December 4, 2012

ALWAYS WRITE THE LAST EPISODE FIRST:

'I Pretty Much Wanted to Die' : The origins of Lost, as told by the people who made it, in an exclusive first serial excerpt from The Revolution Was Televised (Alan Sepinwall, November 26, 2012, Grantland)

In the summer of 2003, Lloyd Braun was in the middle of a rocky tenure as chairman of ABC Entertainment. A few years earlier, ABC had geared its entire primetime schedule around the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, in the process making it impossible to grow new scripted hits; the Millionaire phenomenon inevitably fizzled, and the network was still recovering.

On vacation with his family in Hawaii, Braun watched his network's broadcast of the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, then went down to the beach to watch the sunset and meet up with his wife and kids. As he waited, he began pondering the idea of doing Cast Away as a TV show, but couldn't figure out how to make it work with only one actor and one volleyball.

"And then the notion of Survivor popped into my head," recalls Braun. "I don't know why. And I put it all together: What if there was a plane that crashed and a dozen people survived, and nobody knew each other. Your past was almost irrelevant. You could reinvent who you were. You had to figure out -- how do you survive? What do you use for shelter, for water? Is it like Lord of the Flies? How do we get off the island, how do you get home? And I start to get very excited about the idea, and I start thinking about the title Lost."

Braun had liked the name ever since he saw it attached to a short-lived NBC reality show, and kept it filed away in his head, waiting for the right idea to pair it with. Now, he had that idea -- and not much more.

He returned to the mainland and headed to an ABC corporate retreat, where executives had been instructed to pitch one series idea. Braun had another one all ready to go, but as he sat there waiting for his turn, "I was thinking of the original idea and thought it was lame. So I said, 'To hell with this, I'll pitch Lost,' knowing it was probably too high-concept for the room. And I did pitch it, and it was dead silent after I pitched it."

The only executive who showed any interest was Braun's head of drama development, Thom Sherman, and the two resolved to make it "our little baby," as Braun puts it, for that development season. Others were aware of it, but no one understood why their bosses were so obsessed with it.

Sherman hired a writer named Jeffrey Lieber, and as Lieber worked, Braun became infamous around the ABC offices for hovering over the idea's progress: "All year long, it's starting to become a running joke: All I'm asking about is this project."

Braun got a pile of pilot scripts from that year's development batch around Christmas, and quickly thumbed through looking for Lieber's. He found the first danger sign on the cover page: Lieber had changed the title to Nowhere. As for the script itself, Braun's gentle in saying that it "did not live up to my expectations, and I felt, in fact, fell prey to many of the concerns that many people had when they first heard the idea. I was very disappointed."

Given how late they were into the development season (which typically takes 8 or 9 months from summer to early spring), Sherman suggested they shelve the idea and try again next year.

"I said, 'Thom, there's no next year for us,'" says Braun, who knew the kind of thin ice he was on thanks to the network's recent performance. "At that point, it was clear to me that I didn't think any of us were going to be surviving. This was the time to take a shot at a show like this."

Lieber was out,1 and Braun turned to the one writer he suspected could do something with this on such short notice: J.J. Abrams.
Posted by at December 4, 2012 12:54 AM
  
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