Post First Published: July 1 2022 11:19 PM Post First Updated: September 9 2022 11:58 AM
Making a television pilot can be a costly process.
Showrunners have a vested interest in making their pitch as interesting as possible, while still trying to save some money when they can.
Over the years, a few particular TV pilots have become notorious for how expensive they were to produce.
One of these pilots ultimately was optioned out and went on to become one of television’s longest-running and most successful shows, with new fans binging on reruns to this very day.
Lost, in particular, had an expensive pilot because of a prop.
When did the pilot episode of ‘Lost’ debut?
In September 2004, the pilot episode of Lost debuted on television. The name of the two-part episode was simply “Pilot,” with the second part of the episode premiering one week after the first.
Directed by famed writer/director J.J. Abrams, “Pilot” told the story of a group of people who survive the crash landing of Oceanic Flight 815. Waking up on a mysterious island, the survivors must contend with the reality of their new situation, all while piecing together their memories of the crash itself — and what led to it.
A story that took years to develop and write, the pilot episode of Lost was one of the most-watched television pilots of all time. Viewers were drawn in by the mystery of the crash, as well as the exotic location.
With critics praising the series early on, Lost went on to become an iconic television show, running for over six years and garnering thousands of fans around the world.
How much did the pilot episode of ‘Lost’ cost to make?
Showrunners were dedicated to creating a totally original vision with Lost — which could explain why the pilot episode reportedly cost so much to produce and film. According to E! Online, the pilot episode of Lost was the most expensive television pilot to date, at the time that it was filmed in 2004. It was said to cost between $10 million and $14 million, over double the average cost of a television pilot at that time.
Much of the cost, according to E! Online, came down to one particular prop. Showrunners, intent on creating a sense of realism even in the midst of a fantasy world, utilized a decommissioned Lockheed 1011 to represent the downed crew of Oceanic Flight 815.
The plane was painstakingly updated and dressed to fit the show’s scenario, ultimately adding an incredible touch to the show. Filmed on location in Hawaii, Lost was optioned right away, and went on to become one of the most popular TV shows of all time.
The instant that Lloyd Braun read the 25th and final page of the script outline, the ABC Television Group chairman turned to one of his assistants and bragged excitedly: ”This, my friend, is ER.”
So enthralled was Braun by the draft script titled Lost, he was convinced that he had found a drama series with a difference that would reverse the channel’s flagging fortunes, a programme that would rival the phenomenal success of NBC’s ER, the medical drama that had become cult television viewing in America and around the world.
Here was a show that boasted not just a glamorous cast and a dramatic storyline, but one that promised all the intrigue and surreal plots of Twin Peaks or The X Files. An aeroplane crash lands on a picture postcard desert island with 48 (mostly unfeasibly attractive) survivors, each of whom has a “secret” in his or her past, rescue looks unlikely … and lurking in the undergrowth is a malevolent presence. The result? Compulsive, addictive television.
The discovery could not have come at a better time. ABC had dropped to fourth in the ratings after NBC, CBS and Fox, and had not posted a profit for seven years. There was just one stumbling block. Braun’s bosses were unconvinced. While he, swept along on a tidal wave of enthusiasm, commissioned JJ Abrams, the award-winning scriptwriter of the hit series Alias, to write an initial episode and lavished £7 million on what was to become the most expensive television pilot in history, his bosses at Walt Disney, which owns ABC, looked on in horror.
“A crazy project that’s never going to work” was how Michael Eisner, the chairman and chief executive of Disney, described it. “This is a waste of time,” said Bob Iger, his deputy. They could not have been more wrong.
Lost launched with a fanfare of advertising on America’s small screens in early 2004 and immediately became a runaway success. Eighteen million viewers tuned in, garnering ABC its biggest viewing figures since 2000. It went on to win nominations for 12 prime-time Emmy Awards and became ABC’s fastest-selling show internationally.
When the first episode screened in Britain last week on Channel 4, it became the television version of a best-seller with viewing figures of six million. Since then, newspapers have been full of Lost reviews, commentaries, and facts and figures, and its merits have been relentlessly debated on radio stations and around the nation’s dinner tables.
For Braun, 46, its triumph should surely have been savoured as an exquisite victory. In the face of enormous opposition, his unwavering faith in this off-the-wall drama had been vindicated. He should have been the toast of ABC. Except that Braun was no longer an employee. Before Lost even aired, he had been fired.
The tale of how Lost’s originator – now the head of media and entertainment at Yahoo!, one of the world’s largest internet search engines – was unceremoniously dumped is almost as dramatic as the programme itself.
Braun, a former lawyer and manager of the singer Cher, had been president of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment when, at 39, he was headhunted by Disney to become chairman of its Buena Vista Television Group in March 1998. His career soared and he was appointed group chairman of ABC.
In James B Stewart’s book DisneyWar: The Battle for the Magic Kingdom, the Pulitzer prize winning author records how Braun was fascinated when he first heard the story outline. The idea for the drama had been pitched to Hollywood agencies and producers, and ABC ordered a script. But both the first version and a rewrite were rejected by Braun. Still gripped by the idea, however, he told colleagues: “I have a feeling this is going to be a home run.”
He envisaged the show as a cross between Cast Away, the 2000 film starring Tom Hanks, and Survivor, the reality television show set on a desert island. He immediately thought of Abrams. When Braun telephoned Abrams, the writer was initially taken aback. ”I immediately told him: ‘It can’t be a normal island. If I do it, it will be a weird, borderline sci-fi show.’ He said he loved that,” said Abrams.
From that initial telephone call, things moved swiftly. ”I started writing on a Monday and turned in the outline on Friday,” he recalls. ”On Saturday, they called and said: ‘OK, we are making it’.”
Braun, according to the Los Angeles Times, said of the Abrams outline: ”It’s the best piece of television I’ve ever read. I was out of my mind. I knew it would make noise that would be so big, so different, you couldn’t avoid it.”
In just 12 weeks the two-hour pilot was finished. ”We didn’t have time to second guess what we were doing and sanitise it,” Abrams said in a newspaper interview. ”And when it aired it ended up getting three times the expected audience – I just couldn’t believe it.”
But behind the scenes, while the pilot was being filmed in Hawaii, Braun’s bosses were furious at the cost and had decided to pull the plug on him. Iger, insisting that it would never work as a series, saved the worst of his sarcasm for the fact that the writers still did not even know what the mysterious presence on the island was. Eisner was equally scathing, describing it as another ”crazy” Abrams project. He gave it two out of 10.
But still Braun ploughed on with the filming. ”If we are pregnant enough, they won’t shut us down,” he told colleagues.
As Stewart says in DisneyWar: ”If Eisner or Iger decided they wanted rid of him, he’d handed them the ammunition: he had green-lit a $12 million pilot that still didn’t have a script.”
Both executives were eager to fire their arsenal. At the end of March 2004, when Braun flew back to Hawaii to oversee filming, rumours were already circulating that he was ”quitting”. He was well aware that Eisner and Iger loathed Lost. He was, as Stewart says, “tired of being second-guessed and overruled”.
A few days later, Iger telephoned Braun. Both men knew how the conversation would go. ”I understand you’ve had some discussions and we’d like to proceed and make some changes,” Iger said. ”You should have your lawyer call Alan Braverman [Disney’s general counsel].”
And that, as they say in show business, was that. Braun was out. But ABC did not pull the plug on Lost. In all likelihood too much money had already been committed. Lost went on to top all the ratings, becoming a national phenomenon in the US, and looks certain to do the same in Britain.
For Braun, its extraordinary popularity must have seemed sweet. This year, in a rare interview, he revealed the secret of his success: the ability to spot the ”next big thing” at 20 paces. Though tempted to return to television after his departure from ABC, he decided to ask his young children whether they would rather give up television or their computer. They told him the television. He accepted the job at Yahoo!.
- DisneyWar: The Battle for the Magic Kingdom, by James B Stewart, is published by Simon & Schuster (£20).
‘Lost’ Pilot Cost Up To $14 Million to Make Because of 1 Prop
November 30, 2020
The man who discovered ‘Lost’ – and found himself out of a job
By Olga Craig
Published: 12:01AM BST 14 Aug 2005