most if the Internet didn’t exist.”

As for that job on “Alias”? It never panned out. The show wrapped after five seasons in 2006, four years before “Lost.”


Exploring the Anti-Social Side of Social Media

I’ve thought about this often.  In our ability to have constant access to others, and others to us, there is this unhealthy dependence on technology for much of our social interaction, that it often prevents us from interacting with the people who are actually, physically around us!  I have this “sickness” too, but I find there is nothing more annoying than thinking you have someone’s attention, and realizing that whoever is on their phone or computer gets top priority.  I remember the days when people called, and they either left a message or called back at another time if you weren’t available.  You could also contact others when it was convenient for you!  Gone are the days where dinner time is sacred.  If someone called during dinner, you told them to call back at another time.  If you were in the middle of working or studying or relaxing, it was ok not to pick up your phone, and it was ok to get back to someone the next day.  Now everything is “urgent” and requires immediate attention.   It’s even changed the dynamic of the workplace, where sick days were just that, or vacation days were just that.  Now people are connected even on their down time.

Anyway, it’s just interesting how “social-media” has produced some pretty anti social behaviors.  Happy reading 🙂

The Wire…Best TV Show Ever?!?…Quite Possibly…

Ok, so I KNOW what an explosive statement that is…and coming from someone who was so thoroughly obsessed with LOST (until the lame ending), such a statement is HUGE for me…almost sacreligious :).  (hope the LOST gods don’t strike me down :P).  I also don’t profess to know every show out there, but I do know that The Wire is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  It’s just – different.  I’m sure you could say that about many shows.  I thought that with LOST.   But it’s so wholly unique in how much it manages to express in each episode.   Every scene, every comment, everything – has a purpose.   It’s not just entertainment, it’s a sociological education.  And like a great novel, it can be watched and interpreted on so many levels.  The characters are complex, the stories are intricately intertwined, the short and long-term messages are poignant and introspective.   

Jacob Weisberg, a writer for Slate, declared, “The Wire” was the best American television series that had ever been broadcast: “No other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.”

Bingo!  Couldn’t have said it better myself 😛

At first glance, The Wire comes off as a pretty violent, drug-ladened “cop” show, set in the ghetto.  I’m sure if you think hard enough, you might be able to come up with a few others that fit this basic description.  It’s not typically the type of show that would appeal to most women, but then again, I don’t usually like a lot of the shows/movies most women like :).  Everything about it is explicit – the language, the violence, the sex.   Watching it was an adjustment for me.  It’s raw – so much so that after an hour, it can get mentally and emotionally draining.  I almost brushed it off completely after the first couple of episodes, but somewhere around episode 3 or 4, something clicked.  It is insightful beyond any other show that I’ve ever seen.  It’s real to the point where you feel like you’re getting an education in a world you knew nothing about – things that our pampered suburban lifestyle have shielded us from all our lives.  And you realize over time that the explicitness is part of relaying the story and is not just for dramatic effect. 

There is no “star” per say, other than the city of Baltimore, which could probably be interchanged with any major American city.  It’s a voyeuristic view into urban life.   The show follows a number of complex characters through various plotlines.  It feels – documentary – like, minus the direction of a narrator to walk you through each scene.  It flows like a novel, a visual novel, where plots are meticulously built (sometimes slowly), to help you understand the context behind so many of the issues portrayed.  The show helps you see sides to each character that make them so complete and complex, that often times you empathize with the “bad” guys and hate the “good”.  I’m sure each person’s experience is different, but for me, it truly awakened me to the reality of how much environment plays in shaping the life of an individual, and how politics plays chess with the lives of so many, and often times not for the greater good.  

The Wire explores issues like poverty, politics, corruption, the school system, the foster care system, drug trafficking, and money laundering, (I’m sure I’ve left something or other out 🙂 and shows you how intricately intertwined all of these things are.  It made me realize how much of a joke the “war on drugs” is…because there are so many facets to it,  so many hands touching it, that to claim to have the “answer” is beyond ludicrous.

What struck me most is that in other shows…the “bad” guys are just that.  Here…you see their circumstances and their desperation to simply survive.  The are real people and their good side gets as much air time as their dark, and you come to understand that at times, their moral compass (in that context, within those circumstances, in that particular environment) – might actually make sense.  There are things you see that would make you cry for them – things we are truly blessed to be protected from and never have to deal with.   You come to see them as a whole person, just doing the best they can with they have access to.  It really made understand how much circumstances have forced them into certain lives, and how much responsibility rests at the hands of everyone else who let it get that far.

The first season focused on the kingpins and “the game” surrounding drugs, the second season was the longshoremen, the third season was politics and the fourth season, my favorite was the school system, and the youth.  I haven’t watched the fifth and final season yet, but needless to say, I can’t wait.   I think what blew me away most about season four was how much you realize the system (and society) views the inner city.   Things we would be horrified if our children were ever exposed to are a daily part of life for so many children.  We let life do unspeakable things to them, label these children as troubled, and then use that as an excuse to wash our hands of it.   You realize how LITTLE their lives are valued, and consequently how little effort is put towards helping them. 

The creator of The Wire often says that it’s “a show about how contemporary American society—and, particularly, “raw, unencumbered capitalism”—devalues human beings… “Every single moment on the planet, from here on out, human beings are worth less. We are in a post-industrial age. We don’t need as many of us as we once did. So, if the first season was about devaluing the cops who knew their beats and the corner boys slinging drugs, then the second was about devaluing the longshoremen and their labor, the third about people who wanted to make changes in the city, and the fourth was about kids who were being prepared, badly, for an economy that no longer really needs them. And the fifth? It’s about the people who are supposed to be monitoring all this and sounding the alarm—the journalists. The newsroom I worked in had four hundred and fifty people. Now it’s got three hundred. Management says, ‘We have to do more with less.’ That’s the bullshit of bean counters who care only about the bottom line. You do less with less.”

It’s almost like, you have this problem, but it’s self-contained in the inner cities, so the problem is just allowed grow and fester and come full circle, as long as it doesn’t spill out elsewhere, where it “matters”.  Interventions, funding, etc…it’s there, but limited and often tainted with self-serving political intentions, and efforts are quite often half-hearted because no one has faith that their efforts will really make a difference anyway.  The bureaucracy and the politics is quite literally mind-boggling.

Wallahi, I can’t tell you how disturbing some of these realizations were for me and how it really had an impact on my perspective.  A TV show…  the mind-numbing tube that we watch to not have to think (0r do anything) for the next hour, made me think, made me shed tears, even made me stay up nights thinking about someone else’s child, and my own.  We think of poverty and woes, we think 3rd world countries, starving orphans in dirt huts, but we have our own version right in our own back yards.  It’s made me think of what I’d like to do differently.  It’s given me a visual perspective of things I’d only casually, and perhaps too quickly read about in the past.  It’s easy to read an article…think “how unfortunate”, and then turn the page.

 I think The Wire, like a few other events that I’ve come across as of late, have just (re)awakened my guilty side.  The side that you should want for your brother what you want for yourself – want for other children, what your own children have.  The side that makes you aware of social justice and social responsibility.  I hope it sticks.  I hope after a few months it doesn’t go away.  I hope I can do something useful with this feeling.  In the meantime, I’m off to watch Season 5.  🙂  Hope you’ll join me.

“The Wire” for Real

Michael Sanders, a DEA special agent, “recently commented on the departments search for Ebonics translators to help interpret wiretapped conversations involving targets for drug investigation.” (TIME, 9/6/2010)

Who knew there’d be a market for Ebonics translators. 🙂  I guess The Wire is more on point than I thought.