How J.J. Abrams And Damon Lindelof Tricked ABC Into Creating ‘Lost’

09.23.14 5 years ago 31 Comments
Lost was a television show that explored the human condition through charged notions: good vs evil, nature vs nurture, free will vs predetermined destiny, the philosophy of mortality and the redemptive nature of man. The ABC show used devices such as mysticism, scientific exploration, and religion — all permeated by an overwhelming sense of survival — to get there.

Lost also came packaged with its own mythos. Mysteries — some explained and others left unanswered — abounded in the six seasons of the highly popular program. As much as the human element pervaded the series, the show was steeped in a stew of supernatural and metaphysical components that made it one of the most polarizing TV series of all-time. Much of Lost’s charm is owed to the razor’s edge it traversed, from straight forward drama to full-blown Twilight Zone-esque narratives.

As popular as the program was in the form we know, it was almost something entirely different. ABC — like many media outlets — did not want to take chance on something so bizarre and divergent that it would alienate their audience. In order to reassure ABC that their upcoming drama about a plane wreck on a mysterious island wouldn’t stray too far from their sensibilities, creators J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof created a “series format” document that described a show much different than what they would create. Little did ABC know, the wool was being pulled over their eyes…

The Idea

In 2003, ABC was in dire straits. The network TV company was struggling to find the next great scripted drama after spending much of its budget on reality and game show programming. Lloyd Braun, the chairman of ABC entertainment, had taken a vacation in Hawaii when he caught an airing of the Tom Hanks’ film Cast Away. An idea began to formulate.

And then the notion of Survivor popped into my head. I don’t know why. And I put it all together: What if there was a plane that crashed and a dozen people survived, and nobody knew each other. Your past was almost irrelevant. You could reinvent who you were. You had to figure out — how do you survive? What do you use for shelter, for water? Is it like Lord of the Flies? How do we get off the island, how do you get home? And I start to get very excited about the idea, and I start thinking about the title Lost.

After returning to the mainland, Braun pitched the idea to his fellow executives and in return he heard crickets. The only person to show interest in the idea was the head of drama development, Thom Sherman. The two decided to cultivate the idea, and hired writer Jeffrey Lieber. Lieber drafted a script for the pilot, but it fell short of Braun’s expectations. Since it was already late into the development cycle, Braun was pressed for time to find a writer who could take the concept and create something compelling enough to warrant a hit show. He turned to J.J. Abrams.

Already developing a new series for Braun, titled The Catch, Braun asked Abrams to drop that show and start working on a draft for Lost. J.J. agreed, but even with dropping The Catch, he was still too busy to develop Braun’s idea solely.

Damon Lindelof, a young, upstart TV writer, had been seeking to land a gig writing for Abrams’ successful series, Alias. An ABC executive setup a meeting between Lindelof and Abrams, but it wouldn’t be for Alias, it would be for an ambitious new series that scarce few ABC executives believed in.

Lindelof read through Lieber’s script, and immediately began formulating ideas of his own. The characters would be damaged, many of them having no desire to return to their previous lives off the island. Also, flashbacks would serve the purpose of creating enthralling backstories that would help explain the motivations and desires of the main subjects.

Abrams, who loves to inject his “mystery box” ideology into his works, came up with an idea of a mysterious hatch that would become the island’s rabbit hole, leading the characters to greater discoveries on the island.

The two writers found that they had stumbled onto a great concept that they knew could work despite the deviation from traditional storytelling devices and conventions. All they needed to do now was convince ABC of the same.

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