Tonight’s PaleyFest panel at the Dolby Theatre was a 10th Anniversary Reunion for Lost — the Emmy-winning ABC fantasy drama that made its debut in 2004. Apparently a decade is a long time when it comes to social media: Executive producer Carlton Cuse and co-creator/EP Damon Lindelof said the show would never have been able to keep the kind of plot secrets that were the signature of early episodes in today’s Twitter-happy world.
“The spoiler culture was not what it is now,” said Cuse, who appeared on the large panel with Lindelof and cast members Josh Holloway, Yunjin Kim, Jorge Garcia, Ian Somerhalder, Maggie Grace, Malcolm David Kelley and Ian Cusick. (At the beginning of the panel, host Paul Scheer called a moratorium on any jokes about the mysterious disappearance of airplanes. “Let’s not have ask questions about that because they won’t be in good taste,” he said.)
The producers cited as a prime example their decision to kill off Ian Somerhalder’s popular Boone Carlyle character early in the show’s run. The decision was controversial even back then, but at least the producers were able to keep a lid on the surprise. Cuse said the show wanted to defy TV series convention. In an episode of CSI: Miami, for example, you always knew that whoever had a gun to the head of David Caruso’s Horatio was not going to pull the trigger. “(We thought) the idea that we could kill a character that was so beloved would give the show incredible energy, so no one was safe,” Cuse said.
A less active social media community did not keep the producers from being aware when audiences hated characters, as they did the infamous Nikki and Paulo. By the time they were aware of the audience’s distaste for these characters, Lindelof said, “we were already hating Nikki and Paulo ourselves.” Instead of dragging their story out for weeks, Lindelof said, “we condensed that into one single episode where we buried them alive.”
Both producers said that despite the pressure cooker of producing 23-25 shows per season, they thought Lost benefited from being on network TV rather than cable with its traditionally shorter season orders. Said Lindelof: “It’s easy to say, yeah, it would have been great to do less episodes (but) it would have resulted in a different show. It would have been a different show, and probably not as good.”
In response to an audience question about an unresolved plot detail in the finale, Cuse was deliberately enigmatic. He compared Lost to “the big bang theory” — not the CBS comedy, but the scientific phenomenon. “Every question begets another question,” Cuse said. “ We just didn’t feel like there was a way to answer all the open questions without it being didactic and boring. Tell us what happened to the characters. We care much more about what happened to them.”