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Lost in 24: the end of an era

Two seminal TV shows come to an end this year: they are Lost and 24. I’ve personally invested a lot of time in both of these (in the case of the latter, almost a decade of my life) so I’m not ashamed to say that I (along with millions of others) will miss them when they are gone. Alas, as they both come to a natural conclusion, we ask what was the key to their success?

Lost was a critical and commercial success. Or rather, it still is. In its freshman year, the show averaged 16 million viewers in the US. Numbers were expectedly lower in the UK where Channel 4 had managed to scoop the rights to the show but it was still a huge success and created many ‘water-cooler’ moments.

Sky One then came sweeping before the third season and reportedly made a deal worth around £500,000 an episode and so Lost was lost to pay TV – if you’ll excuse the pun. This wasn’t the best news for fans in Blighty but the hardcore fan base was already established.

The producers tap into the mindset of desperation for information. By drip-feeding answers, they managed to create a solid, cult following; the latest series has averaged around 10m viewers – down on the original 16m but still no laughing matter. It’s almost a drug. You just want to know that little bit more.

In a bold move, the producers of Lost decided on an end date for the show three seasons in. This was a decisive and highly unusual move. Networks in the US generally like to milk their shows as much as they can – especially if they prove successful. Just look at the ageing CSI franchise. In fact, the focus on this is such that all actors which are signed on to a new show have to sign a seven year contract, just in case the show proves successful. With Lost, the producers came to an amicable solution during the third season: they promised the network three more seasons but asked to be allowed to do what they want. This meant that from Season 4, the show went into fifth gear – aiming for where it has got to now, the endgame – allowing the characters and storylines to be developed to an extend arguably never before seen on any TV show.

This season 24 has averaged around 11m viewers in the US. This is again much lower in the UK as Sky One, in a similar move to their acquisition of Lost, poached the show from BBC 2 after the second season. I never quite understood this: Sky One are paying FOX for the show – both are subsidiaries of Murdoch’s News Corp – that can’t be a good business model. Nonetheless, much like Lost the show had already established a hardcore cult following and remains hugely popular.

24 is and will remain a ground breaking series. The real-time format was an entirely new approach and allowed the show to explore subject matters in a different way. It is for this reason that 24 will also stand the test of time and remain as one of the most critical TV shows of the decade. As I already mentioned, I believe this to be case with Lost, too. People that were initially put off after the first or second season due to the nature of questions posed can now revisit it knowing that an end is in sight.

Nonetheless, this time next year, some of my favourite characters will not be on television on a regular basis. This makes me sad. However, I can rest in the fact that I watched both shows from the start to finish and gained from my investment. Boxsets the entire series (season 1-8 for 24 – there is also a feature long episode called 24: Redemption – and season 1-6 for Lost) will undoubtedly be available within a few months. I reckon after a few more months the prices will crash. So, if you have some time to kill make sure you buy them and enjoy two fantastic shows.

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