A man wakes up on an island. A plane has crashed. Survivors run around, terrified and disoriented.
Sound familiar? The new ABC drama Lost may be an action-adventure set in the tropics, but for New Yorkers, its opening scenes might trigger déjà vu. “I lived four blocks away from the World Trade Center,” says executive producer J. J. Abrams. “My skylight looked up at the building. I don’t see how anything we do in any aspect of our lives is not ‘post-9/11.’ Everything that I do is to some degree filtered through that—not intentionally, but as in Alias, where we create these fantastical enemies to represent real fears, it’s all about working these dramas through.”
Abrams, also the creator of Felicity, was initially resistant when then–ABC Entertainment chairman Lloyd Braun pitched him the gimmicky concept: Strangers crash on a tropical beach. Not only was Abrams busy planning the next season of Alias, he was working up another project, a drama about bounty hunters. But the producer was won over during meetings with co-creator Damon Lindelof, and by the next Saturday, the show had a green light. Less than three months later, the team had completed the two-hour pilot (which will run as separate hours). “We were writing the script while casting, prepping the shoot, scouting locations, buying an L-1011!,” recalls Abrams.
The result is a show that, like Alias, combines pulp thrills with eerie psychological undercurrents. The cast features a total of 48 survivors, including a doctor (Party of Five’s Matthew Fox), a drug-addicted rock star (Dominic Monaghan), a Korean couple, a former Iraqi soldier, and decadent sibling hotties. This varied ensemble struggles to recover in the aftermath of the disaster, slowly picking up hints to the island’s mystery. Along the way, there are searing flashbacks of the crash, scenes alarming enough that at least one screening triggered a walkout.
In earlier versions, the plot twists were even darker: The protagonist (Fox) died in the premiere. “The idea was to shock the hell out of people, and the problem was, it pissed readers off. He was the hero; there was something that actually backfired about it,” explains Abrams.
But if the show doesn’t veer quite so far to the edge, it does take surprising risks for a network adventure. “We wanted to deal with the horror of what’s just happened to these people,” explains Abrams (who says that filming the scenes in the dismantled airplane’s detached cockpit, he “literally got nauseated”). “You have to commit to that. It’s not funny, it’s not cute. It’s horrifying.”
Lost, ABC; premieres September 22, 8 p.m.