23 Facts About ‘Lost’

The pilot cost between $10 million and $14 million—a record at the time—but it was undoubtedly worth it for ABC: As one critic later noted, “ ‘Lost’ helped change the way we watch and talk about television.” The show marks its 20th anniversary in 2024; here’s what you need to know.
The survivors of 'Lost.'
The survivors of 'Lost.' / ABC

On the surface, Lost might seem to be a typical adventure show featuring survivors of a plane crash, stranded on a tropical island, who have to learn how to work together in order to survive. But the show doesn’t take long to reveal its strange side—and the less you know about that going in, the better. Let’s just say the island has many secrets … but not nearly as many as the survivors, whose pre-crash lives unfold in flashbacks.  

Lost’s many mysteries compelled audiences to try to figure out what was happening themselves, searching for clues, analyzing the science, and theorizing on social media and around the watercooler as no fan base had ever done before. Its controversial ending has led to many debates about the show’s legacy, but as Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jenson, a Lost superfan, wrote on the series’ 10th anniversary, “What is certain is that Lost helped change the way we watch and talk about television.” 

** Warning: Spoilers abound!**

1. Lost was inspired by Cast Away, Survivor—and Conan O’Brien.

It was the summer of 2003, and Lloyd Braun, then-chairman of ABC Entertainment, was vacationing in Hawaii when a chance viewing of Cast Away got his mind turning: What would the TV version of that movie be? Things clicked when he thought about the reality show Survivor. “What if there was a plane that crashed and a dozen people survived, and nobody knew each other,” Braun told Grantland in 2012. “Your past was almost irrelevant. You could reinvent who you were. You had to figure out—how do you survive? … How do we get off the island, how do you get home?” He decided to call the show Lost, a name he nabbed from a canceled reality show that had been produced by Conan O’Brien.

When Braun pitched his idea to other ABC execs, they weren’t interested—but he pursued it anyway with the help of Thom Sherman, ABC’s head of drama development. They hired screenwriter Jeffrey Lieber (Tuck Everlasting) to write the pilot, which he worked on over the course of a year.

2. J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof came on board after an initially disappointing pilot script.

J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof
J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof on the ‘Lost’ panel at the 2004 TCA press day. / Frederick M. Brown/GettyImages

When Braun received Lieber’s script, it reportedly wasn’t at all what he had hoped for. Not only had Lieber changed the name to Nowhere, the script “fell prey to many of the concerns that many people had when they first heard the idea,” Braun told Grantland. “I was very disappointed.”

Lieber told Empire his version of the show was “darker, emotionally. At one point in the pilot, a kid runs up and says, ‘Look! There are people swimming in the water!’ And it’s all these bodies of people who have drowned.” 

Valuable time had passed, and Sherman wanted to shelve the idea until the following year. But ABC was struggling, and Braun knew that he might not be around for the next development season. So he made a phone call to J.J. Abrams, who was then working on Alias, the Emmy-winning spy series that made Jennifer Garner a household name, and explained his idea.

“I thought I could see that as a movie, but I didn’t understand what that would be beyond the immediate aftermath,” Abrams told Nightline in 2006 of his immediate reaction to the pitch. After thinking about it for a bit, however, Abrams called Braun back. “I pitched a version where the island wasn’t just an island,” he said. “And I thought it was a little weirder than what they would want, but he said, ‘No, I love that. Do that show.’ ” 

Abrams was juggling a few other projects at the time, so ABC brought on Damon Lindelof to help with Lost. Lindelof quickly recognized that viewers would want everyone to get off the island, so to “defuse” that he suggested giving the characters pasts that would make them want to stay, and showing flashbacks to their old lives. Abrams came to the table with the ideas for the hatch and the Others. The duo wrote a 22-page outline in five days; Lloyd called the following Saturday with a greenlight. 

Lieber, meanwhile, was ultimately given a co-creator credit on the show thanks to his work on the original script, which the aired pilot shares some elements of.

3. From script to shooting, the Lost pilot was finished incredibly quickly.

Lost was due to start shooting in late March; according to Braun, it was January by the time he brought Abrams on board. He told Grantland they got the pilot episode done in six to eight weeks, while Abrams told Nightline they had 11 weeks to write the script, cast, and shoot the show, run it through post-production, and deliver the two-part pilot. Either way, it wasn’t a lot of time. 

4. Jack was supposed to die midway through the pilot.

Matthew Fox
Matthew Fox. / Toni Anne Barson Archive/GettyImages

Many shows go through changes between the initial pilot script and filming, and Lost was no exception. Kate (Evangeline Lilly), for example, was not going to be a convict, and, if Lindelof and Abrams had gotten their way, Dr. Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) would have died halfway through the pilot episode, which they thought would drive home the fact that no one was safe on the island. They even had Michael Keaton lined up to play the role. 

But some people who read the script were against the idea; they thought it would destroy the audience’s trust in the show. As they discussed it amongst themselves, the producers could see the logic of that. But Abrams wasn’t convinced until he showed the script to Alias actor Greg Grunberg, who also happened to be one of Abrams’s oldest friends. Grunberg loved everything about the script—except the fact that Jack died (he said that element made him furious). So Jack lived, causing Keaton to bow out. Abrams then cast Grunberg as the pilot of Oceanic Flight 815 … and had the island’s mysterious monster kill him.

5. Some of the characters changed based on the actors who nabbed the parts.

One consequence of the producers’ compressed time frame? Many well-known actors had already been cast in shows for that development season, so they chose to focus on lesser-known faces to make up the cast. A pre-Mad Men Jon Hamm came in to read for Jack, a part that ultimately went to Party of Five’s Matthew Fox. After producers auditioned more than 60 actresses, Evangeline Lilly was cast as Kate despite a resume that mainly included uncredited background roles and a couple of commercials. Sun and Jin were an older Japanese couple until Yunjin Kim auditioned for Kate; according to Lindelof, “[She] was so amazing that we made [Sun and Jin] Korean and younger.” Josh Holloway was cast as Sawyer just as he was preparing to give up his acting career to go into real estate, and Jorge Garcia nabbed the role of Hurley—who was initially an NRA member in his fifties set to die in the pilot—after Abrams saw him on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

6. Lost’s pilot episode was incredibly expensive.

Hauling a decommissioned plane fuselage to Hawaii for a TV shoot isn’t cheap—which perhaps explains why the price tag for Lost’s two-part pilot episode, which filmed over the course of 20 days, clocked in between $10 million and $14 million, making it the most expensive pilot ever at the time. (In 2005, hour-long pilots usually cost around $4 million to make.) It might have been the expense that prompted ABC to ask Abrams to give the pilot an ending “so they could air it as a movie when it didn’t get picked up to series,” he told Empire. “I remember saying, ‘If you tell me how to end it, I’ll shoot it!’ They never responded.”

Lost, of course, did get the greenlight to air. And when Abrams departed just a few episodes into the first season, Lindelof brought his former boss, Carlton Cuse (Nash Bridges), on board as co-showrunner.

7. While filming the pilot, the cast went skinny dipping.

It was Fox who encouraged the cast to strip and dip. “At the time I thought that everybody taking their clothes off was a good way to bond,” Fox told Empire. (One person who didn’t participate? Terry O’Quinn, who played John Locke.) The cast was also fond of karaoke; Daniel Dae Kim would sing Dire Straits, while Garcia crooned Tom Jones.

8. Lost’s title card is an homage to another famous show.

According to USA Today, Abrams came up with the show’s title card—which features the word LOST ever-so-slightly out of focus on a black background—as a hat tip to the opening sequence of one of his favorite shows, The Twilight Zone.

9. You can hear Braun’s voice at the beginning of nearly every episode of Lost.

Braun was fired not long before Lost began airing. To make him a part of the show, Abrams asked him to be the voice saying “previously on Lost” at the beginning of most episodes. Braun agreed, on the condition that no one outside the Lost inner circle would know. Eventually, the secret got out.

10. There was a reason Sayid had very long nails.

Naveen Andrews
Naveen Andrews. / Dan Tuffs/GettyImages

In the first season of Lost, viewers couldn’t help but notice survivor Sayid Jarrah’s (Naveen Andrews) extremely long fingernails. The reason why had nothing to do with plot or character; rather, actor Andrews kept them long so he could play the guitar during gaps in filming, “in an effort to lull the cast into submission,” Lindelof told Esquire. “He’s an amazing guitar player. … But he did clip them at a certain point—or at least whittled them down.”

11. One of the numbers was picked for a specific reason.

Lost fans can recite the Numbers (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42) by heart. The digits worked their way into many facets of the show, and as Lindelof told Entertainment Weekly in 2006, “we had no idea, no grand design behind the Numbers … This isn’t to say that the Numbers don’t mean anything. We just had no idea it had this potential to get totally out of control.” But at least one of the Numbers was chosen for a specific reason: “My father was into the Illuminati and the number 23,” Lindelof said, and “a big reader of Robert Anton Wilson,” a popularizer of the 23 enigma, which states that there is special significance to the number. 

Meanwhile, fans of the show began playing the Numbers in the lottery, and some of them actually won.

12. The lyrics to Driveshaft’s hit song came from The Phil Donahue Show.

Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan), bassist for the band Driveshaft, is onboard Oceanic 815 when it crashes. Producers knew they wanted the band to be a one-hit wonder, and they knew they wanted to put that song on the show—but they weren’t sure what, exactly, the ditty would be. Monaghan even wrote a potential song with a friend, but Lost’s producers opted to go for an inside joke instead. 

As they gathered around the video monitors watching the show’s dailies, producers would often quote an audience member from an episode of The Phil Donahue Show they’d watched years ago, who had said, “You all everybody is acting like it’s the stupid people wearing the expensive clothes.” As producer Bryan Burk recalled in a DVD featurette, “At one point, in a delirious stupor, we realized that we had said it so many times, that that had to be the song.” 

Abrams came up with the melody for the chorus the day they shot the scene in the pilot in which Kate is trying to figure out where she knows Charlie from and he sings a bit of the song. The full song and lyrics appeared in the season one episode “The Moth.”

13. Creating the Smoke Monster, a.k.a. “Smokey,” was difficult.

We don’t get a glimpse of what would come to be known as the Smoke Monster, a.k.a. Smokey, until the end of season 1; initially, its presence is announced by thrashing trees and its own unique sound, which was created using the noise of a taxi printer (recorded by Burk) and the clicking of cicadas.

Regular smoke simulations didn’t give the producers the effect they were looking for; the smoke needed to roil, move in different directions, and interact with the characters. Put simply, visual effects artists accomplished what they needed to do by building a digital model in the computer that created smoke and controlled the monster’s movement, then layered stock footage of real smoke over the effect.

“You add layers of real smoke on top of it so when it’s all meshed together, it has as analog a feeling as possible, even though a lot of the process is digital,” Eden FX’s John Teska told Popular Mechanics. In early seasons, making Smokey required so much computing power that rendering a single frame of the animation took hours; visual effects supervisor Mitch Suskin called their ability to get the effect done on schedule “miraculous.”

14. The network had an issue with one script in particular.

That script was the season two episode “Dave,” which takes place in Hurley’s head. One of the prominent fan theories at the time was that the show was one big hallucination, and as Lindelof recalled in Entertainment Weekly, “The original draft was a great cause of concern; ABC felt it was advancing an idea that offered an explanation for the entire show.” Just how the writers tweaked the episode to get it on the air—if they did at all—is unknown. 

15. The creators didn’t really know how the show was going to end.

Speaking with Grantland, Cuse compared the first season of Lost to “putting out an apartment fire with a garden hose. We had some general ideas of what we were going to do, but we were making the show episode-to-episode.” According to Cuse, it wasn’t until after the first season that they were able to get the writers together and do a bootcamp that outlined the larger mythology of the show. (However, some of Cuse’s statements have been called into question by others who worked on the show during this time.) They initially wanted to wrap up the show after three seasons, but ABC wouldn’t hear of it, saying, “you don’t end shows people are watching.”

That changed with Season 3, which ABC split in half. After the first run of episodes, Lindelof told Collider that the network finally acknowledged “that we were working so hard to keep the characters on the island, and it was starting to be immensely frustrating. The flashbacks weren’t good anymore.” 

ABC agreed to end the show. The network wanted 10 seasons; Lindelof and Cuse wanted four. Ultimately, they compromised on three more seasons with fewer episodes, which allowed the writers to switch from flashbacks to flashforwards and map out an ending.

16. The showrunners regretted some of Lost’s storylines.

Cuse told Esquire that among them was the Season 3 introduction of Nikki (Kiele Sanchez) and Paulo (Rodrigo Santoro), characters who had apparently been present on the beach, but in the background, since day one. They wrapped up the characters’ storyline in a single episode called “Exposé,” which quickly became the series’s most hated. They also regretted exploring the origins of Jack’s tattoos (also in Season 3), which Cuse called “cringe-worthy,” but there was a silver lining: It helped convince ABC that the show needed to come to an end. 

“We were the first show in the era of network television where we determined our end date,” Cuse told The Independent in 2020. “Prior to that, shows died of their own accord—you’d just ride the horse until it dropped dead beneath you. Maybe some people didn’t love the ending, but we at least did give the audience an intentional one.”

17. The show’s time travel science was pretty good.

Science was a huge element in Lost, and as Cuse told Popular Mechanics in 2008, it needed “to be right enough that we kind of create a sense of believability to the story telling.” The producers would do internet research or call in help from friends when necessary. For example, Lost’s island moves through space and time, and a nod to how that happens can be found in the Season 5 episode “The Lie.” Production designer Zack Grobler asked his wife and her sister, who had studied physics, to fill a chalkboard at a Dharma Initiative station with “physics and mathematical formulae, which predict the position of the island by calculating magnetic anomalies around the globe—so that it may be predicted at which point the flight path of the plane might intersect with the position of the island,” he told Mental Floss in 2015. 

In Season 3, it’s revealed that people can also take a trip to the past when Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) becomes “unstuck” in time. What is specifically happening isn’t revealed until Season 4’s “The Constant,” where we witness Desmond bouncing back to moments in 1996 in his consciousness while his body stays in the present.

“It’s more interesting if your brain basically drops into your body at different points in your life, which is more consistent with the sort of Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, paradigm, and also helps insulate you from paradox,” Lindelof told Popular Mechanics. According to physicist and Physics of the Impossible author Michio Kaku, the science was pretty sound and didn’t violate rules of physics. But, he told PopMech, “it would take a very advanced civilization to really do this.”

18. Evangeline Lilly stopped watching the show after Season 3.

Lilly told Time that, beyond her own scenes, she didn’t read the Lost scripts, which she felt helped her as an actor. She did watch the show itself up until a certain point, but eventually stopped. “I loved Season 1 when it was all about the characters, but when it became all about the mythology, it wasn’t my taste,” she told The Independent. Instead, she said, she would just “show up to work and do it” on Seasons 4, 5, and 6.

In 2018, on an episode of The Lost Boys podcast, Lilly expressed frustration at her character’s storylines, particularly as they related to the love triangle between Kate, Sawyer, and Jack. “I felt like my character went from being autonomous—really having her own story and her own journey and her own agendas—to chasing men around the island,” Lilly said. “And that irritated the shit out of me.”

Lilly also said there were a couple of instances where she felt pressured into appearing partially naked on the show; after the second time, “I then said, ‘That’s it. No more. You can write whatever you want—[but] I won’t do it. I will never take my clothes off on this show again.’ And I didn’t.” Abrams, Lindelof, Cuse, and executive producer Jack Bender apologized publicly after the interview.

19. Lost’s show bible was about as long as War and Peace.

With its huge cast, complex mythology, flashbacks, flashforwards, flash-sideways—and, oh yeah, time travel!—there was a lot to keep track of when plotting out episodes of Lost. That duty fell to script coordinator Gregg Nations, who told The New York Times in 2009 that he kept multiple copies of the show’s bible in undisclosed electronic locations—electronic because, had he ever printed it out, it could fall into the wrong hands. But he noted that if he did print it out, its length would probably rival that of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  

20. Some plot points were kept secret from the actors.

Terry O'Quinn
Terry O’Quinn. / Pascal Le Segretain/GettyImages

Secrets were the name of the game on Lost, a rule that extended even to the actors themselves. O’Quinn, for example, didn’t know that he was playing a totally different character in Locke’s skin in Season 5. Michael Emerson, who originally was a guest star and later came on as a series regular to play Ben Linus, told SyFy that even after he was brought on as a series regular, he didn’t know anything about his character—until discovered the truth by accident.

“I was asking simple actor questions about why might I do this, or what’s going on here … and he was being real cagey,” Emerson said. “I thought something was up, and I went to him and I said, ‘You know, what would be really cool is if I was actually the leader of the Others.’ He blinked at me a couple of times and said, ‘I can’t discuss that with you.’”

Meanwhile, Néstor Carbonell, who played Richard Alpert, was in the dark about his character’s origin until the series was nearly over. At a Paley Center event, the actor said his favorite moment on the show was “finally finding who the hell I am. Three years of performing in a vacuum and finally I got a call from Carlton: ‘OK, we’re doing a backstory.’ He wouldn’t tell me even on the phone what it was about! … I’ve never done a role where I’ve never known my origin, so this was a departure to say the least.” 

Producers played it close to the vest right up until the finale: Rebecca Mader, who played Charlotte Staples Lewis, told The Independent that “they didn’t release the scripts—not even to any of the actors. They just gave everybody their pages with their dialogue on it.” 

On at least one occasion, however, the secret keeping wasn’t on purpose. For the Season 4 finale, “There’s No Place Like Home, Part 3,” Lost filmed three actors to conceal who ultimately ended up in the coffin at the end of the episode. But they neglected to tell the decoys—Holloway and Cusick—that it was O’Quinn’s character who was dying, not theirs. Holloway was so confused he called them. “I think for two minutes, when Josh was told that he had to get in a coffin and play dead—he thought he had been killed,” Cuse told Mental Floss in 2015. “We’d never be so callous as to kill a character without telling them ahead of time!”

21. The series finale credits caused audiences to misinterpret the ending.

When it came time to end Lost, the producers made the conscious decision not to try to answer every single lingering question, which they felt would have made for a finale that wasn’t very interesting. Instead—recognizing that nothing they did would fully satisfy every single fan—Lindelof told The Independent that “we wanted to try to answer a mystery the show hadn’t even asked up until that point … let’s answer the mystery of what happens when you die and the process that you go through in order to achieve some fundamental level of grace.” Hence the show’s finale scenes in a church (filmed in what was actually an elementary school), with most of the characters waiting for Jack—who has just saved the island and died—to finally arrive so they can all move on to the afterlife. 

But unbeknownst to production team, ABC had decided to play B-roll footage of the crash site alongside the credits—which led some viewers to believe that the characters had actually been dead the whole time. (For the record, they were not, and the inclusion of that footage in the credits reportedly upset the writers and producers because it was not how they intended the show to end.) 

22. The end of the series could have involved a volcano.

The ending could have seen Jack face off against The Man in Black (in Locke’s body) on the island’s volcano as it erupted around them. In this scenario, the show would have explored the volcano itself and its importance to the island. Just a few episodes before “The End,” viewers were scheduled to see Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), the island’s protector, throw his brother, The Man in Black (Titus Welliver), into the volcano, resulting in the birth of the Smoke Monster. But ABC put the brakes on the plan due to the expense.

“ABC was like, ‘Guys, we love you, and we’re letting you end the show; we can’t let you bankrupt the network in the process,’” Lindelof recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 2017. Instead, Jack and The Man in Black fought on cliffs, and the volcano became a cave of light. Years later, the producers acknowledged that this change of plan may have been for the best. 

23. Lost’s showrunners have been accused of enabling a toxic working environment.

In May 2023, Vanity Fair dropped a bombshell excerpt from pop culture writer Maureen Ryan’s book Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood that painted a terrible picture of what was happening behind the scenes at Lost.

Ryan interviewed “more than a dozen people who worked on Lost in various capacities” across its six-season run, “half of whom were people of color and more than half of whom were women.” The interviews and reporting led her to a damning conclusion: “It’s clear that the landmark series played right into Hollywood’s most long-standing patterns, in which auteurs wield enormous power with very little oversight.” 

The top-paid actors were all white, as were the “hero” characters who had the most screen time: Locke, Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. One source Ryan spoke with recalled being told, “Nobody cares” about the non-hero characters: “Just give them a few scenes on another beach.” Harold Perrineau, who played Michael, said that he raised issues with a script that took place after his character’s son, Walt, was snatched by the Others. Perrineau said Michael asked just once about his son, which he felt “further[ed] the narrative that nobody cares about Black boys, even Black fathers.” He brought up those concerns—plus what he saw as the disparity in screen time between his character and the white characters—on a call with Lindelof and Cuse, telling them “If you’re going to use me, let’s work. ... I’m good at my job and I’ll do anything you want. Except be ‘the Black guy’ on your show.”

As they wrapped up filming on the second season, Perrineau was let go; according to the actor, Cuse told him, “ ‘Well, you know, you said to us, if we don’t have anything good for you, you want to go.’ I was just asking for equal depth.” (Cuse disputes that Perrineau was fired.) Perrineau said that when he spoke frankly about his experience after his time on the show ended, ABC tried to get him to issue a retraction.

Behind the scenes, writers allege that there was a cruel atmosphere of discrimination and bullying rife with racist and sexist remarks that were passed off as humor—an attitude that, according to the people who worked there, came straight from the top. “I kept a running list of words sources used to describe the show’s work atmosphere, a word cloud I shared with Lindelof and Cuse,” Ryan wrote. “Among the adjectives that came up a lot: cruel, brutal, destructive, racist, sexist, bullying, angry, abusive, and hostile.

Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who had started in the show’s early days and quit after its second season because he couldn’t stand the toxicity, described the writers room to Ryan as “a predatory ecosystem with its own carnivorous megafauna.” Writer-producer Melinda Hsu Taylor, who worked on Lost’s last two seasons, recalled keeping eyeliner at her desk so she could redo her makeup without going to the bathroom after she’d been crying. Monica Owusu-Breen was in the writers room for the show’s third season, and said of her experience, “I can only describe it as hazing. It was very much middle school and relentlessly cruel. And I’ve never heard that much racist commentary in one room in my career.”

There is much more, and so much worse, where that came from. Cuse denied many of the accusations and said his recollection of events differed from what others experienced; Lindelof said that, while he couldn’t recall many of the specific incidents mentioned, “that’s not me saying that they didn’t happen. I’m just saying that it’s literally baffling my brain—that they did happen and that I bore witness to them or that I said them.” You can read the excerpt here

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