Executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse reveal how they arrived at the 2010 cutoff date for the series with ABC and tease this season's finale

Credit: Mario Perez

Three years, three seasons. Forty-eight episodes, 16 episodes per season. That’s how much life Lost has left. We asked executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse about the groundbreaking decision to announce an end date for their cult pop smash, as well as what to expect from the final three episodes of the season — and beyond.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, burning question: There are 48 episodes left — and there were 48 survivors of Oceanic 815. Surely that’s not mere coincidence?
DAMON LINDELOF: It’s certainly a number that we are drawn to. But when you look at it more carefully, there were 48 survivors from the fuselage section of the plane — but that was before they found out there were 23 survivors in the tail section. But we don’t want people to think we based that number on its ultimate mythological value.

By the time Lost is over in 2010, how many total episodes will we be talking about?
LINDELOF: There will be 117 total episodes, as they aired, when all is said and done — unless ABC decides to group them in some weird way.

Another crazy theory I heard is that the three seasons, 16 episodes per season structure is a clue unto itself — a reference to John 3:16 in the Bible: ”For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believe in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” You know, more references to fathers, sons, the nature of time, etc.
CARLTON CUSE: Actually, we didn’t get it from the Bible. We got the whole idea on how to end our show just by watching that guy who holds the John 3:16 signs up in the end zone during football games.

I knew it had to be something crazy like that. Seriously now: Why is ending the show a good thing for Lost fans?
CUSE: I think it’s a good thing because now, people who are invested in Lost know that there is an end point. You now know exactly how much story there is left. I think there was some uneasiness over the possibility that Lost wasn’t going to end well, and the biggest contributing component of that anxiety was not knowing when the show was going to end. Now, I hope the audience will know where this road trip is leading. We hope that announcing this will be really reassuring to our fans who keep wondering, ”When are we going to get answers? When will the show pay off?”
LINDELOF: Even the most cynical of fans who go, ”Do these guys know where they’re going?” — they’ll get to find out too! And very important is this: They’ll get to find out as we go along. One thing I think we have to get out there is this: You won’t have to wait until 2010 to get all the answers you really care about. Some of these answers are going to be coming a lot sooner than you think. The reality is, we’re not going to make you wait until the last episode to give you everything. Hopefully, by announcing this, fans will be signing on for all 48 episodes, and stay until the bitter end. Of course, it’s our job to produce compelling episodes that will keep you watching until the last season. In fact, one thing we discussed amongst ourselves while deliberating the pros and cons of the 3 [seasons]/16 [episodes] proposal is that we can’t have two seasons of filler and expect people to hang around. We have to start giving answers now, so the show becomes more of an answer-based show as we work toward this end point.
CUSE: You now know exactly where you stand in the story. We’ve done 72 hours and we have 48 hours to go.
LINDELOF: We’re 60 percent done.
CUSE: We’re over the top of the mountain and heading down the backside. And we believe that our most exciting storytelling is yet to come.

NEXT PAGE: ”Were you prepared to walk away if you couldn’t get an end date for the series from ABC?”

Why is a fixed end point good news for you guys personally?
CUSE: This was really important to us as a condition for Damon and I to stay on the show. The fact that we get to finish what we started is really important to us. And also to be able to plan out our remaining storytelling — you know, we’re no longer in that weird, ambiguous place of knowing what our mythology is, but not knowing how long we have to play that mythology out. And the 3/16 paradigm allows us to be more thoughtful about executing it; it’s more of a cable model. Look at how well David Chase has been able to plan out The Sopranos by doing fewer episodes.
LINDELOF: We’ll be able to look back and take authorship for pretty much every episode from start to finish. We feel the fans don’t really care how many episodes there are, they just want every episode to be good. Sixteen was a number where we felt we could almost guarantee every episode would be good. We know the ending of the series. We know exactly where it is we’re working toward. But getting there and designing these seasons as books with satisfying beginnings, middles, and ends — this deal gives us the superstructure for that. Now, we have to figure out on an episode-by-episode basis how we make this journey as emotional and as satisfying as it can be. We also have to figure out how to dole out the episodes so that we’re not frontloading it so much with answers that people say, ”That’s not what I wanted it to be. I’m not watching it anymore!” At the same time, we don’t want to make it too frustrating so people have to wait until the end before they get any taste of answers at all. We feel that messaging begins in this year’s finale. That’s why we’re so excited that we were able to make the announcement prior to the finale.

Were you prepared to walk away if you couldn’t get an end date for the series from ABC?
LINDELOF: Fortunately, we never had to address that possibility.

Was there any talk to doing this any other way, like fewer episodes, or just doing two seasons?
CUSE: There were a lot of things discussed. We spent many months in these conversations, and with any negotiation, you don’t immediately arrive at what the end point is. We all tried on different scenarios until we found one that everyone was happy with.

Lost makes a ton of money for the Walt Disney Company, both in the United States and overseas, where it remains a powerhouse hit. Did ABC need three more seasons of Lost in order to meet various international and domestic business objectives?
CUSE: That’s really a question for ABC to speak to.
LINDELOF: Look, in order for this to happen, the studio and the network had to look at us and see the creative side and understand where we were coming from creatively, and we had to look at them and understand where they were coming from in a business sense. And in a business sense, the show is still a juggernaut on an international level, and also a domestic level. So we had to be cognizant of the big picture in everything we pitched them, because they were looking at the whole scenario — Lost as a creative and business enterprise. They were taking money off the table to give us what we were asking for. But in order to keep Lost creative and energized, we needed to have an end point. So it was that mutual acknowledgement — them looking at it as a creative negotiation and us looking at it as a business negotiation — that allowed us to arrive at the middle. God’s honest truth — it’s not P.R. B.S. — both us and the network and studio are thrilled by the outcome. Most negotiations end where both sides are little bit bummed with the outcome. I think everyone gets exactly what they wanted [with the 3/16 agreement]. The only thing that matters now is that people be able to look back on Lost and say, ”That was a great show.” We now feel that we are no longer hamstrung by the ongoing business realities of an ongoing television show. We can now deliver on that.

Did you guys talk to the cast about this?
CUSE: We did, and they share our enthusiasm. They all had the same anxiety: Can this sustain? Can it last? Can it finish well?

For some people, though, 2010 is very far away. While you’re only producing 48 more episodes of Lost, it still feels like we’re a long way off from getting ultimate resolution.
LINDELOF: I understand that. It’s like when you read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets back in the mid 1990s, and being told that it won’t be until 2007 that Harry Potter was finally going to graduate Hogwarts. You go ”What?!”
CUSE: But it really was the best alternative. It’s too hard for us to make 24 episodes. The other model that was seriously discussed was two seasons of 24 episodes, and it’s just too hard for us to accomplish that and keep the quality bar high. We would have had no hiatus, no time to recharge batteries or do the important story planning we need to do ahead of each season. But the prospect of taking that same number and dividing it by three instead of two made sense. It gives us the opportunity to be more thoughtful and organized in the way our storytelling is going to unfold.
LINDELOF: If we waited to announce this in January, right before the start of next season, 2010 wouldn’t have felt so far away. But we wanted to tell everyone right now, before this year’s finale, that the answers are coming. In fact, the real answers start coming this week [in the May 9 episode].

NEXT PAGE: ”What is it about this week’s episode that sets the stage for the finale, airing May 23?”

There’s only three episodes left this season. What is it about this week’s episode that sets the stage for the Jack-centric finale, airing May 23?
CUSE: Well, it’s a Ben flashback, so it kind of really roots into the mythological history of the show and answers some important questions about the relationship between the Dharma Initiative and the Others. Ben is such a formative character, he is the biggest bad guy we know on the show. To get to know him is a signal that we’ve become an answer-mode kind of show.
LINDELOF: And more importantly, we meet Jacob — the elusive, unseen, presumed leader of the Others — for the first time. And this is a character who is every bit as significant to our universe as the Emperor was to the Star Wars universe — a character that you didn’t get to meet until Return of the Jedi but was referred to all through the preceding films. Jacob is a guy who is going to have a very significant, ongoing sort of story value in our show.

Who’s playing this character — someone new, or someone we know?
LINDELOF: We’re not going to answer that.

Next season will launch in February 2008. All 16 episodes will air without interruption, like 24. There’s been talk that the show will move to another day and an earlier time slot next season. True?
CUSE: You’ll have to ask ABC. There are strong indications that it will air in an earlier time slot next year. There was a family viewing experience of Lost that was ”lost” when the show moved to 10 p.m.
LINDELOF: But one thing to keep in mind: Since the show is launching in the spring next year, anything they say now will be subject to change based on how the fall goes. You know, this season, if Daybreak had been a big hit, who’s to say what would have happened? We might have come back again at 9 p.m., or maybe earlier. So it depends on what happens with the show that’s going to be on Wednesday nights from September to December. That will influence when and how Lost will be scheduled in the spring.

Is it true that the season finale for this season has been given the codename ”The Rattlesnake?”
LINDELOF: ”The rattlesnake in the mailbox” is the full name.
CUSE: It’s one of those highly scary and vulnerable things: What if you drove home and stuck your hand in the mailbox and there was a rattlesnake in there?
LINDELOF: Here’s how this came about. One day, Carlton was looking at his mailbox and thinking this: ”Wow! No one would expect this — a rattlesnake in their mailbox!” He shared this in the writers’ room one day, and every writer turned to him and said, ”What kind of sick thought is that?! Of course no one would think of a rattlesnake being in their mailbox, because only an extremely sick, deranged individual would put one in there!” And it was that which made us think, ”Actually, a rattlesnake in the mailbox is the perfect name for what we’re doing in our finale.” Because only an extremely deranged individual would think of doing what we’re doing.
CUSE: Well said.

By now, we’ve gotten to know these castaways pretty well. Take Jack. We know his issues. We know most everything we need to know about what’s at stake for him on the Island, what he’s been dealing with in his past. In light of this, will the flashback structure continue to be part of the show in future seasons, or will that be reinvented in the finale?
CUSE: Actually, we know very little about the fact that Jack has psoriasis.
LINDELOF: We also felt that a lot of people aren’t talking about psoriasis —
CUSE: — so we felt it would actually be a public service if we actually did a very detailed backstory about psoriasis.

Okay, seriously.
LINDELOF: The reality is, you do know everything there is to know about Jack as a character in terms of what’s driving him. But you don’t know everything that’s happened to Jack. And there is one sort of significant event that we’ve been holding back that happened to Jack and we’re going to show it in the season finale. And as all great flashbacks on the show are, they pertain directly to what’s happening on the Island.

Okay. But will the flashback structure be part of the show going forward?
LINDELOF: Let’s have that conversation after the finale.

Does the finale set up season four?
CUSE: Yes. The finale clearly sets up season four of the show, and hopefully in doing so, people will see there is still a lot of storytelling left in Lost and will feel really good about the 48 number.
LINDELOF: And it will make you realize that the house you are standing in actually has a lot more rooms than you thought when you came into it.

Nice cryptic teasing analogy! Last question. Don’t tell my wife, but I have a crush on Mrs. Hawking, the creepy old lady from Desmond’s flashbacks who knows all about his future.
LINDELOF: Huh. I don’t even know how to respond to that.

There is no other response other than telling me whether I’ll be seeing her again before the end of the season.
CUSE: Can we just back up half a second? Once you say something like that, Jeff, it can’t be unsaid.
LINDELOF: Unless you travel back in time, like Mrs. Hawking does. But no, you won’t be seeing her before the end of the season — but you will be seeing her again.

Sigh. Guess I have something to really look forward to.

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