The present essay provides a comprehensive analysis of a contemporary TV drama. I opted for Lost as an object of this research because of its popularity, original idea, inventive plot, and the complex relationship of the production and creative entities involved in its creation. The assessment will demonstrate a critical insight into the professional and industrial landscape, in which the contemporary TV drama is created and the interaction between the co-creators.
One of the most successful projects in the history of international serialization, Lost was launched in September 2004 and incorporated 121 episode. Its genre is a mix of adventure, mystery, suspense, science-fiction, and supernatural. A seemingly uninhabited island in the South Pacific Ocean becomes a shelter for several dozens of the Oceanic Airline’s Flight 815 surviving passengers. The six-year-long saga is a story of numerous ordeals and personal evolution. Each episode narrates dual timelines. Parallel to the events unfolding in the immediate present of the characters, the first three seasons present the audience with meaningful flashbacks. These digressions reveal the former character of the group members and allow understanding the way their experience on the island changed their identity. The second half of the drama delivers glimpses to the future. The drama’s finale introduces an innovative narrative strategy showing development of the character’s lives in the circumstances where the crash never happened. The basic plot is an ingenious interpretation of the eternal war between good and evil in the context of choices that people make in their daily lives. The island becomes a Purgatory for the wandering and lost human soles of the civilized world. It condemns each character to the furnace of hardships as a way to test his or her moral principles, life experience, and physical capacity. The main theme is supplemented by numerous secondary topics, such as true friendship, solidarity, self-sacrifice, the strife between science and religion, the concepts of insiders and outsiders, love, etc.
As envisioned by the film writers, the closing scenes compose an open ending by posing new mysteries and withholding answers to important questions. This strategy invites the viewers to become co-creators by employing own imagination and critical thinking. This approach firmly asserts the TV series as a unique cultural phenomenon. The idea brings the show beyond the common entertainment elements of the mass market and qualifies it as a tool of personal transformation towards enlightenment.
Charged with intense emotions, invested with the high-degree of realism, and animated with vehement action, the narrative keeps the viewers on constant alert and forces them to empathize and identify with the characters. The epic ending empowers each follower with the power of self-awareness and self-determination. Just as every character of the drama, every viewer can find his or her true self.
Lost jumped on the bandwagon of success of the Chris Carter’s The X-files, which introduced the mystery, intellectual symbolism, conspiracy theories, and the idea of the insidious societies opposing the protagonists. The science-fiction drama tackled the most current trends in the professional and industrial landscape to deliver some of the most appealing products of the time. Ever since the advent of television, there have been three major forms of material presentation, i.e., the news, the shows, and the dramas. The latter arrived from the radio platforms and claimed the rightful place at the new media. The Golden Age of drama coincided with the rise of the national network giants: NBC, CBS, ABC and DuMont. In the 1950s, the live dramatized shows overcame the early technological limitations and received substantial sponsorship from corporations that realized the opportunity to address consumers in an innovative way. As the television concepts moved from classical productions and dramatic anthologies towards original scripts, the demand for the talented writers, Hollywood actors, directors, and camera professionals grew exponentially. This strategy contributed to the popularity of this form of television with the audience immensely. Not only it brought the quality of the artistic presentation to a completely new level, but also furnished the outreach to the gross national audience. By discarding the high culture approach of the classical telecasts and adopting an increasingly customer-oriented vision, the new TV product gained interest and unvaried love of the American households. The early dramas could not escape the adverse influence of McCarthyism, which forced the studios to commission the scripts that criminalized communism, praised the American values and patriotism, as well as avoided the burning socio-political themes of the time. The middle-class urban drama focus was narrowed to a number of individual moral challenges, such as alcoholism, generation gap, alcoholism, divorce, peer-pressure, etc. Presentation of these commonplace and unsophisticated values satisfied the needs of the network owners and the advertising companies. It also satisfied the interests of the housewives that appeared as the primary drama consumers. As the prosperity of the American economy was gaining momentum, TV audience expanded, and comedy ranked first among the preferences of the carefree consumers.
The 60s and 70s were satiated with a number of milestones that changed the national mentality, undermined confidence in the government, and curbed the universal optimism. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, President Nixon’s resignation, the Watergate Scandal, and the resulting turmoil opened a new era in the news broadcasting. The TV dramas tuned in grasping the opportunity to address the same issues by scrutinizing them in fictional contexts. They responded to and educated the growing political awareness and national consciousness. The television network administrations took over production and programming decisions and secured greater freedom for script writers. The entertainment broadcasts were among the first to break racial barriers, recognize the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement, introduce African-American characters, as well as discuss structural poverty, discrimination, class stratification, etc. Westerns and urban sitcoms were substituted by numerous premiers that reflected the diversity of the ongoing social debates in various fields. In the 80s, the TV audience was fed up with a seemingly endless chain of problems avalanching on the American nation. They suffocated from the abundance of stress occurring in their real lives, discussed in the news and talk-shows, as well as recycled in popular drama series. The networks delivered the eagerly anticipated escape in the form of the utopias featuring the lives of the strikingly rich people.
The young generation of the postmodern era was keen on quality and real-life connection. The viewers welcomed the idea to identify and grow with their favorite characters. Instead of escaping the daily problems, they felt empowered and entitled to solve them through knowledge, experience, and professionalism. The networks responded by hiring the young writers to create appealing, intelligent and competent protagonists capable of fighting the system, solving complex problems, and improving the world around them. Family shows gave way to criminal drama, detective stories, and medical analysis. The X-Files became the epitome of this trend and spotted a yet unsatisfied demand of the TV-grown audience, i.e., the yearning for the restoration of confidence and faith, self-search, exploration of spirituality, and the endurance of human spirit. It proved that the audience became extremely sophisticated, intended to be involved and taken into account. People wanted to find the place for mysteries in common life, settle internal conflicts, push the boundaries of wisdom, and move along the modern path of enlightenment.
Lost embarked on completing this monumental and complex task. The project combined the production efforts of the ABC Studios, Bad Robot Productions, and Grass Skirt Productions. Partners maintained the historical commitment to consistently high quality, respect to the viewer, non-discrimination, acknowledgment of diversity, and unreserved openness in tackling the most challenging socio-economic and political issues of the time. These principles were ameliorated by the rules of mass market production and the innovative approach to technological solutions. By embracing the robinsonade the ABC Studio has once again corroborated its eye for up-to-date consumer preferences. The concept emerged in the inventive mind of a visionary leader Lloyd Braun in 2003. The head of ABC was inspired by the idea presented in the full-length movie Cast Away and the intensity of emotions involved in the reality show Survivor. He thought of the opportunity to combine the comic element of the early CBS sitcom, Gilligan’s Island, and the high-pitched dystopian tragedy of the Golding’s Lord of the Flies. This unconventional proposal stood out against a background of the universal obsession with the criminal stories. Braun had to defend this risky and challenging initiative at the cost of his position at the company.
Regardless the immense opposition, the ABC’s senior vice president, Thom Sherman, decided to trust Braun’s renowned instinct and ordered the sample script from Spelling Television, part of the CBS Corporation. The move indicated that outsourcing operations to competitive networks became common practice in the industry environment. The original pilot script of 2003 by Jeffrey Lieber was not approved. It incorporated corrections provided by J. J. Abrams on request of Braun a year later. Eventually, this confusion between the commissioning parties and authors required the involvement of the arbitration and the judgment of a shared creator’s title. Abrams agreed to the legal settlement by bargaining the inclusion of the supernatural elements and addition of a personal writing partner. His partnership with Damon Lindelof defined the overall style of the consigned drama, fixed the set of characters, limited the length of the project, and composed a mythological array accompanying the progression of events. As the studio wanted to make the drama less serialized and more reusable, it forced the creators to make the episodes maximally independent from one another. Abrams conceived the sound opening and the brand label before transferring the reins of power to executive producers, Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. The partnership turned out to be extremely prolific with the former delivering 45 and the latter 39 episodes of Lost. Due to tight deadlines, the creative team was limited in their opportunities for script and characters modification. The smashing popularity of the show allowed revitalizing and diversifying the writing effort by other talents in the field, such as Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Elisabeth Sarnoff, etc.
The launch of the two-part opening episode in autumn 2004 cost twice the price of an average pilot and unleashed the new era in the history of the American TV drama. Budget overruns and excessive risk-taking instigated the indignant board of directors to relieve Broun of his duties. However, by the end of the year, the overwhelming commercial and marketing success of Lost became an undeniable fact.
At the beginning, the casting decisions, as well as significant modifications of the script and characters were made by the ABC executive producers based on their personal choices. Later these working solutions were delivered on a more objective ground in reliance on the actors’ credits, script requirements, and audience’s preferences. Jack Bender embraced the roles of an executive producer and the chief director. The former sitcom actor, Bender knew the process inside out and was capable of making cost-efficient and impressive filming decisions. His unique vision allowed selecting suitable locations, combining technological competencies, and creating studio interiors.
Notably, each of the executive producers was involved in some part of the creation process serving either as a writer, showrunner, or filming director. Such involvement provided greater control of the operations and budgets. It synchronized the team efforts and allowed delivering an integrated and high-quality product. A holistic approach to production of Lost was one of the major factors of its unrivaled success.
The musical construct of the drama requires a specific mention. J.J. Abrams engaged his longtime associate, Michael Giacchino, to work on the unique themes for Lost. The duo worked together on other TV projects, like Alias and Fringe. This time, the result of Giacchino’s genius was a full-fledged unique music score. The composer orchestrated all of the pieces performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra. He attached recurring tunes to specific locations and characters creating their inimitable image. Giacchino obtained original sounds by employing stomp performance techniques. The composer deliberately abstained from the use of popular songs to avoid setting the drama in a fixed American cultural context (Fernandez 2010). This strategy allowed introducing minimum adjustment to the musical element in the international broadcasting environment. The soundtracks were such an immense success with the audience that they required independent releases by Varese Sarabande.
The success of modern TV drama depends on the synergy and the smooth professional relationship between the key creative entities. Lost was a product of the coordinated efforts delivered by its writers, showrunners, and filming directors. The era when dramas were sponsored and commissioned by manufacturing corporations is long gone. Reputable studios, like ABS, consolidate executive producers capable of sharing the numerous functions involved in the production process. Such involvement secures comprehensive control and maximum cost-efficiency of the investment initiative. The executive producers make sure that composers and actors invited to the project understand the overall concept of the drama and are capable of contributing to it with a unique vibe. Nowadays, the key creators compete in the environment of the free market and constant innovation for the continually varying consumer preferences. Since the industry deregulated, the viewers set the trend for TV dramas. The scale of the projects and the required amount of funding forces the studios to establish partnerships and outsource some of the operations to fellow networks.