In a time of dwindling ratings, bisected seasons and cancellation fears, fans of the television show Lost were given a nice present this week. ABC execs have announced that there will be three more hours in the countdown to the end of the show.
In addition to adding an hour to the May 29 finale this month, they have ordered an extra hour each for the final two seasons, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This brings the 2009 and 2010 chapters to 17 hours instead of the previously announced 16. The reason for this was because the writers strike bled three hours of the show from the current season.
Normally, adding or cutting hours for the sake of filling the networks’ time and contract requirements can be a dangerous game, even if the total hours for the seasons add up the same (14+17+17 as opposed to 16+16+16). More doesn’t necessarily mean better. And less doesn’t help either.
There have been stumbles in the past, including the decision back in the 60s to make The Twilight Zone episodes each an hour long. Sure, that was more of the classic series in one dose, but the best and most beloved episodes really didn’t come from that season.
There are more recent examples, including Babylon 5, which went on a hurry-up offense to give a finale when its series run was cut short. But it’s not just a problem to lose television time. Any fan of Seinfeld can’t deny that the show’s rhythm was completely thrown off when they decided to give us a rare hour-long special episode.
For the pure entertainment-driven viewer, the writers strike put their shows in a whirlwind. At first, they were anticipating a full season. Then they get a truncated one. Some series, like 24, lost an entire year (or day, in this case) altogether, which can have potentially fatal repercussions on the fickle television viewership.
Of all the high-profile series that have weathered the strike storm, Lost is one that did it best. The fourth season hadn’t even premiered when the writers first took to the picket line, and the eight shows they had in the can didn’t completely play out before the strike was resolved. By not splitting the season up with a huge hiatus like it did last year, it’s not lost audience as it did in 2007.
All this causes me to hold out some hope. One of the few people in television history that has been able to spin some gold out of how the networks monkey with time is J.J. Abrams.
This Hollywood golden boy’s first big series was the wretched Felicity. In its fourth season, the WB ordered only 17 episodes, but during the filming of the finale (which featured a series wrap-up, including everyone graduating from school) the network asked for another five episodes.
In a panic, Abrams made a bold decision. He delivered a quick, five-episode arc which included Felicity traveling back in time for a chance to relive the last year of her life. This was risky, but the series was already done, so he didn’t have to worry about it being canceled. What we ended up with was a non-traditional yet utterly interesting take on the Felicity universe. And it led Abrams down a path of surreal fiction that would touch most of his shows over the next several years.
We can hope, as fans, that Abrams will keep Lost from suffering from cancer of the network executive. I, for one, have faith.
Now if we can just keep those pesky actors on the job this summer, things will be hunky-dory.
Sound Off: Are these extra hours going to help or hurt the series?