"We debated as to whether or not we should show you the REAL finale" to Lost, Damon Lindelof teased the nearly full Dolby Theatre Sunday night. To the hoots, applause and groans, Carlton Cuse said, "Too soon?!"
The Lost co-creators joined some of their stars for a 10th-anniversary tribute to the ABC cult hit. The show went off the air in 2010, but the 10th-anniversary tribute to the show was the fastest-selling event in the 31-year history of the William S. Paley Television Festival.
The fans turned out in droves to see cast members Henry Ian Cusick (aka Desmond), Jorge Garcia (Hurley), Josh Holloway (Sawyer), Malcolm David Kelley (Walt, all grown up), Yunjin Kim (Sun) and Ian Somerhalder (Boone). Unfortunately, due to shooting schedules run amok, Daniel Dae Kim (Jin) and Nestor Carbonell (Richard) were unable to join the fun. And, as moderator Paul Scheer put it, Vincent the dog also was unavailable, having just landed a role in Air Bud 4.
Scheer was an excellent and knowledgeable moderator, with some ideas of his own about the show and its place in TV history. "Lost was more than a show," he declared. "It really redefined the way we watched TV." In its six seasons, which "spanned both space and time," he continued, it was the first show "that made you run out and read a book because the show referenced it" (referring to his own copy of The Ginger Man), and it engaged its audience in weekly debate and almost forensic-level sleuthing. "I think you could even trace the idea of binge watching to Lost," he said.
Scheer also mentioned the elephant in the room, asking the audience to refrain from questions about the missing Malaysian aircraft, although the coincidence was hard to miss. But "that would be in bad taste," he said.
The episode screened for the event was "Exodus: Part 1," the first half of the first season's finale. At the end of the hour, the castaways succeed in launching a raft they've built in hopes of intercepting a passing ship.
Holloway shared a touching recollection of shooting in Hawaii, despite the challenges presented by the natural environment. "The harsher the elements, the more fun it became. To me, anyway. I love the fact, when the mudslides would start, and the little waterfalls everywhere, and everyone would cram under one little tent ... it was just a break in the day, and we were just having this moment in the middle of nature. I loved that."
Lindelof responded: "Never ever did we write, "There's rain, and Jack and Kate are running up a hill.' Most of the time on Lost, what you see is what you get."
That went for the raft, too, Holloway said: "We sailed that raft halfway to Kauai! They left us out there!"
Cuse told how the first raft constructed ... sank. The second time, Jack Bender, who directed 37 episodes of the series, "called up and said, 'We have a problem with the raft.' I said, 'Did it sink again?' He said, 'No, the raft is too fast, and the camera boat can't keep up!'"
The show started out very different, according to Darlton (the collective nickname of Lindelof and Cuse). Lindelof explained that, at first, "There was no Sun in the Lost script, because there was no Lost script!" Actress Kim read for the role of Kate. When she auditioned, she wowed them, in part by telling them she'd been in the equivalent of Titanic in Korea, "and we decided we needed to write a character for her."
Similarly, Garcia read for Sawyer, because Hurley didn't exist. But when they saw him play a pot dealer on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Darlton knew they had to get Garcia into their show, so they wrote the part of Hurley for him.
See also: PaleyFest Television Panel Bingo
It is true that the actors didn't usually know what was coming their way. As Lindelof put it, "We really felt at a certain point that withholding what our plans for the actors were was in the best interest of the show, because the actors were so strong that it informed the writers room.
"We're shooting the pilot," Lindelof continued, "and Terry O'Quinn [Locke] would go between takes half a mile down the beach, and sit with his earbuds in. And [co-creator J.J. Abrams] says to me, 'That guy's got a secret!' And I said, 'What is it?' And he said, 'You figure it out!'" (O'Quinn didn't know immediately that his character had boarded the plane in a wheelchair.)
Cuse agreed, "They were right there — they only knew what the characters knew..." And Somerhalder cut in, "And you were always on the precipice of death!"
That brought up the story of Boone, the first character to die (and the first one cast). As Cuse said, "The idea with Boone was we wanted to defy this TV convention. You know, if you're watching CSI: Miami and you put a gun to David Caruso's head, you know he won't die."
Lindelof interjected: "Right, the hair will deflect the bullet!"
To Somerhalder, Lindelof added, "You were such a pro [when we told you Boone was going to die]. You said, 'I get it, I understand, I can play that.' And you were so great, afterwards we were like, we need to kill more of the cast!"
Before going to audience questions, Scheer did ask "the question that annoys me the most: They weren't dead all the time, right?"
Cuse answered, "No. But...," which drew a look from Lindelof. They went on to explain that the show's final shot had been only accidentally misleading.
An ABC executive had suggested that, before they go "slamming into a Clorox commercial" at the end of the finale, there should be a bit of a buffer.
They had some leftover footage from the pilot, with the plane on the beach, but there were no people visible. "When [viewers] saw the footage at the end of the pilot, with no people, that gave them ideas," Cuse said.
But the characters definitely survived the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, and they really were on an island. (Holloway said he speculated to Lindelof, at the end of season two, that the island was "like the Death Star — it moves!" And the look he got from Lindelof in return caused him to fear for Sawyer's survival.)
But, as Cuse put it, "We refer to it as the Big Bang Theory — every question begets another question. We didn't feel like there was any way to answer all the open questions at the end of the show without it being really didactic and boring."
Cuse also said that the more he and Lindelof talked about these people, and how the show was about people who are lost, spiritually, the more it became clear that the ending had to be a spiritual ending.
Lindelof added, "For us, in the ongoing conversation with the audience, there was a very early perception that Lost was some sort of purgatory. And we were always out there saying it's not purgatory, this is real, we're not going to Sixth Sense you.
"Writers tend to get very pretentious. We started to say, in the final episode, wouldn't it be great if we could answer a mystery that the show had never asked? So let's go for, what's the meaning of life?"
Other revelations from the evening included the fact that the writers got sick of Nicki and Paolo long before the viewers did (although Holloway and the other actors had nothing but kind words about the actors who played them). They were intended to be the voice of "all these other idiots carrying things around," Lindelof said: "Nicki and Paolo would be our Rosencrantz & Guildenstern." Unfortunately, they just didn't work in the editing room.
And in case you wonder who it was in the outrigger that shot at Sawyer, the answer does exist. We didn't learn it on Sunday, but it does exist, Lindelof assured the audience. "I have to give you some level of satisfaction without answering your question, which is the Lost way."
They wrote the scene, he said, and then the writers decided it would be much better if that remained an unexplained event in the show. But the scene was written, and someday, he said, they might donate it to be auctioned off for charity. So don't give up hope.
PaleyFest certainly has grown in its 31 years. The annual William S. Paley Television Festival used to fit in the DGA Theatre. Then it moved some of its more popular events to the larger Saban Theatre. And now it's capable of filling the same theater as the Oscars — for some events, anyway, such as this one.
But is it the right venue for PaleyFest? The lure of the event was always the chance to be in the same room with one's favorite TV stars, to see them interacting up close, to be able to ask that burning question. Although Scheer did his best during the Q&A, calling on those "cheap bastards" in the balconies, the cavernous house did nothing to enhance the intimacy of the event. The lighting in the auditorium also was terrible, shining into the audience's faces as much as onstage, making it hard to actually look at the panelists. Watching the event on the giant overhead screen felt pretty much like, dare we say, watching it on television — or on the livestream, which reportedly was globally accessible.
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Maybe Paley Center organizers should return the live event to a smaller venue, in future, and look to share it via satellite in cinemas or other venues with a larger capacity. Then those lucky few who get tickets can be part of a special experience, and more people can share in it remotely.
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