Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Does LOST *STILL* Measure Up to LOST IN SPACE?

Some years ago, we asked the question: “Does LOST Measure Up to LOST IN SPACE?” -- and answered the question (in the strictest sense it could be answered) HERE.

I’ve had occasion to revisit that thought of late, and have (alas) found another way that LOST has become a runner-up… in successful syndication.


Remarkably, I am presently watching LOST IN SPACE weekly on the “ME TV” cable network in PRIME TIME (every Saturday at 8 PM).

That’s over 47 YEARS after its network debut on CBS, in September, 1965. Yes, even *I* would not have believed its incredible longevity!

Just a week and a half (or so) ago on "ME TV", I saw THIS ONE!


LOST, despite being (IMHO) the single greatest experience one could have in contemporary television, (equally as remarkable) has little or no presence in broadcast syndication a mere TWO YEARS after its network run?

Why is that?

Yeah!  Why *IS* that?!

Is it because it is impossible to casually watch a single episode in isolation, due to its ultra-heavy continuity, as one might casually watch an episode of THE SIMPSONS or THE BIG BANG THEORY?

Hey!  I only said: What about FAMILY GUY?
Or, is it because the late afternoon / early evening hour-long spots (that shows like LOST IN SPACE, STAR TREK, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, etc. once called home) are now occupied by expanded local news or trashy talk shows?

Either way, LOST (for all of its – pardon the word – “awesomeness”) has gotten the short end of the syndication stick… and that’s a shame for future generations of viewers.


Anonymous said...

I do think the heavy continuity hurts shows like "Lost," "Alias," and "24." Hard core fans prefer it, but casual viewers find it too much trouble. If you miss even one episode, you're (no pun intended) lost. It's even worse with comic books, because of the crossovers and tie-ins. To understand this month's JLA or Avengers, you not only have to have read every issue of that title for the past six months, you have to read the individual members' solo titles (and in the correct order) for the same period.

Chris Barat said...


I think it's the former. People who want to watch LOST probably do so by either buying or renting the DVD collections, so that they can follow the series without having to worry about "missing a night."

You might recall that HILL STREET BLUES, another continuity heavy series, didn't have much luck in syndication, either.


Joe Torcivia said...

Anon and Chris:

I’d say you’re both correct about heavy continuity being the prime factor. I know I’d never have been able to enjoy LOST to the extent that I did, if not for DVD (as I’ve described elsewhere on this Blog). Indeed, that’s how I’d recommend it to anyone who’d care to seek it out now. Or, use some download option. It is a shame that such a spectacular sweeping adventure series ends up so “absent from the scene” less than two years after its network run.

I was always led to believe that a program’s greatest value was not its network “first run”, but its “afterlife” in endless syndication. Look at THE SIMPSONS, or SEINFELD… not to mention 47 year old LOST IN SPACE that, incredibly, is still hanging in there – albeit not exactly on a marquee channel.

Clearly, that has changed, and longevity (while I’d imagine is still a nice thing to have) is no longer a primary concern. I can’t imagine the current crap… er, “crop” of reality shows having ANY value at all, beyond the here-and-now.

And, even an ambitious and worthy effort such as LOST (…or, presumably HEROES, FRINGE, etc.) would seem to be produced with the knowledge that it will never be a daily part of the public’s viewing habits… as opposed to something like TWO AND A HALF MEN.

Is it really worth sacrificing the future value of your brand or property in exchange for an addicted audience in the present? It would seem so.

While typing this, an alternative thought just occurred. Perhaps, in this new paradigm, LOST or FRINGE is not the “brand or property” -- but J.J. Abrams is! And the spike in popularity of a LOST or a FRINGE during its initial run serves to sell “J.J. Abrams”, as opposed to creating continued interest in post-network runs of LOST or FRINGE! …And, that’s how we get J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK, and whatever else comes along under his brand.

Stranger things have happened!

And (to make this comment all the longer), having concurred on heavy continuity as the primary factor, we cannot completely discount the lack of “available local broadcast time”.

As I’m certain you both know, the hours of 4-7 PM were home (one might even say “dumping ground”) to off-network prime time series that had achieved any degree of popularity. Both 30 and 60 minute shows. In New York alone, 6-7 PM was home to the “Big Three” of LOST IN SPACE (1970, Ch.5), STAR TREK (1975, Ch.11), and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1977, Ch.9). Nothing like that exists in that time slot now!

What little syndicated off-network programming remains is strictly 30 minute stuff (THE SIMPSONS, FAMILY GUY, SEINFELD, TWO AND A HALF MEN, and the like). No hour slots are given over to any such shows, whether crippled by continuity or not.

Maybe “syndication” as we knew it, is no longer necessary, given the proliferation of cable channels – and the mere fact that LOST IN SPACE is still “out there” (…and that someone can still “stumble across it” and maybe become a fan -- even in 2012!) is some validation of that. But, I still don’t see a similar place for LOST or HEROES (…and, perhaps, neither will viewers 47 years from now!)

Announcing “The Heavy Continuity Channel”… Don’t Miss a Minute! (Anyone wanna back me on this venture?)

Comicbookrehab said...

It's the shows that have a definite ending that suffer the most. Who wants to watch "St. Elsewhere" after knowing that the whole thing was the fantasy of an autistic boy? Who wants to watch "LOST" knowing that...well, I'm don't know if you've seen it, but...Well, I notice the HUB is showing reruns of "Sliders" and that means I get to catch all the episodes that debuted on the Scifi Channel after FOX dropped the show - even though I wasn't watching it much after they nixed the "comedy/adventure" angle in favor of hard sci-fi to keep up with The X-Files, a show that REALLY does not fare well in syndication. But neither does Buffy or Angel - both disappeared after their debut years in reruns.

In NYC, WWORChannel 9 (The Former UPN affiliate that became a MyNetworkTV affiliate before becoming simply "My9" after Leslie Moonves created the CW)airs reruns of MONK, HOUSE, LAW & ORDER, BURN NOTICE, WHITE COLLAR and BIG BANG THEORY in prime time, while Reruns of LOST and HEROES air in prime time on the G4 Network. FRINGE and FIREFLY air in prime time on the Science Channel (which is splitting hairs, since that channel is usually devoted to covering "real" science.) BBC America airs Star Trek:TNG more often than Doctor Who (!). I'm surprised G4 shows Knight Rider and Quantum Leap, but no Baywatch...they seem to go together for some reason.

I've been trying to get into Burn Notice, but I find Jeffrey Donovan very bland - he makes Jack Scalia look dynamic. :P Also for the last year or so, WWOR 9's reception has been strange, like the contrast is so low that everyone on thier programming looks like they've spray-tanned burnt orange - even Hugh Laurie.

and isn't it funny how a new cable channel that premires dedicated to showing reruns 24/7 usually aborts that idea in favor of reality shows and..new stuff? TV Land, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Toon Disney (R.I.P), Boomerang (still hanging in there, but who knows?).

Joe Torcivia said...

OMG! You’ve just SPOILED St. Elsewhere for me! I could just DIE! (Just kidding!)

And I have seen the ending of LOST (even posted on it – look under the “LOST” label), but that doesn’t mean I’d not want to see it again. Oddly, knowing the whole story ALREADY makes watching “isolated, random slices” of it more palatable, than if I were seeing it for the first time. MAN, would I be puzzled, if I were seeing it that way without any prior knowledge!

My9 does seem to devote time to certain hour-long series – though (forgive me if I’m wrong, due to unfamiliarity with some of them) they seem to more often be those that are less continuity-heavy than LOST, HEROES, FRINGE, etc. I’ve certainly been able to watch episodes of LAW AND ORDER in isolation and enjoy them. But, My9’s more an exception to the rule -- likely because they don’t have first run series as they did as when they were UPN.

I’m glad LOST, HEROES, FRINGE, etc. are actually SOMEWHERE out there in the trackless cable wasteland (as is LOST IN SPACE), but big, recent hits like these should be in a better place than that incredible light-hearted sci-fi show of 1965!

Dana Gabbard said...

I'll be a heretic and muse whether Lost is one of those entities that during the initial romance has everyone hot and bothered but afterward a critical eye starts to see all the flaws. Blair Witch had huge box office and now is nearly forgotten or written off as a gimmick. Also the way Lost was self-indulgent in its last season and dodged really exploring the core mystery I think makes many of us consider watching episodes a roadtrip to nowhere...

Joe Torcivia said...


You may be right about the ardor for LOST cooling somewhat… though I liked its finale – and discuss it in spoiler-filled detail at the link below, for anyone who’s interested in reliving those days.


Ultimately, the format DOES work against continued and extended life beyond its initial run.

Oh, and what’s that other thing you mention? …“Blair Who”? …“Blair What”? …“Blair Which”?

Don’t think I’ve heard of it, old boy! Fame is deucedly fleeting, you know.

Dana Gabbard said...

"Ultimately, the format DOES work against continued and extended life beyond its initial run".

I have been of the opinion for some time that the economics of episodic television are in conflict with creative trends.

In the classic era you could watch any episode of Bonanza or Donna Reed without reference to prior episodes. Since the big money for producers was syndication continuity was downplayed so episodes could be run in just about any order by local stations.

A digression--in one of his showbiz columns in Crossfire Mark Evanier noted episodes of Wecome Back Kotter were deliberately mixed up when shown in syndication. The reason was the show had some periods of very silly episodes and it was felt running the show in production order would undermine viewing by having a spate of silly shows versus scattering them amid episodes that were more watchable. End of digression.

Now shows have storylines that continue from episode to episode, with continuity being much more important. This is even true of many sitcoms.

I have a theory this partly is being driven by the growing economic importance of DVDs collecting entire seasons. Arcs and character development are gaining emphasis versus each episode being stand-alone.

Having a show be more like chapters of a novel also creates problems when classic TV storytelling techniques are still used. I think most of us longtime TV viewers are familiar with the Persistent Disbelief Syndrome critic Eric Deggans recently complained of. When we are so engaged with a show and the events in it episode to episode this sort of stuff becomes more glaringly obvious.

This sort of storytelling of course doesn't work well with the model of shows running until ratings slip. They really call for having beginnings, middles and ends but the economics are for shows to be open ended. I think this creates a danger of more premise fatigue than in the past. I mean how long can Burn Notice sustain its somewhat limited premise? The acting and writing (both outstanding) is doing its best to keep it going when likely creatively it should have only lasted for 2-3 seasons.

Joe Torcivia said...


Interesting points, all!

Re: KOTTER. Most of the shows I’ve held in the highest esteem (regardless of what critics may say) are those that have high peaks and low valleys. THE OUTER LIMITS, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., LOST IN SPACE, THE WILD WILD WEST, BATMAN, STAR TREK TOS, and more. That’s a large part of what MADE them such fun.

There’s a charm to such variation in quality that other great series, such as PERRY MASON, never had. Anyone can pick out a bad STAR TREK or LOST IN SPACE – and anyone can pick out a good one! (Though “good” is often in the eye of the beholder, especially with these shows!) I’m not certain there’s ANY SUCH THING as a “bad” PERRY MASON. And, because of that, it is not all that easy to distinguish an outstanding one either. It’s just remarkably consistent in the “Good” range.

As you say, DVD, and other on-demand viewing options, may make continuity-heavy shows easier to watch as a whole. It sure worked for me with LOST, HEROES, FRINGE, and currently THE WALKING DEAD. But, I’m still not nearly as hot for watching a single episode of LOST in isolation, as I would be for LOST IN SPACE. There’s just that sort of “small, unsatisfying sliver of pie” thing going on.

The “Persistent Disbelief Syndrome” piece that you offer a link to should be of interest to all “fannish types”.

To sum up with a quote: “It’s that set up in a show where almost no one believes the star character, despite the fact that he or she is almost always right and has a really long track record of being right.”

The piece Dana links to applies this concept to the modern series HOMELAND, but it is timeless enough to be applied to Admiral Nelson, Will Robinson, and Captains Kirk and Picard! The latter two ESPECIALLY! How can Starfleet continue to minimize (or outright dismiss) what they have to say?! Oh, yes… it makes for a good episode, when the captain is later vindicated. Never mind that Starfleet never learns its lesson. That’s episodic television, for you!

As far as a show’s premise sustaining its energy… As I write this, I am presently in the middle of Season Two of THE WALKING DEAD on DVD. And, I am utterly amazed at how much good storytelling and character conflict the show has wrung out of the basic “flesh-eating zombies come to life and attack the living” idea. I believe it’s currently in its third broadcast season. Let’s see how long this quality is sustained.

I’m betting on many more peaks than valleys!