Lost vs. Alcatraz

The ABC series “Lost” premiered in 2004 and was a huge success. It lasted six seasons, brought in massive ratings and garnered critical acclaim. Another J.J. Abrams series, FOX’s “Alcatraz,” did not do so well. It only lasted one season due to disappointing ratings. Students Max Tartlon, Alessandra Nella, Elizabeth Buczak and Alex Stedman took a look at both series to figure out why one was a hit and one flopped.

  • J.J Abrams, creator and executive producer, has noted several times he loves serialized TV because they are purposefully complex. The point is to ask big questions, to make the show become quickly impenetrable. People that watch them get emotionally invested and connected to the show as it allows them to get more in depth with the show, characters and storyline.
  •  While Lost was the epitome of serialization, Abrams wanted to try a broader model  for Alcatraz, to appeal to a larger audience. The show was designed as episodic with overarching mythology over time. The model allowed for a mixture of procedural week style TV, while still containing the familiar Abrams elements like mythology, time travel, and supernatural elements.

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  • J.J. Abrams is a famous and respected name in the industry, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had his share of flops. He’s had television projects both where he’s been very creatively involved, such as “Lost,” and also television projects where he’s only attached as an executive producer, such as “Alcatraz.” Keeping with this pattern, most of the television shows that he’s creatively involved in do better than shows he simply is attached as executive producer.
  • Abrams had a very heavy hand in the creative aspects of “Lost.” He co-created it and directed and co-wrote the award-winning pilot. However, on “Alcatraz,” he mostly just acted as a consultant. His creative roles on “Felicity,” “Alias” and “Fringe” were much more similar to his creative roles on “Lost” and were huge successes. On “What About Brian,” “Six Degrees” and “Alcatraz,” however, he had little creative input, and those shows did not do so well, showing that his creative involvement in a television project can make or break it.
  • While ensemble casts are nothing new on TV, “Lost” took it to an extreme rarely seen before, evenly distributing storylines across as many as 14 main characters.
  • TV shows traditionally subsist on a handful of major characters, but “Lost” took the ensemble cast approach to new heights by making it palatable to an audience big enough to make the show a hit, all while infusing it with a level of diversity.
  • The pilot was shot in 6-8 weeks at the end of March. The producers filled Oceanic flight 815 seats with many unfamiliar faces. At first glance the viewers thought Jack Shephard was the main character, but soon learned that Michael the construction worker, Dominic the junkie musician, Emilie the young pregnant Australian and Hugo Reyes were also important lead characters.
  • “Lost does an excellent job of audience inclusion. People from different backgrounds and experiences come together and learn about each other while watching the show.”  Dr. Darnell Hunt, Professor of Sociology and Director of Bunche Center at UCLA,
  • Though Lost and Alcatraz were both productions of J.J. Abrams, they seemed to have an opposite reactions on the television screen. Not only were they aired during alternating seasons, they also had different time slots and different program competition. Even though Alcatraz was aired in the mid-season and became very unsuccessful, it’s unclear to even schedulers at Fox as to why the show didn’t succeed.
  • There are two main times of the year when new shows primarily premiere on television. The mid-season launch, which airs the pilot episodes in late January and early February, and in the Fall, airing the pilots around August and September. Television shows are scheduled during these seasons because of an industry tradition as well as market new products before the holiday season.
  • While Alcatraz had minimal competition in Fox’s popular midseason, it still managed to keep audiences tuned into other networks. Unlike Alcatraz, LOST was put at a very difficult time slot, and eventually replaced Grey’s Anatomy’s Thursday slot and still managed to get millions of views.
  • As the Fall season has historically been popular on most networks channels like ABC, The mid-season at Fox proves to be the more popular with audience ratings. According to Anne Schwarz, the Executive Director of Scheduling at Fox, the mid-season at Fox seems to get the best ratings because of how much viewership the network’s biggest show, American Idol, brings in.
  • Though Lost and Alcatraz were both productions of J.J. Abrams, they seemed to have an opposite reactions on the television screen. Not only were they aired during alternating seasons, they also had different time slots and different program competition. Even though Alcatraz was aired in the mid-season and became very unsuccessful, it’s unclear to even schedulers at Fox as to why the show didn’t succeed.
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