Behind the Secrets of 'Lost'

We looked at "Twin Peaks" as a model of what not to do in terms of stringing the audience along. So if you look over the course of the first season of the show, questions that you might not expect to get answered are answered. You know: "What is the source of this radio transmission?" All of a sudden you meet the French woman. If you were to go back to the pilot and look at what the mysteries were that were posed by the pilot, a lot of those questions have really been answered.

LINDELOF: To look at "The X-Files" as a failure -- the show was on for nine years.

TAPPER: I don't mean to say it's a failure but it was very …

LINDELOF: Why do you hate "The X-Files"?

ABRAMS: Yes, what did "The X-Files" do to you?

TAPPER: I loved "The X-Files." It was appointment viewing for me, and then I stopped watching.

LINDELOF: There is a point that no writer or producer knows where, when the story becomes too long. And once you've crossed over that line, you look back and say, "Oh, no. I should have ended it before I got into this zone where it becomes too long." But the pragmatic reality of the network television business is we don't own the show. We don't get to decide when the show ends. If we lived in a world where Chris Carter could say to his masters at Fox, "I want to end the show after five seasons," then you could point the finger and say, "Shame on you." But the lesson to be learned is the lesson of the inevitable, and we're in the same boat. People will continue to watch "Lost" as long as it's great. They'll stop watching it when it is no longer great. And it will no longer be great when it's been going on too long. So there is almost an inevitable moment that will occur when the show should have ended and didn't.

TAPPER: J.J., there's obviously the "Twin Peaks" lesson. Is there an "X-Files" lesson?

ABRAMS: That show took turns that were, given the cast and cast changes -- by the end of the show the people who you've been watching weren't on the show. It had become a very different show in a lot of ways. And what Damon said is right, there is an economic reality. This is product to a company as much as it is to us a purely creative endeavor. So the question is how do you navigate those waters? When you look at any series on television -- "X-Files" and "Twin Peaks" are two examples -- when does a show end well? I mean it happens, there are examples you can point to, but it's infrequent. I mean I think it's the anomaly. We hope it happens in our case but in the meantime we're just doing the best we can to keep the show as good as it can be.

Killing Off the Characters

TAPPER: Let's talk about the decision to kill characters, because you were talking about Josh Holloway who plays Sawyer, being contracted for six seasons.

ABRAMS: As are they all.

TAPPER: You killed off characters in the first season and you killed off characters in the second season. Is that difficult to do?

ABRAMS: It's always difficult to make an adjustment in the cast of a show. On a show like "Lost," in particular, it's a weird thing because there's sort of a mandate that the island not be a safe place. You can't go through a season and not have some loss of life.

We don't do the "Star Trek," where it's like the "red shirts" are there -- which we've made references to in the show -- where every time there is someone in a red shirt you knew that that person was going to be offed.

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