When it first aired, Lost was groundbreaking for the way it rejected common TV structures, presenting a serialized show that demanded viewers come back week to week. It helped lead us into the era of prestige TV we still enjoy today, though leading that charge could be a struggle, as co-creator and showrunner Damon Lindelof discussed in an interview with Collider.
Lindelof says that the plan for the series was only ever to run for around three seasons. With the show’s hook relying on dangling mysteries in front of viewers hungry for answers, it could only ever sustain itself for as long as those mysteries were compelling.
“Lost was like, ‘What’s in the hatch? What’s up with the monster? Who’s the original Sawyer? How did Locke get in the wheelchair? What is the nature of the island? Why does it appear to be moving? Who are the Others?'” Lindelof told Collider. “There were all of these compelling mysteries and so we were saying, ‘We wanna have this stuff answered by the end of Season 1, this stuff answered by the end of Season 2, and then the show basically ends after about three years.'”
At the time Lost was being made, however, TV shows were generally designed to be run for as long as people kept watching them. “[ABC] were just like, ‘Do you understand how hard it is to make a show that people want to watch? And people like the show? So why would we end it? You don’t end shows that people are watching.'”
As the show kept dragging out, they manifested many of the issues that Lost viewers would be familiar with–frustrations with ongoing mysteries and flashbacks that no longer added to the story. Lindelof and co-showrunner Carlton Cuse kept trying to negotiate with ABC to end the series in line with the story arcs they had already created and thought through to a logical end.
Eventually ABC agreed to end the series after 10 seasons– while the creators were working on the third season and wanting to make the fourth one final. Eventually they settled on six, which led to the show’s controversial ending–though star Josh Holloway recently said he was personally happy with how the series ended.
“The agreement was we landed on six [seasons] with less episodes to give us more time in between seasons to plan things out,” Lindelhof explained. “And then of course the fourth season was cut short by the writers’ strike, but everything else went relatively according to design. Not to say that everything we did worked, but we had a plan and we executed that plan.”
Lindelhof most recently worked on HBO’s Watchmen, which was conceived and executed to be a standalone single season. While HBO has suggested that future continuations are a possibility, Lindelhof seems happy to leave the story where he left it, which is more than understandable given his experience on Lost.