Well, now we know — J.J. Abrams really did have a plan in place when he started Lost. But after reading the “show bible,” it seems almost all of it went out the window pretty quickly.
Abrams’ original “show bible,” dated May 5, 2004, has finally made its way online via Boing Boing. Want a peek into the humble beginnings of one of the biggest shows in history? This is it. It’s fascinating to see how the concept changed from the pilot to the eventual conclusion, and what ideas were there from the beginning (and not).
For anyone who has watched the entire series, we’ll go ahead and tell you — a lot of it was not figured out from the beginning. And the mandates conceived with the pilot? They gave them up pretty quickly, too, as you’ll see below.
So dig in and have a peek at what could’ve been if they’d actually stuck to the original pitch.
They really wanted to avoid being a sci-fi show
After knowing how wild things got by the end, it’s funny to think the producers originally conceived the series to absolutely, positively not be a sci-fi series. Here’s an excerpt of their initial plan:
We'd prefer to brand it as an "Adventure Show."
Our mandate is to give LOST the same treatment as a Michael Crichton novel. Every time we introduce an element of the fantastic, we approach it from a real place. If we do it right, the "paranormal" will always be coupled with a logical explanation to remind the audience that this is the real world...
If we do our jobs right, we can walk that fine line and never be branded as "Sci-Fi."
It was supposed to be very, very standalone
This one is arguably the craziest. Way back when they were putting season one together, the writers wanted to make the show extremely standalone. Like, CSI or NCIS style. Seriously. Here’s the description:
Self-contained. Seriously. We promise.
Yes - the mysteries surrounding the island may serve an ongoing (and easy to follow) mythology - but every episode has a beginning, middle and end. More importantly, the beginning of the next episode presents an entirely new dilemna to be resolved that requires NO knowledge of the episode(s) that preceded it (except for the rare two-parter).
Yes - character arcs (romances, alliances, grudges) carry over the scope of a season, but the plots will not. Viewers will be able to drop in at any time and be able to follow exactly what's going on in a story context.
This is not lip service - we are absolutely committed to this conceit. LOST can and will be just as accessible on a weekly basis as a traditionally "procedural" drama.
The biggest thing Abrams learned from Alias
Despite the awesomeness of Alias, the series’ mythology went positively insane by the time the show finally wrapped. They literally make mention of it in the Lost bible, with Abrams stating he’ll avoid that trap in the new series by introducing mini-mysteries and avoiding an “Ultimate Mystery.”
As we know by the show’s final season, they kind of got away from that concept by the time the end rolled around. Oh well, at least they tried.
They had a lot of the Dharma stuff figured out from the beginning
It’s interesting to look back and see how much of the Dharma Initiative plot threads were already in place when the pilot was shot, and it seems like the broad strokes were figured out before the first episode ever aired.
Here’s how they teased it in the bible:
Most prevalent however is the island's more contemporary history - a series of discoveries which seem to suggest this place was occupied by a CORPORATE THINK TANK/MILITARY CONTRACTOR which built vast underground complexes for cutting edge experiments -complexes we will not only discover and ultimately INHABIT, but also reveal the SOURCE of the mysterious French transmission from the Pilot.
They didn’t really have the smoke monster figured out. Shocker.
They had some broad points lined up about the mysterious smoke monster that plagued the group throughout the series run, but they offer a few different origin stories that kinda do and kinda don’t fit with what did happen.
Here’s an excerpt:
True to our commitment to provide rational, real-world explanations for the seemingly bizarre, our castaways will make a series of discoveries in the first few episodes that indicate the "monster" may indeed have man-made origins which offers a variety of possible explanations illuminating its true nature. Perhaps the result of the experiments performed by the island's past inhabitants or simply a small part within an elaborate security system designed to protect yet undiscovered facilities, the beast is almost as scary when it's NOT there.
As the series progresses, the group begins to figure out the ''rules'' of the monster - locations and times of day that are "safe" ... but the reemergence of this creature (which may be more machine that animal) is an ever-present threat.
Most of the survivors were supposed to disappear in episode 3
Though the storyline about the Others kidnapping survivors did play out in the series, the writers had originally planned for virtually everyone to vanish (33 of the 47 survivors) by the third episode, leaving just the “main” cast for the writers to focus on.
Here’s the excerpt:
It's our intent that by the third episode (fourth at the latest), the unspeaking masses will officially vanish under extremely mysterious circumstances. Of course, the sudden and unexpected reduction of their numbers puts even more strain on those left behind - not to mention an ongoing fear that they may be next ...
They didn’t plan to have many characters beyond the initial core cast
You know fan favorites like Desmond, and Benjamin Linus, who were added deep into the series run? Well, the writers originally planned to use guest stars only on the most “rare” occasion outside of the core cast introduced in the pilot.
Here’s how they explain it:
This is not "Gilligan's Island" where every week introduces a hapless Russian Cosmonaut or Broadway Theater Producer who just happens to have washed up on the same shore. "New" characters on LOST will almost always come from within - that is to say, they are already on the island.
Sunscreen was supposed to be money, and the survivors were supposed to find a submarine in S1
The writers worked up 30 plot points that were supposed to be used in the first season. Some made the cut, some were adjusted, and some were completely scrapped. The most interesting? The writers had originally conceived an entire plot point around sunscreen becoming its own currency (which makes a weird kind of sense).
Another potential story would’ve revolved around the castaways spotting a submarine (apparently the Dharma sub used by the Others) all the way back in season one.