A Caravan of Recaps, Sent to Rescue 'Lost' Viewership

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, January 31, 2008

ABC has turned over an extraordinary four hours of this week's prime time to "Lost" in hopes it can salvage something from what was to have been the drama series's big comeback season.

Given ominous ratings garnered by other "highly anticipated" shows boasting original episodes during the ongoing Hollywood writers' strike, it probably is not enough.

Back in early May, with "Lost" averaging about 14 million viewers (compared with 20 million in its heyday), ABC announced it finally had heard "Lost" fans, who had started whining about midway through season No. 2 that the series seemed to be winging it. The network said it had ordered 48 more episodes of the heavily serialized drama to be played out in bundles of 16 episodes over this and the following two seasons, at which point the show would end in a "highly anticipated and shocking finale."

Each bundle of episodes would run consecutively without repeats, in the manner of "24," the highly serialized Fox drama saved from viewer frustration in its fourth season with the adoption of this same play pattern.

Everything looked hunky-dunky until Hollywood writers walked out in early November, leaving ABC with just eight episodes of "Lost" for this season.

When ABC made its "Lost" announcement last May, it was hoping to bring disenfranchised fans back to the fold. But these days, it will be lucky to hang on to the 14 million who were still hanging on when that rip-snorting two-hour season finale aired last May.

Industry navel-gazers' prediction that original episodes of high-profile shows would benefit from rerun-riddled competition caused by the writers' strike has not panned out. Most noticeably, "American Idol" was going to be up this season, they said, because it's the only game in town. It's down year to year. And then, following "Idol" this past Tuesday, "House" came back with its first original episode since November, and fell about 5 million viewers shy of the same night last season.

Now, the talk among industry navel-gazers is that, in viewers' minds, this season is over, figuratively if not literally, and that "Lost" will come back with as many viewers as it left the schedule with, but don't expect more.

To accomplish that, the first of this season's eight episodes airs tonight at 9, in the "Grey's Anatomy" time slot. The season debut will be preceded at 8 by a clip job, "Lost: Past, Present & Future," recapping what's been going on.

And, in a new twist, last night ABC reran last season's finale with pop-ups added to crack the code on all the insider references and head-scratching developments that did so much to make the writers and die-hard fans feel all warm and special in the knowledge that newbies to the series would be left clueless.

These recaps will join the pantheon of "Lost" explainers that have aired over the years in an effort to slow the bailout of viewers.

That list includes the February '07 "Lost Survivor Guide" in which executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse themselves took to the airwaves with their "keep up with us, people" message.

And, who can forget last May's "Lost: The Answers," September '06's "Lost: A Tale of Survival" and January '06's "Lost: Revelation," or September '05's "Destination Lost," not to mention April '05's "Lost: The Journey."

When they're writing the final chapter on "Lost," they'll say it was, if nothing else, the most recapped show in the history of television.

* * *

"The Montel Williams Show" is signing off after 17 years on the air at the end of this TV season.

This comes after Fox TV stations, which carried the show in New York and Los Angeles -- the country's two biggest TV markets -- did not renew the syndicated daytime talker, according to news reports.

"Montel" is distributed by CBS TV Distribution, whose president, John Nogawski, said the company will begin distributing a series of "best-of" Montel Williams shows, according to trade publication TV Week, which is covering the annual TV syndication confab, known as the National Association of Television Program Executives convention, in Las Vegas.

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