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Should ABC Really Lose "Lost" for 13 Weeks?

I was stunned to learn yesterday that more people tuned in Wednesday night to watch CBS procedural Criminal Minds than ABC's Lost. While 16.10 million viewers caught Mandy Patinkin over on the Eye, a blip less (16.07 million viewers) tuned in to find out exactly what happened to Locke, Eko, and Desmond when the hatch went kablooey. I find that downright troubling, even more worrisome than the fact that we're already halfway through Lost's "fall season."

I should mention that, thanks to the coveted 18-49 demographic, Lost still came out number one for the evening. But the fact that the two series are virtually neck and neck for viewership makes me concerned, given that Lost has seen double-digit percentage declines year-to-year. Serialized dramas as a whole have taken a hit this season with Jericho and Heroes being the only two new series able to find an audience. Meanwhile, NBC is burning off Kidnapped on Saturdays and, yesterday, Fox announced their plans to wrap up Vanished after 13 episodes. So why would ABC put Lost on hiatus for 13 weeks to try out an untested serialized drama, Day Break?

ABC's rationale for cutting the third season of Lost into two chunks was that viewers were frustrated by too many repeats during the season. So ABC decided to air 6 episodes of Lost in the fall with a cliffhanger intended to sate fans' appetites until the drama returns in mid-February. But will the audience come back?

I turned to two other TV professionals -- a producer on a current hit TV series and a studio exec -- for their opinions on the Lost quandary. For the sake of privacy, both will remain anonymous, but we'll call them Mr. Producer and Studio Maven (or Maven for short).

"ABC is in for a rude awakening when it pulls Lost at the end of sweeps," said Mr. Producer. "With audience erosion approaching the double digits, it's suicide to continue with its plan to pull Lost. With its huge tumble from last season -- and an overdose on serialized dramas -- I feel like audiences will continue to flee the show... and possibly flock to time slot competitor, procedural Criminal Minds, which has picked up almost four million viewers since this time last season -- roughly the same amount that has left Lost."

Maven wholeheartedly agreed with Mr. Producer's assessment. "My gut is that it's a VERY bad idea to pull Lost so early in the season," she said. "The fact that the ratings are slipping is alarming, for sure, but if you take it off this early I think you run the risk of a certain percentage of people just not coming back. If people feel like it's work to keep up with when a show is on, they won't watch. True, the double digit percentage drop from last year to this year is worrisome, but it's still holding its own. Pulling it for a new show will not only anger fans (again), but potentially hurt the ratings even more."

Personally, I'd have to agree. Waiting the summer months out for a new episode of Lost was difficult enough, but the show's producers (and studio) were smart enough to unleash The Lost Experience, an online, interactive "experience" outside of the show for addicts to pore over and analyze all summer long. There are no current plans during the 13-week hiatus to launch anything that will keep the show in the forefront of fans' minds during this time... no matter how amazing that fall season cliffhanger is.

So what's the alternative on Wednesdays at 9 pm? ABC's Day Break? Having seen the pilot back in May, I can't say that I am planning to tune into the series. Whether Lost fans plan on watching this instead remains to be seen.

"By subbing in the Taye Diggs Groundhog Day-esque action series Day Break, you are asking viewers to commit to yet another high-concept serialized drama, something that ABC has failed to do with The Nine (and last season's Invasion)," said Mr. Producer. "Viewers may watch Jack Bauer's bad days on 24, but I don't know how many viewers want to watch Taye Diggs relive the same bad day over and over again."

So what does Mr. Producer think of Day Break's chances of success in Lost's timeslot? "Its future ultimately depends on its success and the possible cancellation of The Nine," he said. "If The Nine continues its shoddy run, and Day Break is able to hold onto Lost's numbers [in the timeslot], I'm thinking we will see Day Break shift into The Nine's slot come January... and be paired up with an early returning Lost."

On the other hand, Maven had a completely different take on how ABC should proceed, regardless of how well Day Break does. "With the poor ratings of Six Degrees, I don't see why ABC doesn't just keep Lost where it is and stick Day Break in Six Degrees' spot, or if they really want to take a risk... put Lost on Thursday at 10, after Grey's, opposite the rejuvenated ER," she offered.

I definitely agree with Maven and think that the one-two punch of Grey's Anatomy leading into Lost could be just the thing to boost the (relatively) sagging ratings of Lost and solidify Thursday night as belonging to ABC (they also air breakout hit Ugly Betty on the same night). Obviously, people are switching over to NBC's ER because they'd rather watch that than freshman series Shark or Six Degrees.

As for ER, NBC had originally intended to put that series on hiatus and air mid-season drama The Black Donnellys for 13 weeks, but last week the Peacock reconsidered its position and will instead leave the medical drama where it is and may even increase its episode count to 25. Pretty ironic for a series that many insiders had pegged was in its penultimate season.

Something tells me ABC would be wise to follow suit. Otherwise, Lost's audience may just up and disappear off the radar like a certain Oceanic flight.


Anonymous said…
Very good article!

ABC would be wise to do what Maven suggests - moving Lost to Thursday.
Anonymous said…
Excellent article. I am very bummed about this choice as well. I want to see all of LOST now, not have to wait until February to see the rest of the season. Yuck!
rockauteur said…
ABC cannot move Lost to Thursdays - they would lose out on their Wednesday anchor. Unless Day Break is a huge hit - and even if it is - its only on for 13 episodes this season, ABC would be out of their Wednesday anchor. With Dancing with the Stars heading for hiatus, The Nine's looming cancellation, ABC would be left with a lot of real estate open - and have to rebuild that entire night.
Kevin Sole said…
I'm of two minds on this one. Last season was brutal; I never knew when a new episode was actually going to air. It got irritating.

So when they announced the "mini-seasons", I thought, this could be good. Uninterrupted, it would be nice.

But I didn't realize -- probably should have, but I didn't -- that it was going to be THIRTEEEN friggin' weeks until the next mini-season. That's insanity!

If they did carry the season through though... wouldn't we get the same experience as we did last year?

I'm not sure which route would lose more viewers.
Anonymous said…
I agree with Kevin...the irregularity of last season was irritating but thirteen weeks is a heck of a long time to wait.

I'm concerned about the show. A lot of people I know are giving up on it. I'm still really enjoying it...actually a little more this season than last. I just hope that this new schedule won't result in more audience loss. It doesn't look good.
Anonymous said…
The problem with shows like LOST is that there's very little you can do to boost ratings. Fifty-some episodes into the show's run is a lot of backstory for a new viewer to try and catch up on. Chances are that someone tuning in for the first time is going to be completely confused and will unlikely be back for the next episode.

It's the same reason we're seeing networks drop shows like KIDNAPPED, RUNAWAY, and SMITH so quickly.
Anonymous said…
I think the most interesting question regarding Lost's disappearing audience is why exactly they left. Did they tire of the mysteries broadening instead of narrowing? The unresolved questions that seemed to be discarded? The repetitive flashbacks near the end of the season? (Yeah, we know Saywer was a con man, we got it. Yeah, we know Locke's dad is a dick, we figured that out the first time...) For me, the "Lost Experience" was an advertisement AGAINST the show. It was like homework--yes, there are folks that like solving math problems and breaking codes, but I still think storytelling is storytelling. And the storytelling side seems to be suffering on the show.

That said, I did enjoy this week's episode--it was the first one in a while in which the flashback drew me in more than the "present." There is some worrisome stuff going on with the stories this season, and it seems to be sort of a JJ Abrams/Alias influence. The villains seem to be giving mustache twirling lines now; there's a lot of "cute" dialogue going on; there's more and more inconsistent characterization and "convenient" moments...

Overall, I find "Lost" the show and "Lost" the pheonomenon to be fascinating. There really hasn't been another show like it (save for "The Prisoner") and for it to have enjoyed the success it's recieved is amazing. Now, it seems to be buckling under that success. I hope the trend turns around.
Anonymous said…
I'm with Danielle.

Many folks I know are about to give Lost the boot. This year's stories are just too gloomy. I don't care for the Others and the flashbacks are dragging.

I think, when they come back in the spring, they should wrap it up.
Anonymous said…
Actually, Steve, I said that *other* people are giving up on the show but that I'm actually enjoying it even more this season. My frustration was with the scheduling, not the show itself. The last thing I'd want is for them to "wrap it up" now. I think they still have a lot more stories to tell.
Rincey said…
I'm one of the few people in the world who doesn't watch Lost, but I think moving it to Thursday nights would not be smart because you would be expecting a lot of people to start watching a show that is already slightly confusing even if you are watching from the beginning.

ABC should just do what people have been saying for a long tme now, pull a 24 and just air the entire season straight with no breaks.
Anonymous said…
So move it to Thursday so that people would only be bothered to tune in ABC one night a week? I don't understand that logic. I say, move Dancing with the Stars to Sunday, followed by Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives. DWTS results on Monday night before Wife Swap and Bachelor for a reality block. For Thursdays, push up Grey's one hour and follow with Brothers and Sisters. And just redevelop Wednesday around LOST, (ie sci-fi thriller block). What happened in a bank isn't compelling enough to be considered a thriller. CBS develops better blocks than ABC, because their shows are more homogenous and flow more easily. And they have fewer tacky reality shows that draw viewers who won't stick around for more challenging fare.

LOST's problems have nothing to do with scheduling and everything to do with the public's lagging interest in the content. And it's no wonder. The audience reaction has moved from "what if?" to "what now?". A relatable sci-fi thriller has become a Byzantine puzzle. The Lost Experience only added to this, as it was both too convoluted and mundane (corporate corruption is behind the island?) and ultimately answered nothing of any consequence (duh).
Emily said…
I think ABC had better come up with a darn good cliffhanger to keep a lot of the viewers interested in LOST. Even though I am into the show enough to recap it every week, even I am getting annoyed with the slow movement of the current shows. The constant protestations from the Others that they are good without an iota of evidence to support it, AND without a bit of a hint as to why they are there, just makes me dislike them and believe they ARE the enemy - and the brutality that they constantly inflict on Sawyer and Kate makes the show pretty grim, even when some of it turns out to be fakery. In short, something is seriously wrong with the plot and story arc right now, and I am not the only viewer who's dissatisfied.
Anonymous said…
Why can't ABC just show a new episode each week for the entire season. No breaks and no reruns. I'm getting sick this. I'm about ready to boycott ABC altogether. Lamers....

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