Talk to anyone who invested a considerable amount of time in Lost, and you will be met with a chorus of moans and groans the minute the conversation shifts to the series finale. After six seasons and 121 episodes, Lost forced itself to try and successfully land a Boeing 747 worth of expectations, but series co-creator and showrunner Damon Lindelofrevealed to Collider that his original plan was to wrap up the show by Season 3 before ABC intervened.
"There were all of these compelling mysteries and so we were saying, 'We wanna have this stuff answered by the end of Season 1, this stuff answered by the end of Season 2, and then the show basically ends after about three years,'" Lindelof recalled. "That was the initial pitch, and they were not even hearing it."
Lost came out at a time when shows were regularly airing 20+ episodes every season, and the successful ones were encouraged to keep going as long as viewers wanted more, and the ad dollars continued to roll in. ABC reflected this mindset, and it wasn't until the material started to grow uninspired during Season 3 that the network finally expressed a willingness to discuss an exit strategy...for Season 10.
"Then they finally came to the table and we had a real conversation. They were like, 'We have agreed to let you end the show.'… I just said to [ABC President] Steve McPherson, 'Thank you. This is what’s best for the show,' and he said, 'We were thinking 10 seasons,'" Lindelof remembered. "Mind you, we're halfway through Season 3, so first off how do you even think we're gonna get to 10? That's really the same as saying we're not gonna let you end the show, because how many drama series even get to 10 seasons?"
Lindelof and the writers ended up negotiating a reduced number of episodes per season from 24 to 16, and an agreement to end the show by Season 6.
As we would later come to find out, Lindelof's approach to TV now fits perfectly with the expectations of the medium today. For whatever reason, shows nowadays seem to never exceed 13 episodes per season, while the popularity of the anthology series allows its creators to reshuffle the deck and infuse different characters and actors to avoid getting stale. Meanwhile, the limited series is already in the name. All parties involved, from the viewers to the cast and crew, know what they're signing up for.
Lindelof's HBO series The Leftovers had a total of 28 episodes, and was renewed for a third and final season after Season 2, which allowed for the show to end on its own terms. He did the same thing with his latest critically-acclaimed series Watchmen, which had a 9-episode run with no plans for a second season.
"I wish that I had an idea for Watchmen Season 2, and I really wish that there is going to be a Watchmen Season 2; I just – we put it all on the field for Season 1," Lindelof told Collider. "And every great idea we had, I was like, what if we just put that in Season 1 versus, 'Oh, let's stick it away for later.' And so, could there be a second season of Watchmen? I personally hope that there is but I don't think it should exist just because people liked the first season."