Lost Sets An End Date

When you hook a large number of people into an ongoing serial drama, you can only take them so far before impatience begins to cull their numbers. That’s the dilemma hitting the makers of the hit series “Lost” who’re talking with ABC executives about setting an end date for the series.

According to the Associated Press, the producers revealed at a TV critics meeting on Sunday that whilst the end is sometime off, having a deadline will help the writers “lay out how they want the story to end”.

“Once we figure out when that will be, a lot of the questions will go away” said executive producer Carlton Cuse who also cites “The X-Files” as a ‘cautionary tale’ of a series dragging on too long.

Dragging storylines on for several seasons, despite bringing critical acclaim, often has had a detrimental effect on several shows with complex mythologies. “The X-Files”, “Buffy”, “The O.C.”, even J.J. Abrams own “Alias” are all serial drama shows in recent times that many consider went on a year or two longer than they should have.

Few serial drama series set out with an end date in sight. The creators of “Prison Break” revealed early on they had plans for two seasons of shows but nothing beyond that. Anyone whose watched “Smallville” is well aware of what the end point will be, but when it will reach that is anybody’s guess and as a result the show has often drawn criticism for dragging out a lot of its storylines.

Shows like “The X-Files” and “Stargate: SG-1” wrapped up almost all their storylines in their seventh & eighth season respectively and continued with new characters and plot threads after that – neither model proved successful and both were cancelled after two further seasons.

Still arguably the most notable plan to this day is the sci-fi series “Babylon 5” which set a five season target date right from the start and built a pre-planned five-year story into its structure (allowing for multiple character arcs and glimpses of events several seasons in the future). It too though suffered from a lacklustre final season as the two main driving story arcs were wrapped by the end of the fourth season.

The most successful model these days seems to be the season-long arc adopted by the likes of “24”, “Veronica Mars”, “Murder One”, “Buffy” and “Angel” which establishes and then solves almost all of its main plot threads over the course of a season, but leaves one or two dangling to keep people coming back the following year. Networks fear this plan as they believe viewers will forget to tune in the following year – but the success of “24” has got them rethinking their plans.

“Lost” returns to ABC’s schedule next month following an extended hiatus after the third season’s first six episodes and will air uninterrupted through May. The first six episodes saw a 14 percent drop in its audience this year and many complaints about it being too focused on the Jack-Kate-Sawyer & The Others storyline whilst mostly ignoring its ensemble cast.

It’s likely next year that all 22 episodes will run consecutively – following the successful models established by both “24” and “Alias” in their fourth seasons which ran uninterrupted from January-May 2005. Current contracts for the assorted actors on “Lost” run through seven seasons which would put the likely end date around May 2011.