Q&A: Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof
EmptyGet ready to return to the island one last time: The final season of ABC's "Lost" is going to be an emotionally intense journey that harks back to previous highlights of the series, with the ideological battle between Jack Shephard and John Locke taking center stage.
By the time most major network shows cross the finish line, they're limping in the ratings and creatively exhausted, wrung out by networks and producers trying to mine just a few more hours. With "Lost" producers having persuaded ABC to set 2010 as a series end date years ago, the hit drama is going into its final lap with level of fan anticipation rarely seen for the ending cycle of a broadcast show.
Below, executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, give The Hollywood Reporter their first full-length interview focusing on the sixth season. What secrets will be revealed? How will fans react to the ending? And what are Lindelof and Cuse's plans for life after "Lost"?
Cuse and Lindelof assure that there's a satisfying cliffhanger-free conclusion planned. And even after the May finale, there's almost surely going to be more "Lost" to come.
The Hollywood Reporter: You obviously can't talk about the content of the ending. But how do you think fans will feel about it?
Damon Lindelof: That's a very cagey way of asking it. It's tough to prognosticate. But the one area we're in agreement is there will be a short-term reaction to the ending and then a legacy reaction that comes six months, a year down the road, looking at the show as a whole. Carlton and I were trying yesterday to remember what the final season of "The Sopranos" even was about -- we couldn't remember much about the finale itself except Anthony Jr. was going to go into the Army and crashed his car and changed his mind. But we remember every frame of the diner scene. What people take away from our finale is going to be based purely on that two-hour episode, but our hope is they'll be able to connect that experience to the six years that preceded it.
THR: How would you describe this season in terms of its, say, tone? What is it like compared to past seasons?
Carlton Cuse: We feel tonally it's most similar to the first season of the show. We're employing a different narrative device, which we feel is creating some emotional and heartfelt stories, and we want the audience to have a chance in the final season to remember the entire history of the show. So we have actors coming back like Dominic [Monaghan] and Ian [Sommerhalder]. We're hoping to achieve a circularity of the entire journey so the ending is reminiscent of the beginning.
THR: Is there any one character's story line that you think particularly emotionally resonates this season?
Cuse: Jack and Locke have always been at the center of the show, that dilemma of faith vs. reason, and the conflict between those two characters has been there since the beginning. It's very exciting to bring that relationship to its conclusion, and we can't really be any less vague about that.
THR: In the past few years we've had "Sopranos," "The Shield," "The Wire" and "Battlestar Galactica" air final episodes. Any of them that you felt concluded really well?
Cuse: I personally don't feel any of those were messed up, they were all kind of appropriate for those stories. Shawn Ryan did a great job ending "The Shield."
Lindelof: It really boils down to: Is it satisfying? Have you given the audience an emotional ride that makes them feel they're satisfied, that's a good meal? Every one of those shows had a different criteria. The ending for "The Shield" was, asking whether Vic Mackey would get some form of comeuppance for all the things he's done over the series. That's a similar question that went into the "Sopranos" ending, which is why people who didn't like the cut to black were unsatisfied, because they felt, "I feel the resolution of this show has to be what happens to Tony Soprano, and you didn't answer that question." The "Battlestar" ending had 10 different things on its agenda other than character resolution ... you have to admire it for the sheer audacity for what it was trying to accomplish. That being said, the "Shield" ending was phenomenal, and almost every fan of the show agrees with that. Whereas the other shows -- and probably with the ending of "Lost" -- there's some debate about the ending. "Did I like it? Did I love it?"
THR: Have you boiled "Lost" down to a central question that the finale needs to resolve?
Lindelof: The only question that's ever mattered to us is what is going to happen to these people. What is the character resolution? That the audience feels like the characters had an arc -- a beginning, middle and end. And I'm satisfied with that. All the crazy island mythology stuff, we love it, but it's like terrorists attacking Jack Bauer -- it's stuff that happens in order to tell cool character stories.
THR: You mentioned a narrative device, I'm assuming it's not a flashback or flashforward?
Cuse: Musical numbers. If you love Bollywood movies, you will love this season.
Lindelof: The show never rests on its laurels. Not because we're trying to be artsy, but the show demands constant shifts to best tell the story. We've known what we were going to do for a couple years now, and there's been a tremendous amount of work setting up the premise so it would work. But we're still wondering, "Will it work? Will the audience understand? What's the reaction going to be like?"
THR: Since there is no footage being revealed in advance of the Feb. 2 season premiere, is there anything you can say to tease it?
Cuse: We ended with Juliet pounding on this atomic warhead. There's Jack's prediction that the bomb will reset events and the plane will never crash. There's the possibility that it doesn't work. We want the audience to be pondering what is the consequence of Juliet hitting that bomb. Our cliffhangers are designed to frame the question that we want audience thinking about.
THR: Now that you're this far along, do you have a favorite season?
Lindelof: The first season is probably my favorite season, you forget in hindsight all the pain that goes into doing the show.
Cuse: I'll say Season 5. We did something radical (by introducing time travel) and embraced the sci-fi roots of the show. We were concerned about doing this. But the fact people liked last season was enormously gratifying.
THR: Do you have any plans to pitch a new show, on ABC or elsewhere, for next season?
THR: Do you have any plans to pitch a new show, on ABC or elsewhere, for next season?
Lindelof: No. We don't. The world works in mysterious ways, but our full-time job for the last six years has been coming in here and working 70- to 80-hour weeks on "Lost." The idea of going back into the fray Brett Favre-style is not alluring to us. When we finish "Lost" we will disappear to our undisclosed locations then think about things for a while.
Cuse: I think the one thing that's pretty certain is neither of us have a great [urge] to do something that's this dense, sprawling and serialized. You need to exercise different creative muscles.
Lindelof: My hope is to rip off other successful shows.
THR: Like you've been ripped off?
Lindelof: Exactly. Maybe a show about vampires that work in an ad agency and one is a serial killer.
Cuse: Especially if the lead character is also cooking meth.
Lindelof: Oh, I hadn't thought of that. Almost guaranteed an Emmy. "Breaking Bad Men."
THR: Could somebody still do that "Lost" pilot today?
Lindelof: When you look at development season last year and shows like "FlashForward" and "V" and go, "Those shows are very expensive to produce with the size of their cast and their [ambitious] premise." But what's sort of strange is that they're a lot more overtly sci-fi from the get-go. With the exception of a loud noise in the jungle and it's weird that there's polar bears on an island, there were no science fiction elements in the pilot of "Lost." In "Jaws" you don't show the shark until an hour and a half into the movie. We feel like you have a better chance making a "Lost" now because they want their sci-fi to be stealth. You go to an "Indiana Jones" movie and they'll say it's not sci-fi and you're like, "But their faces melted off!"
THR: You guys have said that you'll take the David Chase route and skip town for the finale. What are your plans?
Cuse: We'll be watching the last episode here in L.A. We traditionally have an intimate viewing party. We celebrate by renting out a restaurant and set up big TVs, and then afterward we will disappear to parts unknown.
THR: Who's going to write and direct the final hour?
Cuse: Damon and I will write, Jack Bender will direct.
THR: Any J.J. Abrams involvement?
Lindleof: We're going to invite him to the party. He's got about 10 different plates spinning. His contribution will be what is has been the last five years or so -- as an incredible supportive fan, which is pretty cool for us.
THR: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Cuse: The journey had to be the way it was. We both feel no regrets. The meaning only becomes clear in hindsight, and we're still on that journey so the meaning is not yet complete.
Lindelof: Look, it would be nice to look back and say, "We love every episode of 'Lost,' and every episode turned out the way we wanted it to." There are shitty episodes of "Lost" that we wish we had never written. But had we not written them we would be in a different situation now, because we ran out of ideas, we stalled, then the network realized what we had been saying from early on -- that "Lost" needed an end date. And now here we are six years later on broadcast with a show that is -- not what it once was [in the ratings] -- but still performing, and we're ending it on our own terms because we had shitty episodes.
THR: Can you say definitively, after this final episode, there will never be another produced hour of "Lost" on film, TV, Web, any medium -- this is it?
Cuse: The Walt Disney Co. owns "Lost." It's a franchise that's conservatively worth billions of dollars. It's hard to imagine "Lost" will rest on the shelves and nothing will ever be made with "Lost." Eventually somebody will make something under the moniker of "Lost" -- whether we do it or not. We just made a commitment to this group of characters whose stories are coming to a conclusion this May.
Lindelof: Somebody made a sequel to "Gone With the Wind." Sometimes the franchise transcends the storyteller. The definitive edition of "Lost" ends this May on ABC, and that is the story that we have to tell. It has a beginning, middle and end. That ending will not have cliffhangers, or be set up in such a way that people will be saying, "Clearly they're going to make more of these." We don't have any connection to another TV series or movie, but there's a new "A-Team" movie coming out, for god's sake. This is a business that thrives on known commodities. "Tron" is the most buzzed-about Disney movie for next year, and it has been gathering dust for 20 years. I cannot imagine there will not be something with "Lost" on it involving smoke monsters and polar bears and time travel.
THR: I started the interview asking how you think fans will feel about the show ending. How will you feel?
Cuse: It's like Christmas. We have a great present we bought a long time ago, and we're excited to have a recipient -- in this case, the fans -- open it. There will also be some certain nostalgia and sadness, like when you put away your holiday decorations.
Lindelof: There will never be Christmas again. It's impossible to tell how we will feel the day after. It feels like my senior year in high school. You've made these great friendships and relationships, but you're going off to college and a new phase of your life is beginning.