Note to Networks: Follow ‘Lost’ and Lose

Ratings skids for ‘The Event’ and ‘No Ordinary Family’ and cancellation of ‘Rubicon’ prove ‘Lost’ formula is tough to bottle

Last Updated: November 18, 2010 @ 3:44 PM

Let's all say it again: There will never be another "Lost."

From ABC's "FlashForward" to NBC's "The Event"to AMC's just-canceled "Rubicon," a slew of recent heavily hyped shows have tried to repeat at least one part of the ABC instant classic's magic formula: a baffling concoction of mystery, sci-fi, time-jumps and plucky, beautiful people in a gorgeous tropical locale.

Guess which of those elements has been easiest to recapture?


Also read: AMC Cancels 'Rubicon' After One Season

Only CBS' "Hawaii Five-O" — filled with plucky beauties on the shores of sunny Honolulu — has thrived. And while it’s hardly a “Lost” knock-off, it has found success with the aid of the "Lost" locale (Hawaii), one of its leads (Daniel Dae Kim), and two of "Lost" executive producer J.J. Abrams' most successful collaborators, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. (Of course, "Hawaii Five-O" also owes a debt to that other show about five-O in Hawaii.)

All other potential successors to the "Lost" legacy have crashed on the beach:

>>NBC's "The Event," which borrows from "Lost" a disconcerting narrative structure, premiere episode plane disappearance and important-sounding, overriding question (what is the Event?), has slid harder than any other new network show still on the air. Starring Jason Ritter, the show debuted with a 3.6 rating among 18-49 year-olds, only to slip to a 1.7 in its latest outing. (Hey, seriously: What is the Event?)

>>ABC's super-family, Michael Chiklis-starring fantasy "No Ordinary Family," which begins with, yes, another life-altering plane crash, has had the second-biggest ratings skid of the fall, debuting with a 3.2 in the 18-49 demo only to slip to a 1.7 this week.

>>Last season's "FlashForward" on ABC shared its name and concept with a storytelling tactic that appeared earlier on "Lost" and was later used far and wide, including by ABC's "Desperate Housewives." Despite promise, it didn't last the season.

>>AMC's "Rubicon" went its own way in its tone and demandingly slow pace, but its conspiratorial elements would have done Ben Linus proud. Though it had AMC’s highest-rated debut for an original scripted series (surpassed this season by “Walking Dead”) it didn’t deliver enough to get a second season.

>>Fox's "Fringe," another Abrams production led by Kurtzman and Orci, gamely presses on with unremarkable ratings. This season is built around the brain-twisting alternate-reality conceit that "Lost" flirted with, but dodged, in its final season. (All alternate-reality shows probably owe a debt to the Uncanny X-Men comic book's masterful "Days of Future Past," but let's leave that alone for now.)

The best bet for a "Lost" successor may be a planned Abrams show featuring "Lost" Emmy winners Michael Emerson (character TK) and Terry O'Quinn (ditto), who will reportedly play ex-spies. The show sounds firmly in the comfort zone of the "Alias" creator and "Mission: Impossible III" director. (His just-canceled "Undercovers" also featured spies back in the game, but lacked the spark of the Emerson-O'Quinn pairing that drove latter seasons of "Lost").

Of course, one could argue that not even "Lost" could fulfill its own early hype. Its ratings slid as its lovable castaways crossed the island — and oceans — again and again, adding to the show's mysteries instead of solving them.

The show's resistance to answering its own questions has made many readers resistant to getting lured into another massive TV mystery. It also burdened new shows' creators with having to answer some of their own questions fast — which the producers of "The Event" have promised to do.

"I was actually … I've been a big fan of '24' and 'Lost' and, you know, 'Battlestar,' all those shows for years and since I was a kid, and so that definitely influenced my writing," the show's creator, Nick Wauters, told reporters at NBC's summer press tour.

"So I'm very conscious of that, and … which is why, you know, we're going to try and reveal as many answers as we can as we go and then set up new mysteries."

NBC also notes that the show, which has already been picked up for a full season, gains significant viewership on DVR.

The success of "Hawaii Five-O" where others have struggled raises one of the biggest mysteries of all: Did people tune into "Lost" for all its big questions and leaps through time? Or just because they liked the cool, pretty people on the show?

The "Lost" showrunners, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, struggled with the same question. They decided viewers cared more about the characters than the mysteries when they opted to leave some of the mysteries unsolved.

For the aspirants to the legacy of "Lost," it sounds like a good problem to have.

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