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How Survivor inspired Lost, which stole its name from yet another reality series

How Survivor inspired Lost, which stole its name from yet another reality series

That CBS’ Survivor inspired the ABC drama Lost is well-known, but a new book reveals that the show also took its name from another reality series, NBC’s Lost, which was executive produced by Conan O’Brien.

That’s revealed in HitFix critic Alan Sepinwall’s book The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever, which examines how television was transformed by 12 series, including The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Friday Night Lights, and Mad Men.

Sepinwall is an exceptional critic, even if he doesn’t pay attention to the part of TV I love so much, so his in-depth reporting on these phenomenal series is quite welcome.

Grantland excerpted the Lost creation story from his book, and it’s a must-read especially if, like me, you fell in love with the show early.

Here’s how ABC entertainment chair Lloyd Braun conceived the series in 2003:

On vacation with his family in Hawaii, Braun watched his network’s broadcast of the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, then went down to the beach to watch the sunset and meet up with his wife and kids. As he waited, he began pondering the idea of doing Cast Away as a TV show, but couldn’t figure out how to make it work with only one actor and one volleyball.

“And then the notion of Survivor popped into my head,” recalls Braun. “I don’t know why. And I put it all together: What if there was a plane that crashed and a dozen people survived, and nobody knew each other. Your past was almost irrelevant. You could reinvent who you were. You had to figure out — how do you survive? What do you use for shelter, for water? Is it like Lord of the Flies? How do we get off the island, how do you get home? And I start to get very excited about the idea, and I start thinking about the title Lost.”

Braun had liked the name ever since he saw it attached to a short-lived NBC reality show, and kept it filed away in his head, waiting for the right idea to pair it with. Now, he had that idea — and not much more.

So yes, Lost owes its life to two reality series. If only it had continued to borrow from Survivor and focus on people, not mysteries.

Speaking of that: Braun insisted early that the show be grounded in “scientific fact” (if only!) and Sepinwall writes that “a deeper understanding of the mythology wasn’t crucial to the first season, when Lindelof and Cuse had so much to reveal about the characters, and could get so much dramatic mileage out of showing them simply battling for survival.”

That’s why the pilot and first season’s episodes were so compelling, and Lost really went off the rails–and lost me, eventually–when it bailed on that.


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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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