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ABC finds new place for 'Lost'

The show will move to Thursdays but the strike may prevent its season from being completed.

December 15, 2007|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

Is half of "Lost" better than nothing?

ABC and its producers are hoping so. The network released its strike-affected midseason schedule Friday and, in a surprise move, said that beginning Jan. 31 it would put the island mystery in the Thursday night time slot vacated by "Grey's Anatomy," which is running out of fresh episodes.

When Fox announced last month that it would postpone "24" indefinitely, speculation arose that ABC might decide to hold the similarly serialized "Lost," which has only eight completed episodes of its 16-episode season.

The switch to Thursdays marks the third time-slot move for "Lost" in four seasons and the first time it won't air on Wednesday nights. On Thursdays the mysterious castaways won't have to face off against Fox's "American Idol" machine, nor will they compete against original episodes of CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" as long as the writers strike continues.

"Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof said, "The only show you don't want to be up against in January is 'American Idol,' and there were very few time slots that would afford us to not compete with 'Idol.'

"If they had told us last year we were going to get the 'Grey's Anatomy' time slot, I would have been thrilled, especially since there's no new 'CSI' to go against," Lindelof continued. "But the time slot is completely colored by the fact that we're still engaged in this writers strike. It's bad for the entire town."

"Lost" and "24" have done better in the ratings when the networks aired episodes without interruption in scheduling. To that end, ABC, in a highly unconventional move, announced in May that "Lost," the series that helped lift the network out of last place, would have three more seasons of 16 uninterrupted episodes each, airing from February to May through 2010.

The decision came after a tumultuous year for the series. ABC aired its third season in two parts -- six episodes in the fall and 16 in midseason -- and the size of its audience declined by 14%. When the show returned in midseason it picked up momentum, convincing ABC executives that the show's fans prefer it to have a straight run.

But the strike has altered those plans, and ABC may now have to air "Lost" in two parts. Lindelof and executive producer Carlton Cuse intended the new season to be a 16-episode arc and were hoping that the strike would be resolved in time for ABC to be able to air the series in its entirety continuously. With the end of the strike increasingly uncertain, Lindelof said Friday that ABC had no choice.

"What I would not want to do is hold these episodes of 'Lost' indefinitely," he said. "I feel like the fans haven't seen any 'Lost' since the end of May, and I completely understand the network's decision to air these eight episodes.

"We certainly designed our season as 16 straight, and this is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination. But we can't go on strike in one breath and then complain about the fact that the series isn't airing the way we want it to in the other."

Because of complaints from fans last year that the show poses more questions than it answers, the writers learned to wrap up their seasons more definitively, Cuse said. To that end, they designed the first half of the fourth season as setup and the second half as payoff.

"There is a fear that if the strike continues and we're not able to complete the season, that people might feel a little frustrated because those eight episodes aren't conclusive," Cuse said.

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maria.elena.fernandez@latimes.com

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