Take 48 plane crash survivors stranded on a very unusual island, add an angry polar bear, a seething love triangle or two, and an invisible monster and you've got a surprisingly effective recipe for a television drama that critics call "the next great cult-pop sensation" -- ABC's new hit series, "Lost."
"Lost" averages more than 15.5 million weekly viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. The show has spawned countless Web pages where millions of avid fans log on and obsess about the show's secrets. Like: Where is this mysterious island? Some guess they're trapped in the Bermuda Triangle. Another theory says they're all dead and in purgatory.
"Lost" co-creator J.J. Abrams appreciates the fans' creativity.
"The purgatory one is a great one, I love that theory -- but it isn't what it is. I'd be frustrated if that were the answer I have to say," he said.
So the survivors are not in purgatory and it's not a dream. And producers say there is a logical explanation for everything.
To Abrams and co-creator Damon Lindelof the biggest shocker is the show's success. At the beginning, there were very few believers.
"Conventional wisdom was that there wasn't a chance in hell that this was going to work," Abrams said.
Lindelof said there was a long list of potential obstacles for the show's success. "From the word go, everybody was kind of saying the show is too weird. Nobody wants to see science fiction. It's on at 8 o'clock. It's too scary. There are too many characters," he said.
The story of how "Lost" blossomed from its shaky roots begins in another palm-shadowed, isolated and mysterious locale -- Hollywood.
Abrams said he got a phone call came from Lloyd Braun, who at the time was head of ABC Entertainment. Braun said he wanted to do a show about people who survive a plane crash on an island, Abrams recalled.
Abrams said he proposed a bit of a twist on the concept -- a touch of sci-fi and a touch of horror.
Braun needed to get a green light on the project in a week, and "Lost" was rushed through production at unheard of speed by a network hungry for hits.
Making the pilot was a high-stakes gamble and one of the most expensive in television history.
Carlton Cuse, the show's executive producer, said he was very anxious. "I thought, 'Oh geez, we will have lost even more money, because we will have invested in spending in all this money on a pilot, on a few episodes, and then it will die. It will be disaster magnified,' " he said.
And pulling together the unusually large cast -- 14 major characters -- was an enormous challenge for casting director April Webster.
Chaotic as it was, they knew any hope for success depended on finding the right cast.
"This was sort of this crazy catch-as-catch-can situation, where we were writing the story as we were meeting people who would inspire the story," Abrams said.
Even some of the cast members were skeptical. Harold Perrineau, who had appeared on the stage and in the HBO prison series "Oz," recalls getting a lot of flattery when he was approached to test for a role on the show.
"My first thought was blah blah blah blah, like Hollywood speak, they love you, you're great and so, like I just didn't pay any attention until the day I walked into the room. ... Suddenly I was 2 feet taller and like, yes, I'm great, that's right, you're right. ... We should be in business together," he said.