For ‘Lost,’ the end is finally near



Once lionized, then (almost as quickly) dismissed, “Lost” is hot once again.

Virtually alone among the other major strike-crippled hits of network television, “Lost” is returning with a batch of new shows that will air — without breaks or repeats — through early March. It is (if you will) fresh scripted meat in a supermarket where the only item for sale these days seems to be Ramen noodles.

But last May’s two-hour finale (“Though the Looking Glass”) also catapulted the show into an entire new realm as well: the future. Characters do get off the island, though despite the best efforts of various spoilers to dig them up, answers to how/where/why/what/when remain (as always) alluring and elusive.

Meanwhile, “Lost” co-producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cruse have said the end-game is now officially afoot — or (to paraphrase Churchill) May’s stunning blockbuster was the end of the beginning. Both producers — or “Darlton,” to smitten fans — have carefully planned a 48-episode arc that will wrap the ABC classic by 2010.

But amid anticipation is anxiety. For Darlton and ABC, the idea was to air 16 fresh episodes each year for the next three years — each part of a nice, taut, intricately assembled arc that completes their tale three years from now.

When the writers’ strike began in early November, only a handful were completed, and with eight shows in the can so far, “Lost’s” entire 2008 season could be over by early March.

That nice, taut, intricately assembled arc? Looking more and more like that mysterious column of jungle smoke.

This improbably condensed fourth season has set fandom into overdrive. Reason: No one knows how Darlton will now complete the show by 2010, or even whether they’ll be able to. There are (literally) hundreds of ends that need tying — so many that 48 episodes almost seems like a blink of an eye.

ABC isn’t talking about whether Darlton will get all the final episodes they need to wrap one of the great stem-winding shaggy dog stories in TV history.

“The last three seasons are supposed to [hurtle] us toward the ending, so this is a big problem for them,” says Nikki Stafford, an Ontario-based writer of “The Unofficial Guide: Finding Lost” and — like Lachonis — one of the show’s leading scholars.

That’s a problem for both “Lost” and fans, she says, because Darlton and ABC “really wanted to build on that [fan] base and that’s why they came up with the idea of [16-episode] seasons, so people could watch the entire season at once, and then viewers would get two more seasons — bang, bang, bang.

“A lot of viewers turned and ran [after the second season] and didn’t come back, so the worry in fandom now is what if people don’t come back after these eight [air]?” she says.

The speculation is that if viewership doesn’t build, ABC will have less motivation to complete the final 40.

X”Lost” airs at 8 p.m. Thursday on ABC.

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