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Understand how “Lost” changed the way we make and watch TV shows

ABC was struggling to find hits in 2004 when the network released two of its own: ““Desperate Housewives” a new version of a prime-time soap opera, and “Lost” a mystery with a sci-fi twist that quickly became a sensation among fans, from its enigmatic numbers to what really happened to that crashed plane and its passengers.

Of the two, however, it was “Lost” that fundamentally changed television and the relationship between the creators of TV shows and the networks that broadcast them – fueling what might be called the novelization of television – and not in the way the series began, but rather in the way it ended in 2010.

The roots of this began years earlier, when the show’s executive producers, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, recognized that the mystery series’ ratings were beginning to suffer due to viewers’ engagement. Fans wanted to know when they would get some answers.

At their request, in what Variety called a “paradigm shifting piece” ABC allowed them to announce an official end date for the series, ordering 48 episodes over three seasons to complete the story. The announcement served as a warning that the plot was indeed heading towards something, that a reward awaited those who had followed the show throughout its entire run.

Until then, the prevailing motto on television was, in essence, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Series lasted until the audience stopped watching them, not when the creators said, as if they were novelists, that they had reached the end of the story.

“I think for story-driven shows like ‘Lost,’ as opposed to franchise-driven shows like ‘ER’ or ‘CSI,’ the audience wants to know when the story is going to end,” Cuse said at the time, explaining the comparison by adding, “When J.K. Rowling announced that there would be seven ‘Harry Potter’ books, that gave readers a clear sense of exactly what their investment would be. We want our audience to do the same.”

ABC producer JJ Abrams, who co-created the series with Lindelof and Jeffrey Lieber, at the time called the decision “the right choice,” crediting ABC for having “real vision and courage to make a decision like this.”

Since then, a different kind of television has arguably emerged and taken root, giving creators more freedom to decide the shelf life of their stories. This has included the rise of limited series that offer the promise of closure and finality, creating arcs with a clear beginning and end.

Other productions followed this example, from “Game of Thrones” with its eight-season conclusion, the “Stranger Things” and more recently “The Boys” which announced that the fifth season of the superhero satire will conclude the story.

This equation made TV richer and more ambitious, and more capable of handling different kinds of storytelling. In the immediate aftermath, the children of “Lost” — many of them early on, as they always are when something unexpectedly goes right — benefited from this model, as networks ordered more projects with mysteries built in, even if few of them lived up to their promise.

Even if “Lost” didn’t quite hit its stride, producing a finale that answered many of its questions but was frustrating in its resolution, the series showed that knowing when to end isn’t exactly the same as knowing how. By that point, though, the show’s legacy was secure.

The end of “Lost” may not have conjured up a finale worthy of all the hype, but it helped steer TV toward a new approach to storytelling, which may be the formula that really matters going forward.

See also: the most searched series on Google in the last 25 years

Source: CNN Brasil

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