Hit program provides large audience for newbies

The clock is ticking for “Lost” — and ABC.

As they prep their pilots for next season, Alphabet execs know they’ve got one last shot at benefiting from “Lost’s” still-strong — and rabidly loyal — audience.

Per the network and ABC Studios’ agreement with “Lost” exec producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the island-hopping/time-shifting/ smoke-monstering series is due to flash into history at the end of next season.

When that deal was made in 2007, the finale was still three years off. But now that the day of reckoning has come, the Alphabet will need to take full advantage of next season’s send-off.

ABC hasn’t had much luck so far airing new shows behind “Lost,” despite several ambitious attempts. “Invasion,” “The Nine,” “Traveler” and (most recently) “Life on Mars” all had their followers — but none were able to hold on to their “Lost” lead-in, despite sharing some similar traits.

This April, ABC is trying something a little different on Wednesdays behind “Lost”: the quirky police procedural “The Unusuals.”

As for next season, the Alphabet has several hourlongs in the works that could potentially benefit from a “Lost” pairing: the remake of “V” and the adaptation of Robert J. Sawyer’s sci-fi novel “Flash Forward,” for example.

Meanwhile, now that “Lost’s” days are numbered, will an anxious ABC want to wait until January before it can start hyping — and taking advantage of — the show’s final 17 hours?

It probably wouldn’t matter if “Lost” had already faded into ratings oblivion. But “Lost,” while not as white-hot as it once was, is still a top-10 ratings powerhouse for ABC.

That’s why if they’re smart, Alphabet execs will already be plotting ways to keep “Lost” alive in the fall — and keep fans from waiting eight agonizing months for the story to continue.

Absent original episodes, which don’t come until January, the net won’t garner the same kind of ratings that the show does in firstrun. But at least ABC can capitalize on the hype surrounding the series’ final season — and perhaps even recruit a few late-blooming or former viewers along the way.

Whatever the network decides to do, it would have to be enough of an event and so unique that it justifies utilizing an hour of primetime.

The most obvious idea? Putting a team of editors to work and recutting the first five seasons into an abridged, chronological version of “Lost.”

Such a move would likely attract fans of the show, who are eager to see how the pieces of the puzzle all fit together in one cohesive, linear fashion. And this would also give first-time viewers, or ones who abandoned the show years ago, an entry point into enjoying the final season come spring.

An alternate idea? Edit each major character’s back story into hourlong segs.

A less ambitious route would be to cherry pick pivotal episodes from the first few seasons and air them in order, although it’s doubtful those episodes would post much of a rating (even if the net added in its “pop-up” info).

And if a full slate of episodes in the fall is out of the question, at the very least ABC needs to run a special or two — including a townhall meeting featuring Lindelof and Cuse.

That’s right, if it’s good enough for “Survivor” or “The Bachelor,” “Lost” also might benefit from an episode that featured the answers to questions from fans.Net could cut a few specials using the content that was produced for other sources — webisodes, mobisodes, etc. — but has never been broadcast. Cutting room floor footage, bloopers … all of that could be potential low-cost (since it already exists) Friday or Saturday night fare.

As for the series finale in May 2010, here’s hoping ABC plans a live, in-studio after show, in which Lindelof and Cuse explain what just happened. Hopefully the duo aren’t planning to emulate David Chase, who disappeared for several months following “The Sopranos” finale. 

After that, there will surely be some “Lost” fans mourning the loss of the show — and wishing they could travel back in time and do it all over again. Hopefully ABC  execs won’t be feeling the same thing.

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