The Reality of Writing a Television Show

The question has been asked many times in many ways. Fans have bombarded the air with accusations that the writers were “winging it” and had no idea where they were going.

I think it’s absolutely absurd to assume that Carlton and Damon knew EXACTLY what was going to happen from day 1. There are so many reasons why it is unfair to so harshly criticize these great writers for not making every detail gfit nicely into place. I’m going to write a larger post soon about internal (within the storyline) reasons for this but I’d like to jsut throw a few external (real-world) reasons out there since I’m kinda bored at work.

First off, when writing a Pilot for a television show, how do you know you’re even going to last? FYI, Carlton didn’t even write for the Pilot. JJ Abrams and Damon did the writing. JJ left after the first few episodes, so half the original writing team was not even there for 99% of the shows lifespan.

The biggest external reason, for me, is that when writing a great story, you sort of have to know how long it’s going to be to appropriately set-up introduction, climax, and resolution; a story arc. You have to know how much time you have to tell the story, which Lost writers DID NOT KNOW until late in the 3rd Season. Writers come and go, directors come and go, hell even ACTORS come and go. The actor who portrayed Mr Eko (sorry, can’t think of the name off the top of my head) wanted out of Hawaii; he hated it. So what are the writers supposed to do? Just let him disappear? By the time Eko died, he had had THREE centric episodes (including “The Cost of Living” when he died). They were clearly hoping to make Mr. Eko a central piece in the story. Actor wanted out, therefore character MUST go.. somehow. They did the best they could with the hand they were dealt. Another character/actor disadvantage was Walt. The entire time on the island through the first four/five seasons is a period of a few months (2004-2005). So a few months on-screen is 4-5 YEARS of real-time. “Walt’s actor” shot through puberty in that time, so how do you explain that on the island? You have to get him off, of course, and meet up with him in the future, if you’re going to ever see him again on the show; which is what they did.

The writers are not perfect and the show was not perfectly written. Damon and Carlton have come out (over time) and said the Egyptian references were “a mistake” because they went for an idea and weren’t able to come back to it in a way that explained it within the rest of the story. They admitted they were not able to come back to smaller things like the outrigger shooting, since doing so would mean lots of extra time explaining it and not being able to explain other things that were more important to the core of the story.

Did the writers know that the Man in Black and Jacob would be the rivalry in the end from the Pilot? No. They DID set-out to tell a story based on certain THEMES, like light versus dark. They knew they wanted, at some point, characters to represent those two sides in the end. The story evolved and unfolded over time, and I for one really loved it.

(more to come! maybe when I’m not looking over my shoulder for my boss..)

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18 Replies to “The Reality of Writing a Television Show”

  1. Inquisitor – Before this show ended, I agreed with almost all your thoughts. I just have to disagree here……

    But I DO see what you’re saying. Believe it or not, I do. Obviously the writers didn’t know exactly what would happen in seasons 3,4,5, or 6 back in 2004. And yes, nobody’s perfect. But at times, you expect HIGHLY paid writers to come closer to “perfect” than they do.

    We hardcore fans thought we were engaged in a seriously interesting and involved mystery all along. We all didn’t just become that way out of no where though. The story was written to do that to us, and it was very much welcomed at the time.

    But the unfortunate fact here is that we now know the most interesting parts of the show could’ve been thought up by any average Joe, considering no major mysteries ever really led to anything…..at all.

    Hear me out here. A 4th grader could easily say “Wanna make something cool? show the audience a creepy cabin with an invisible man inside. Then make it dissappear in a later episode for no reason.” BOOM! done. The problem lies in the fact that since ADULTS wrote this show, we all figured there’d be significance to a creepy cabin that can dissappear. Obviously that wasn’t the case, and that’s one of roughly a hundred of examples that lie within Lost.

    In hindsight, this show had to have been one of the easiest shows to write in the history of television. All along, we were all thinking how complex and intricate everything was being placed into each episode. Now we know much of it was simply symbolism, which is overrated. You can make a metaphor out of anything, throw it into a show, and make people think you’re a genius.

    Congrats to the writers for keeping such a large fanbase, and for making a finale that was so tear-jerky, no one noticed they were ending it in a way that had no significance to anything we witnessed in any prior seasons.

  2. If it is to be worded in that manner it should be that prior seasons had nothing to do with the main points of the show…IF its to be worded in a negative manner.

    The fact is that the show was originally to be called “The Circle”. No spoilers here kids, all you have to do is watch the special features on the first season DVD.

    Up until about the last ten minutes of the finale that could have been taken to mean anything.

    A circle to keep the monster out?
    A circle around the fire Jacob was kicked into?
    Loops?
    Rings?

    In the end it was a story about a certain characters beginning and end in terms of real adult life…several characters actually, but Jack being the main.

    We saw these peoples childhood dramas and events that led them to being broken individuals.
    We saw them through a pre-destinational paradox be crash landed on the island and be protected by a man who has the ability because he simply had faith in them long enough to repair themselves enter the next phase of their petty existance, all the while protecting what I believe to be a rule of god/the universe that a man that is dead cannot come back and enter back into the real world.

    Upon death they were able to realize and accept what their life was and what the consequences were, and move on to the next phase of existance…whatever that may be…my guess would be some sort of rebirth/reincarnation by Lost Universe Rules…at least they seem to mention such things here and there enough.

    But “The Circle” and “Lost” coexist due to nothing more than a name change…but they are still about the same “circle” in my opinion…

    IE…The Circle of Life…Everything that lives dies…everything that begins ends.

    There is the obvious underlying theme of Dark vs Light or Good vs Evil…but in “The End” its “The Circle” that prevails as the most important message…”Everybody dies Jack.”

    To be so hung up on things so trivial, yes trivial, as the cabin, the outrigger, or such minute and SMALL scenes that the lack of an answer for such as these…

    So many people claim that these ruin the show…The outrigger shootout was about 20 seconds, the cabin appeared in no more than a total of five minutes…at 121 episodes averaging 42 minutes…thats 5082 minutes, or 85 hours worth of television “ruined” by not acknowledging scenes that take up less than ONE percent of the total running time…add up all the “disappointing” time and let me know what kind of percentage they are batting in good times vs bad…except for Walt…Ill give you that one…

    Seriously though, I know this will be debated forever…I just cant help but see things this way.

    I could sip out of half empty glasses my entire life, but Im much more comfortable chugging as many half full ones as possible…

    Good post inquisiter…
    I respectfully disagree with some of your comments Chief…good to see you guys btw…shit I miss this site….

  3. OH…not to mention that I find it impossible to believe that there has EVER and maybe will NEVER be another show that not only do so many people theorize…not guess, but theorize, that there has to be some red herrings somewhere.

    Most people think of one or two, and with the power of the internet we turn that into dozens or hundreds…

    On top of everything, you have people who dont just theorize, but search and spoil ANYTHING they find, forcing the hand of the writers to adapt and evolve what their original plans were, create multiple scenes, and constantly make a decision of do we or dont we change it because people now know…
    If we change it, nothing makes sense…
    If we leave it, everyone is pissed because they were spoiled…

  4. Ah man, its wierd,
    i agree strongly with both sides on this, its kind of a love hate thing.
    One thing i’ve realised that makes me more at peace with the non-resolved questions is this.

    I’ve been watching alot of unsolved mysteries shows recently, and i think the sort of subjects that are brought up on this show are the sort of things the writers/creators were inspired by.
    An unsolved mystery is ALOT more interesting than a solved mystery, so i’m happy with that. The backdrop to the characters stories was one HUGE unsolved mystery, and we only really got the answers the losties got, thats one of the reasons i felt like i was right there with them.

    BUT i agree with Chief also, although they didn’t need to outright answer everything, i do think they could’ve dropped more subtle clues for certain answers (they have done this for alot of questions i believe) so upon rewatch the audience could get closer to the answers.

    Chiefs example of ‘the cabin’, too much conflicting information was given to us about it on the show, and when trying to explain it, the only conclusion you can come to is Chiefs,
    ‘hey i know what would hook the viewers, a wierd moving cabin with an invisible man in it’, why?
    ‘because its F**king cool man!’
    It wouldn’t suprise me if that was the thought process in the writing room, did you ever read any of the original scripts?
    The amount of foul language they used to describe characters emotions is pretty silly from such ‘great’ writers.
    Sometimes it felt like they used the fact that it was set on a ‘magical’ island as a license to throw whatever strange shit they wanted to at us, without it having to make sense.

    And i have to say, Inquisitor you mention that they didn’t know how much time they had or exactly where they were heading.
    They did know by the end of season 3 that they had exactly 3 seasons left, and they still didn’t really step up the pace or start resolving stuff then.
    They still waited to the last minute and the end still felt rushed and not as epic as it was been built up to be. I mean, the Locke VS Jack battle that had been foreshadowed since the beginning lasted like TWO minutes.

    I felt it was quite a chliched ending to a series that prided itself on originality, which was a shame, I still love the show though.
    I’m only now wondering if the conclusion would’ve been different if JJ Abrams had stuck around.

  5. Ah man, its wierd,
    i agree strongly with both views on this, its kind of a love hate thing.
    One thing i’ve realised that makes me more at peace with the non-resolved questions is this.

    I’ve been watching alot of unsolved mysteries shows recently, and i think the sort of subjects that are brought up on this show are the sort of things the writers/creators were inspired by.
    An unsolved mystery is ALOT more interesting than a solved mystery, so i’m happy with that. The backdrop to the characters stories was one HUGE unsolved mystery, and we only really got the answers the losties got, thats one of the reasons i felt like i was right there with them.

    BUT i agree with Chief also, although they didn’t need to outright answer everything, i do think they could’ve dropped more subtle clues for certain answers (they have done this for alot of questions i believe) so upon rewatch the audience could get closer to the answers.

  6. Chiefs example of ‘the cabin’, too much conflicting information was given to us about it on the show, and when trying to explain it, the only conclusion you can come to is Chiefs,
    ‘hey i know what would hook the viewers, a wierd moving cabin with an invisible man in it’, why?
    ‘because its F**king cool man!’
    It wouldn’t suprise me if that was the thought process in the writing room, did you ever read any of the original scripts?
    The amount of foul language they used to describe characters emotions is pretty silly from such ‘great’ writers.
    Sometimes it felt like they used the fact that it was set on a ‘magical’ island as a license to throw whatever strange shit they wanted to at us, without it having to make sense.

    And i have to say, Inquisitor you mention that they didn’t know how much time they had or exactly where they were heading.
    They did know by the end of season 3 that they had exactly 3 seasons left, and they still didn’t really step up the pace or start resolving stuff then.
    They still waited to the last minute and the end still felt rushed and not as epic as it was been built up to be. I mean, the Locke VS Jack battle that had been foreshadowed since the beginning lasted like TWO minutes.

    I felt it was quite a chliched ending to a series that prided itself on originality, which was a shame, I still love the show though.
    I’m only now wondering if the conclusion would’ve been different if JJ Abrams had stuck around.

  7. Chiefs example of ‘the cabin’, too much conflicting information was given to us about it on the show, and when trying to explain it, the only conclusion you can come to is Chiefs,
    ‘hey i know what would hook the viewers, a wierd moving cabin with an invisible man in it’, why?
    ‘because its F**king cool man!’
    It wouldn’t suprise me if that was the thought process in the writing room, did you ever read any of the original scripts?
    The amount of foul language they used to describe characters emotions is pretty silly from such ‘great’ writers.
    Sometimes it felt like they used the fact that it was set on a ‘magical’ island as a license to throw whatever strange shit they wanted to at us, without it having to make sense.

  8. @ shephards_flocke; I agree with the whole unsolved mystery piece as well. I mean, what would we have to even discuss and/or debate if they resolved every single issue?

    @ Chief; I do agree with you somewhat as well. I think the build-up of the show over the seasons gave us a certain expectation of a big finish and for everything to mean something in the ultimate conclusion of the story. I admit that I was, as character-based as I promote the show to be, driven by the mystery and the mythology. I kept theorizing, here as well as to myself out-loud in the car on the way to and from work, all the possible answers to Christian Shephard, the Egyptian influences, the FDW, Locke’s reincarnation, etc. I mean, to be fair, they did answer many of the larger questions by the end. The Smoke Monster was the biggest question since the Pilot. Granted, some of their explanations seemed less than grand when compared to the build-up in the questions themselves.

    I think it is a love-hate thing, shephards_flocke, because I for one feel great about the show and about the ending. Perhaps it’s because I was so involved with the characters that I am understating the importance of the “missed-mysteries”.

    For me, the 2.5 hour finale was worth it just to see John Locke remember his time on the island and cry in front of Jack. I was a John Locke fanatic since the Pilot and especially so from the time he uttered the phrase “We hunt!”. I was rooting for him throughout the seasons and was so sad when that a**hole Ben strangled him. I still kept waiting and hoping that maybe he was actually reincarnated and EVEN AFTER it was obvious that it was really the Smoke Monster, I kept believing in some way that Locke would reappear somehow. It never happened, because after all, dead is dead. But I was inspired along the way by John Locke, and maybe that’s making me grin one of those goofy-Locke smiles because I almost don’t even care about the rest.

  9. AES – I hope to God the writers didn’t change anything within the show strictly because a plot point was leaked at some point. I just wish they had a set goal, and went for it all along.

    If they decided to make serious script changes at some point, I’d say it happened right after season 5. That last season seemed more disconnected than anything.

  10. I’m just saying this and throwing it out there, not that I really believe it or not, it just popped into my head as a “maybe”.

    I think (maybe!) when they negotiated the end date during S3, they knew where they needed to end up and the time-frame they had in which to do it. If there was any disconnect for me it was Season 5 as a whole. The time-travel thing was interesting; it opens up a world of possibilities for the story. However, a lot of the time-jumps/flashes seemed too “perfect”; like, the characters jumped to the exact time they needed to to be successful. What are the odds that Jack, Kate, Hugo, and Sayid end up in 1977 instead of 1851, 1530, 2341, or any other random year? And even more amazing is how they ended back up in 2007 finally. It seemed a little too “convenient”, and I think it was a needed step to get from where they were in S4 to where they needed to be in S6. Of course, maybe there was more meaning or “control” to the time-jumps and it wasn’t actually just random.

    I dunno just thinkin.. who knows.

  11. (Hopefully i can post after several failed attempts earlier)

    Inquisitor, Thats a good point about the time jumping not being as random as it might seem.
    We already heard quotes such as ‘the island needs you’ and ‘the island won’t let you’.
    We even saw that the island was powerful enough not to allow Micheal to die even off island, although that still baffles me.

    I remember at some point Damon and Carlton talking about the island being a character in itself, could it be that the island somehow knew what moment to jump to, and where the losties needed to be at to do what they had to do? Sounds crazy but it often seemed like the island had a mind of its own.

  12. Yeah, shephards_flocke, I had mused with that idea as well. It is close to thinking about how certain people (Locke, MiB) are special and have a special relationship to the island. I think this is a prevalant idea when thinking about Locke’s dreams and visions. Is it the island helping him? And what about the mysterious cabin inhabitant that was thought to be Jacob (“Helllp me”)? If it was MiB then they both would’ve heard him, I think. Same goes for the Whispers, not sure. But I think whomever it was, John could hear him because he is special. Maybe that’s what made MiB special in the same sense, knowing future events before they happened (ie: taking Richard and Ben to an injured Locke during his time-flash).

  13. You’ve made several good arguments Inquisitor, and I agree with you on the point in general, when a six season show is written, it would be absurd to expect the writers to know exactly how the story will finish…I believe the Lost writers took alot of creative liberty in the story elements they created as the story went along. A case in point; the Others..remember how mysterious and invulnerable the Others were in Season I? Then gradually through the Seasons, the writers exposed many of the Other characters and their origins, and weaknesses…
    After months of allowing the Season six finale settle into my mind, I can admit, it’s not the unresolved mysteries I’m dissapointed in. It’s because the ending did not connect at all, in my opinion, to the entire story of Lost in previous seasons. If the story was truly about good vs. evil with man being the pieces of that game, what does that have to do with them creating another world in an afterlife so they can meet up and move on? They did of course have the ending story of Jack choosing to be the protector of the Island, which he was shortly sacrificed in his role; that might be the move Jacob needed to win his game. But how did that help facilitate the ending of the Losties finding each other? Those two finales are disconnected entirely. It would have been a much better ending, if Jack closed his eyes when he died, then opened his eyes in a true Alternate Reality world! And he remembered and was reunited with the other Losties, whom Desmond Hume “awakened”..That almost seemed where the story was going in Season 6 “Happily Ever After”… That would have been consistent with the story I believe, but the writers veered from that consistency. So in my opinion, I was just dissapointed in The End. But even though I feel that way, I still feel Lost is the greatest show ever created..

  14. bobt you make a very good point above. The End (and the FSW in general) really had nothing to do with anything else. It was a creative gamble and it paid off emotionally in the end because, perhaps, we would’ve been as emotionally involved in any sort of ending since we love the characters so much.

    This is the closest I’ve come to “admitting” that the End (and S6 overall) was not fantastic bacause I’ve been so crazy responding to people’s gripes about unsolved mysteries. The flash-sideways purgatory really didn’t connect so much with anything else, other than, in my opinion, that the Island was the constant and the people were the variables. Liek Desmond said to Jack just before Jack and Smokey lowered him into the Source, “none of this matters, brotha”.

  15. @Inquisitor, definitely agree The End was a superb emotional ending..about “none of this matters, brutha”, don’t remember that, I can’t wait to watch The End again to pick up on details like that..

    @AES, your #2 comment didn’t show up until today for some reason(?)..like what you said “simply had faith in them long enough to repair themselves enter the next phase of their petty existance”

  16. regarding AES comment #2-

    I miss the debates too. Not so much the overdone debates about how the show finished (I’m at major fault for that), but about the mysteries within the show.

    I suppose it all depends what you got out of the show to begin with. I obviously loved the “what’s around the next corner?” more than anything (I liked a lot about the show too). But never really truly cared for any of the characters too much. If I did, I’m sure the ending would’ve left a more gratifying taste in my mouth, because it WAS nice to see them all in the same room in the church.

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