‘Lost’ returns: Half empty or half full?

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TV viewers will begin the new year without Jack Bauer, but they will spend at least two months with their favorite castaways.

Soon after the strike began, Fox announced it would indefinitely postpone the midseason premiere of its Emmy-winning drama “24” to protect the integrity of its time-stamped story line.

Today, ABC announced it was moving ahead with plans to air “Lost” but, in a surprise move, will do so in the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Thursday night time slot, beginning Jan. 31. This is the third time-slot move for ‘Lost’ in four seasons and the first time it will not air on Wednesday nights, even though doing so means possibly cutting the season in two halves and potentially alienating more viewers.

Both ‘Lost’ and ’24' have done better in the ratings when the networks air episodes without interruption in the scheduling. To that end, ABC, in a highly unconventional move in May, announced that “Lost,” the series that helped lift the network out of last place, would have three more seasons of 16 uninterrupted episodes each, airing from February to May each year.


The decision came after a tumultuous year for the series, after ABC aired its third season in two parts — six episodes in the fall and 16 in midseason — and the size of its audience declined by 14%. When the show returned in midseason, it picked up momentum, convincing ABC executives that Losties, as the show’s fans call themselves, prefer their show to have a straight run.

But the strike has altered those plans. Instead of shelving the series a la “24,” ABC is taking the chance of possibly having to air the series in two parts because the producers completed only eight episodes before the strike began. But giving it the slot occupied by ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ which has run out of original episodes because of the strike, could give it a boost. ‘Lost’ will also serve as the lead-in for a new ABC drama, ‘Eli Stone,’ starring Jonny Lee Miller.

‘Lost’ executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof could not be reached on Friday. But in an interview last month, Cuse said they both hoped the network would hold out.

“This is a very tough dilemma,” Cuse said. “The lesson last year was six episodes was an exercise in frustration. I think eight episodes would only be slightly less so. We hope that when the show airs, all 16 would air consecutively. That’s the way we’ve designed our season and that is our hope.”

-- Maria Elena Fernandez