More on Lost and casual vs. dedicated viewers
So I recently saw a link to a radio show interview that Lost producers Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse did recently on the NPR show On Point. You can listen to the whole show online, where they take call-in questions from viewers and explore some really interesting stuff. But I’m mostly interested in this clip, in which the producers address my lingering question about Lost for the past 6 months – what is the relationship between The Lost Experience and the show’s narrative? – and in the process address the issue of dedicated vs. casual viewers I’ve been discussing lately. (Please take 5 minutes to listen instead of me trying to transcribe it…)
Wow. This dovetails with a whole bunch of issues I’ve been spinning around in the blog. First off, they affirm what I’ve been saying about the issue of TV ratings and the industry’s engagement with new media platforms. Lost, which certainly attracts a high percentage of loyal viewers (skewing toward fanatical), is under-measured by traditional Nielsens because they don’t accurately account for the “millions who stream the show at ABC.com,” TiVo users, iTunes purchasers, and DVD collectors. ABC knows this, so a seeming decline in ratings is understood as a platform migration, a shift more in how we’re watching, not how many are watching.
More interestingly, Damon acknowledges how they are crafting a complex narrative for multiple types of viewers. On the one hand, the deeper layers of mystery can be spun-off into the online environment for dedicated loyalists to seek out & obsess over, especially via this summer’s Lost Experience. As the caller indicates, much was revealed in this alternate reality game, including the identity of Alvar Hanso, the meaning of the numbers, and goals of the DHARMA Initiative – the caller, like me, played the game and accumulated narrative information that he (& I) expected to be revealed in the early part of season 3. I’ve been shocked that the show has not paid off these revelations to the broader audience by including this early DHARMA orientation film that us ARGers unearthed within an episode:
In this interview, Damon says that casual viewers like his mother (yes, mothers are always stand-ins for the “typical” media consumer!) don’t care about who Alvar Hanso is – they just want to follow the characters trying to get off the island. For the producers, the casual viewer’s interests mirror the characters’ – because Jack, Kate, and Sawyer don’t really care who Alvar Hanso is, casual viewers don’t either. This outlines a clear dichotomy: casual viewers are invested in the characters, loyal fans are invested in the larger storyworld mythology (and the characters).
Is this true? On the one hand, it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not – if the producers of one of the most complex & influential TV shows on-the-air internalize this distinction, then it is encoded into the narrative design. This would explain why so much of the first part of season 3 focused on relationships, as they were trying to engage casual viewers who cared about what the characters wanted: freedom (Jack), safety (Charlie & Claire), a mission (Eko & Locke), each other (Sawyer & Kate). This may have backfired with loyal viewers like myself by not delivering sufficiently on mythology, but it explains the storytelling logic: the characters were generally not interested in the information revealed in The Lost Experience, so the show didn’t go down that path. (Arguably, the revelation of the meaning of the numbers would answer some of Hurley’s lingering questions!)
I do think the greater misfire was the assumption that all dedicated loyal fans would migrate across platforms to the participate in the ARG. Such games are so specialized and require a degree of multimedia literacy and engagement (as well as time, taste for puzzle-solving, and high frustration threshold) that does not apply to many of the millions of loyal TV-viewing Lost fans. In fact I’m the only person among the many diehard Lost fans I know who did the ARG. While the model of transmedia storytelling that the producers were aiming for, where dedicated viewers can dip below the water to acquire backstory across media, is a noble experiment, it seems like the specific media they chose were too divergent to have the payoff they expected.
As for the issue about the casual=characters / loyal=storyworld dichotomy, I’m not so sure. I welcome feedback as I try to mull it over…
Filed under: Narrative, New Media, TV Industry, TV Shows, Viewers | 3 Comments