A few days ago, an interesting document from ABC leaked onto the Internet. The 20-page file included an outline of the TV series Lost from before it began airing in 2004. The synopsis revealed the original idea for the series as something completely different than what we saw on TV. The plan was for a show that wasn’t serialized, less mysterious and mythological, and more “case of the week” and episodic in nature. At first, the series was going to be a standard procedural about a group of people who crash land on an island. Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Where exactly did this pitch document”>document come from? During the production of the pilot, the creators hired writers Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Paul Dini, Jennifer Johnson, and Christian Taylor to address network concerns over the show. The 20-page document was an attempt to prove to the network executives that Lost could be just like any other show out there. Basically, Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams, and Damon Lindelof put together a not-so-honest pitch to sell ABC on the idea. Apparently, the network executives weren’t too keen on a weekly series about smoke monsters and polar bears on a tropical island.
Take a look at an excerpt from the leaked document below:
THE BIG QUESTION – IS IT SELF-CONTAINED OR SERIALIZED?
Yes – the mysteries surrounding the island may serve an ongoing (and easy to follow) mythology -but every episode has a beginning, middle and end. More importantly, the beginning of the next episode presents an entirely new dilemma to be resolved that requires NO knowledge of the episode(s) that preceded it (except for the rare two-parter).
Yes – character arcs (romances, alliances, grudges) carry over the scope of a season, but the plots will not. Viewers will be able to drop in at any time and be able to follow exactly what’s going on in a story context.
This is not lip service – we are absolutely committed to this conceit. LOST can and will be just as accessible on a weekly basis as a traditionally “procedural” drama.
Now I know what you’re thinking, that doesn’t sound like Lost at all. What is described is almost a bizarro-world version of Lost, not the head-scratching mystery within a mystery audiences learned to love (or hate) over the course of six seasons. The document continues to highlight other elements that are not featured in the TV series we know today. Something tells me if Lost had been a typical TV show, it wouldn’t still be so popular. Here are some of the ideas and concepts from the document:
- The document claims the show will be self-contained and not have a serialized structure. “We promise.”
- It says the show won’t fit into one specific “franchise,” but instead can be many genres, such as a doctor show, lawyer show, cop show or character drama.
- Everything in Lost was supposed to have a scientific explanation.
- Claims the show will have no “ultimate mystery.”
- The mystery of “the monster” would be solved in “the first few episodes.”
- Most of the plane’s passengers were never supposed to show up again.
- The characters would live in a “primitive Melrose Place” that could be built on a soundstage.
- Guest stars would be a part of the show.
When ABC finally got a look at the pilot, they, understandably, had some concerns about potential longevity. They considered Abrams’ previous series, Alias, too serialized and genre oriented. Talking to /Film, Damon Lindelofexplained why this was written in the first place:
So, per J.J., we made a very specific effort in this document to say we were not going to be serialized, we were not going to be genre and we were not going to do what Alias had done. So even though I think it was our intention to do all of the above, we needed to put that in the document because the document was essentially a letter to ABC saying ‘Here’s what the show’s going to be.’
After ABC finally picked up Lost, the writers started working on the first season. While they tried to adhere to the document pitch to the network, they soon realized that they couldn’t stick to the simple episodic structure. The first episode after the two-part pilot episode was “Tabula Rasa,” a Kate episode that included many elements from the pitch document. However, when the writers got to the fourth episode, “Walkabout,” they knew they had to embrace the esoteric mystery instead of falling into simple formulas. If you remember, “Walkabout” is a Locke episode that reveals he had been in confined to a wheelchair without the ability to walk before arriving on the island.
So how did the series change so drastically from what was pitched? 18.65 million viewers changed the minds of network executives, as it will. Once Lost became a smash hit, it was easy for Abrams and Lindelof to get away with whatever the hell they wanted.