ABC Plunges 'Lost' Viewers Into Global Interactive Mystery

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Hanso Foundation
Hanso Foundation
Fans of ABC's Lost are about to find a slew of compelling reasons to pay extra close attention to the smash hit drama—even after the current season ends. The show's creative team, including co-creator Damon Lindelof and executive producer Carlton Cuse, have engineered a sprawling interactive challenge to keep viewers immersed in the Lost universe during the hiatus between the end of Season Two and the start of Season Three. Officially dubbed "The Lost Experience," the globe-spanning game will incorporate multiple media platforms (including online and television) and feature a distinct storyline outside the plot currently unfolding on TV's most mysterious deserted island. "A lot of people have speculated about what's going on on the island," says Mike Benson, ABC Entertainment's senior vice president of marketing and one of the project's masterminds. "Why are these people are here? Are they in purgatory? Is it all just one big coincidence? We want to make sure that we're creating that same sort of experience that people get from the show—and we're hoping that people start to speculate about what this story is that we're trying to tell."

That speculation has already begun, especially regarding the first of a series of clues set to be revealed within the episode airing tonight in the U.S. (the episode aired yesterday in the U.K. and will be seen tomorrow in Australia). Early rumors indicated the first clue would come during a commercial break in the form of a toll-free number, while a press release issued yesterday by the fictional Hanso Foundation called attention to the company's website (along the lines of the amazingly authentic Oceanic Airlines website launched at the end of Season One) and an ad breaking during tonight's broadcast. "I will tell you this: there's more than one clue," teases Benson. "There's more than one thing that could give you some insight that will start the experience."

As for how all the clues will eventually fit together? "Think of it as a huge jigsaw puzzle," says Benson. "We've broken up the puzzle into many pieces, and there are no duplicative pieces anywhere. So you might find something in Australia, you might find something in the U.K., you may find something here in the U.S.—but it will all be different. The idea is to create a big community of people sharing the clues and content they find, discovering what others have found and trying to put this mystery together." And while getting viewers to stick around for commercials wasn't one of the primary goals, Benson acknowledges the seeding of clues in random locations may help reverse some of the anti-commercial sentiment of today's television viewers. "As the idea and the experience has developed, we actually believe that we've come up with a concept that makes this a little Tivo proof," says Benson. "If you just scan through the commercial breaks, you might miss something very important. And in fact, you will."

The endeavor may bear some similarities to alternate reality games like 2001's "The Beast" (which promoted the movie A.I.), though ABC believes "The Lost Experience" will take the notion of fan immersion even further. "While a movie studio might create something that is specifically about the film itself, this is really a parallel storyline," says Benson. "So if you're a fan of Lost, going through this experience might actually answer questions or shed more light on things that have happened reaching back to Season One, or could look ahead and inform you about Season Three and beyond. But because it's a separate storyline, you don't have to have watched Lost in order to get into the experience." Still, longtime fans can expect to see some crossover between the experience and the show in the future, possibly in the form of familiar faces. "The whole experience is designed to bring some new characters in—and if the plan works as we hope it will, some of these characters may show up in future episodes," reveals Benson.

No matter how much of the mystery finds its way into the TV series, "The Lost Experience" itself will be solved by the time Season Three rolls around. "There is a beginning and a middle and an end to this experience," says Benson. "But if it all goes well, we will definitely do it again."
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