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NEW YORK (TheWrap.com) — Damon Lindelof only wanted a gig writing for "Alias" when he agreed to meet with J.J. Abrams about "Lost" -- and the pair threw in lots of wild elements just because they never expected it to get on the air.
If it seemed like the writers were making things up as they went along, by the way, they often were. And also? Lindelof tried to quit the show, again and again.
These were just a few of the admissions Lindelof shared about one of television's most beloved shows Thursday on the seventh anniversary of its first airing on ABC.
Lindelof was an established TV writer himself, working on NBC's "Crossing Jordan," when he first met Abrams. He told interviewer Andrew Jenks, host of MTV's "World of Jenks," that he had been "stalking" an ABC executive friend for years to get a job on Abrams' spy series "Alias."
Eventually the executive, Heather Kadin, called him in January 2004 saying he could meet Abrams about a project.
"The bad news is," he recalled her saying, "it's this ridiculous show idea about a plane that crashes on an island and everyone here doesn't think anything is ever going to happen with it. But Lloyd Braun who was the president of ABC at the time, just thought he had lightning in a bottle: He wanted to do a drama version of 'Survivor.'"
Braun had told Abrams he had a script for an island drama but wanted him to "work your magic on it," Lindelof said. He said Abrams told Braun he was too busy, but would supervise another writer.
"So Heather told me, you meet with J.J., this pilot goes nowhere, but then you get a job on 'Alias'!"
But the pilot went somewhere. Lindelof came in with plenty of ideas, including nonlinear storytelling and flashbacks.
"The biggest issue with a desert island show was the audience is going to get very frustrated that the characters were not getting off the island," he said. "My solution was, hey, let's get off the island every week. And the way we're going to do that is we're going to do these flashbacks. We'll do one character at a time and there's going to be like 70 characters on the show, so we'll go really, really slow, and each one will basically say, here's who they were before the crash and it'll dramatize something that's happening on the island and it will also make the show very character-centric."
Abrams liked the idea, and also had another: "'There should be a hatch on this island! They spend the entire season trying to get it open. And there should be these other people on the island,'" Lindelof recalled Abrams saying. "And I'm like, ''We can call them The Others.' And he's like, 'They should hear this noise out there in the jungle.' And I'm like, 'What's the noise?' And he's like, 'I don't...know. They're never going to pick this thing up anyway.'"
Lindelof said the idea to tell the story out of chronological order came in part from "Pulp Fiction."
Lindelof said he almost immediately felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running the show -- and repeatedly decided or tried to quit. By its eleventh episode, he convinced Carlton Cuse, who had been his boss on CBS's "Nash Bridges," to come in and help him lead the show.
He said he agreed with critics who said the show could never last more than a season.
"If we put it on the air and we're like, there's a polar bear in the jungle, somebody better know where the (expletive) that polar bear came from," he said. "That pressure was enormously debilitating."
Abrams, meanwhile, had "plausible deniability" because he had left the show in Lindelof's hands to focus on movies, Lindelof said: "When the torch-wielding mob shows up at his house, and they're like, 'Where does the polar bear come from?' he could say, I'm working on 'Mission Impossible,' go to Damon."
He said he resolved to quit after 13 episodes, then after the first season. Eventually the show went six seasons with him and Cuse in charge.
He also said the show might not have lasted more than three seasons without the Internet, because it allowed fans and the show's creators to spur each other on. He noted that 23 million people tuned in for the first episode, and only 13 million for the finale -- a sign that the show lost many people as it went on. But those that stayed with it did so in part because the Internet gave them somewhere to vent, he said.
"What got them through those periods of doubt and 'Are you going to break my heart?' was their feeling that they were communicating with us," he said.
But trying to please fans was a Catch-22.
"There were these two things happening on the show from the minute it began. The first thing was that the audience really wanted to feel like they had an impact on the show," he said. "And the other thing was, you didn't want us to be making it up as we went along. You wanted us to have a plan, you wanted us to have a big binder with the entire show and you didn't want us to deviate from it. And the audience didn't realize that there's a huge contradiction between these two ideas. If you want to have a say, then there can't be a binder. And if there is a binder, then we're basically going to be like, 'we don't care what you guys have to say. We're just turning to page 365 and we're doing Lupitas.'"
He added: "The show had to become sort of an exercise in, 'Here's what it's going to be, guys: We're going to come out and we're going to play our set, and once the set is over you guys can shout out what songs you want to hear and we'll do those for the encore.' And that was the way that we modulated it, and maybe it worked and maybe it didn't.
"But the interaction of the Internet and our genuine desire to hear what the fans were saying and make ourselves accessible to the fans was absolutely essential to the show's success. I am absolutely convinced that we probably would not have made it to season three or season four at the most if the Internet didn't exist."