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Lost
and
Long
Term
Television
Narrative


Prologue:
Life
on
Mars

In
Episode
One
of
the
BBC
police
drama
Life
on
Mars
(2006‐2007),
our
hero,

Sam
Tyler,
walking
through
a
busy
street
in
Manchester,
England,
The
Who's
"Baba

O'Reilly"
playing
on
the
soundtrack,
contemplates
the
show's
central
mystery:
is
he

really
in
1973,
teleported
back
in
time
after
being
hit
by
a
car
in
2006,
finding

1
himself
trapped
in
a
Starsky
and
Hutch 
world,
or
is
he
still
in
a
coma,
or
possibly

insane,
in
the
series’
present
tense?

Strolling
alongside
"CID
Girl"
Annie
Cartwright,
the
only
one
in
the
past
to

whom
he
has
confessed
his
"true"
situation,
Sam
insists
that
a
"mind
can
only
invent

so
much
detail"
and
announces
his
intention
to
walk—following
the
“Yellow
Brick

Road”—until
he
"can't
think
up
anymore
faces
or
streets,"
until
he
escapes
the

“madness”
in
which
he
finds
himself.
It
is
a
transcendent
TV
moment,
linking
Sam

with
cinematic
heirs
like
John
Murdoch
in
Dark
City
(Alex
Proyas,
1998)
and
Truman

Burbank
in
The
Truman
Show
(Peter
Weir,
1998),
both
of
whom
succeed
in
seeing

through
the
artifice
of
their
constructed
worlds.

At
this
point
in
the
narrative—as
I
write
12
of
16
episodes
have
aired—Sam

has
not
walked
out
of
the
cave,
though
his
“life
on
Mars,”
his
existence
in
a
world
of

the
past
that,
as
the
opening
voiceover
of
each
episode
tells
us,
might
as
well
be

“another
planet,”
is,
of
course,
full
of
cracks—the
Test
Card
Girl's
performances,
the

many
messages
from
radios
and
televisions
that
bombard
him
from
his
supposed

future,
his
uncanny
encounters
with
his
mother,
his
father,
and
himself
as
a
child—
through
which
he
can
glimpse
the
nature
of
his
delusion.

At
the
very
end
of
first
episode
of
the
second
series,
Sam
answers
the

telephone
only
to
learn
something
of
great
importance.
The
voice
on
the
other
end

of
the
line—for
the
first
time
a
message
our
hero
receives
isn't
one
way:
the
voice
on

the
phone
actually
responds
to
Sam—tells
him
his
mission
is
almost
complete
and
he

must
be
patient
and
not
disclose
his
situation
to
anyone.
Soon,
it
assures
him,
he
will

be
able
to
go
home.


1
The British would say The Sweeney (1975-78), a Starsky and Hutch
contemporary, which aired on Thames Television.
The Collected Works of David Lavery 2

2
As
a
richly
intertextual, 
open‐ended,
serialized,
enigmatic
mystery
that
may

3
or
may
not
be
science
fiction,
the
series
calls
to
mind
ABC’s
Lost
(2004‐
), 
but
unlike

its
American
contemporary,
now
sixty
episodes
in,
Mars’
lifespan
will
be
short:
the

current
series
will
be
its
last;
Sam
indeed
will,
as
the
voice
on
the
phone
tells
him,

be
going
home
soon.
The
narrative
skein,
the
“yellow
brick
road,”
of
Life
on
Mars
will

not
be
long
enough
for
Sam
to
outpace
illusion
or,
in
what
amounts
to
the
same

perturbation,
for
the
writing
team
of
Matthew
Graham,
Ashley
Pharaoh,
and
Tony

Jordan
to
exhaust
their
powers
of
invention.
4
Typically
British
in
duration, 
Life
on
Mars
is
not,
for
all
its
brilliance,
a
long

term
television
narrative
(hereafter
LTTTVN).
On
the
other
hand,
the
exemplary
Lost,

described
by
Jason
Mittell
as
a
series
with
an
“elaborate
narrational
structure
far

more
complex
than
anything
seen
before
in
American
television”
(“Narrative

Complexity”
38),
may
well
be
a
LTTVN
in
trouble,
though
it,
and
LTTVNs
in
general,

does
lay
claim
to
a
British
forebear.


2
Mars regularly evokes not just The Sweeney but a wide range of
British television from the early 1970s. For example, in an episode in the
first series, asked by Annie whether he has come to terms with his time
traveling, Sam replies that he has “seen Doctor Who, who prescribed some
pills,” and in a second series episode Sam has a dream in which he has
become one of the figures in the stop-motion children’s show Camberwick
Green (1966).
3
On Lost’s problematic SFness, see Lavery, “The Island’s Greatest
Mystery.”
4
A few years ago I appeared on the BBC’s Front Row to speak with TV
critic Mark Lawson about the astonishing difference in length—number of
episodes per season/series; total number of years on air—between British and
American series. Famously, John Cleese called a halt to the brilliant Fawlty
Towers (1975, 1979) after only two series and twelve episodes (with a four
year hiatus between the series). The Office (2001-2003), Ricky Gervais' and
Stephen Merchant’s virtuoso comedy, ran for only twelve episodes (plus a two
part Christmas special); the American version (2005- ) has already aired
forty two. Even Prime Suspect, the groundbreaking police procedural starring
Helen Mirren in the role of DCI/DCS Jane Tennison, which aired on ITV
periodically from 1991 to 2006, but there were in total only seven “series”
(really miniseries, none longer than 200 minutes), and its total running time
of 1525 minutes/25+ hours, hardly compares to any hour-long American
series with a five year run (on average approximately 4620 minutes or 77
hours of narrative). (The narrative duration of Dick Wolf’s Law and Order
[NBC], on air continuously since 1990, is approximately 14,784 minutes/246+
hours.)
British television does have its long term narratives of course. Soap
operas like Coronation Street (ITV, 1960- ) and EastEnders (BBC1, 1985- ),
both less than a half hour per episode, like their American contemporaries
General Hospital (ABC, 1963- ), Days of Our Lives (NBC, 1965- ), and One
Life to Live (ABC, 1968- )—all now hour dramas—have had exceedingly long
hauls. And the incomparable, oft-reincarnated story of Doctor Who (BBC1,
1963-1989, 2005- ) has now been told in 723 episodes (as of July 2006).
The Collected Works of David Lavery 3

1:
Dickensian
Television


Master
Sergeant:
Set
of
keys;
one
pocket
watch,
gold
plated;
one
photograph;

one
book,
Our
Mutual
Friend.
Why
didn't
you
bring
that
inside?

Desmond:
To
avoid
temptation,
brother.
I've
read
everything
Mr.
Charles

Dickens
has
ever
written—every
wonderful
word.
Every
book
except
this

one.
I'm
saving
it
so
it
will
be
the
last
thing
I
ever
read
before
I
die.

“Live
Together,
Die
Alone,”
Lost
2.22


According
to
Harold
Bloom’s
theory
of
the
“anxiety
of
influence,”
every
great

writer—and,
by
extension,
every
work
of
the
imagination—must
struggle
to
escape

from
the
influence
of
the
writers
(and
works)
that
came
before.
In
order
to
be

original,
the
newcomer
must
simultaneously
borrow
from
"ancestor
texts"
and

depart,
“defensively,”
from
them
in
order
to
become
unique
and
innovative.
In

Bloom’s
“antithetical”
system
this
rewriting
is
anything
but
mere
pilfering
from
a

“precursor”
poet
or
text;
it
is
rather,
an
inspired
“misprision,”
a
kind
of
creative

misreading.

Great
works
of
poetry—Bloom
designates
them
as
“strong”—create—and
this

is
perhaps
the
most
impressive
aspect
of
their
imaginative
contribution—an
“illusion

of
priority.”
The
“ephebe”
who
creates
them,
surmounts
his
status
as
“belated,”

overthrows
(in
Bloom’s
Freudian
theorizing)
the
father
text,
and
clears
a

“revisionary”
space
for
himself.
As
Louis
Renza
cautions
to
remind,
however,
the

successor,
the
newcomer
on
the
intellectual/artistic
scene,
does
not
get
to
pre‐select

the
tyrannical
father
to
be
vanquished:
“The
ephebe
poet
encounters
a
precursor

whom
he
can’t
choose
at
will”
(Renza
188).

If,
according
to
Bloom,
Virgil
must
misprise
Homer,
and
Milton
Virgil,
and

Wordsworth
Milton
and
Stevens
Emerson;
if—adapting
Bloom’s
ideas
for
the
screen,

Hitchcock
must
find
a
way
to
supplant
Lang
and
Bertolucci
Fellini
and
Bergman

Dreyer
and
Altman
Hawks—what
then
are
we
to
make
of
the
ephebe
medium
of

television
which
comes
up
against
the
wind
of
not
only
an
astonishing
variety
of

literary
fictions,
but
movies,
too,
and
other
television
series
as
well?
The
ephebe
of

television
faces
formidable
challenges
in
its
aspiration
to
establish
an
“illusion
of

priority”
against
all
that
has
come
before.

The Collected Works of David Lavery 4

For
LTTVNs
in
this
“era
of
television
complexity”
(Mittell,
“Narrative

Complexity,”
29),
it
would
seem
the
precursor,
the
patriarch,
with
whom
they
must

come
to
terms
is
the
seemingly
unlikely
figure
of
a
Victorian
novelist.


Everywhere
we
turn
these
days,
Charles
Dickens
seems
an
influential
figure
on
and

behind
our
television
screens,
and
not
because
Masterpiece
Theatre
is
re‐running

one
of
its
Dickensian
adaptations
or
the
BBC
is
airing
its
more
recent
Bleak
House

5
miniseries. 
On
Lost,
one
of
his
books,
Our
Mutual
Friend,
puts
in
an
appearance
and

6
even
becomes
one
of
The
Island’s
literary
denizens, 
and
we
hear
the
prime
movers

of
that
enigmatic
series
speaking
of
Dickens
as
an
admired
ancestral
serial

storyteller.

Tim
Kring,
the
creator
of
“this
year’s
Lost,”
the
NBC
series
Heroes,
likewise

7
acknowledges
Dickens
as
an
inspiration. 

The
creator
of
Buffy
the
Vampire
Slayer,
Angel,
and
Firefly,
Joss
Whedon,

names
the
Victorian
novelist
his
favorite
writer
(Whedon;
Wilcox
2‐4,
8‐9,
191‐93).

In
“Scene
in
a
Mall,”
a
Season
Four
episode
of
the
supremely
literary
Gilmore

Girls,
Lorelai
explains
(complete
with
affected
British
accent)
that
while
e‐mailing

she
likes
to
imagine
Dickens
writing
letters,
with
his
dog
and
pipe
and
“fancy

8
feathered
pen,”
exclaiming
“Cheerio
old
bean!”
and
asking
“How’s
Big
Ben?” 


5
Although all the examples that follow are American, Dickens, we
should note, does put in an occasional television appearance in his native
land. On a 2005 episode of the Doctor Who, “The Unquiet Dead,” Dickens
assists the 9th Doctor and Rose’s investigation of a zombie outbreak in 1869
Cardiff. My thanks to Leon Hunt for calling my attention to this episode.
6
Lindelof and Cuse, Lost’s got the idea for Desmond’s choice of death-
bed book from American novelist John Irving, who has similar plans for
Dickens’ own last completed work. The first episode of Lost’s third season, “A
Tale of Two Cities,” also evokes Dickens.
7
In an interview with the Superhero Hype website, Kring admits that
“One of the things that we talked about early on when doing a big saga was
Charles Dickens. Most of his novels were written in one chapter segments
from the newspaper, so that's why they have that big serialized feel to them.
He never knew quite where they were going. He was just writing them one
chapter at a time. We're doing obviously a very similar thing here, so the art
of the coincidence becomes a big part of the show, how people cross, how
people's lives come together, and it's a very fun way to tell stories.”
8
Gilmorisms commonly make reference to Dickens. The following
episodes all evoke/mention him: “The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton” (1.2),
“Christopher Returns” (1.15), “Girls in Bikinis, Boys Doin’ the Twist” (4.17),
“Tippecanoe and Taylor, Too” (5.4), “Pulp Friction” (5.17): “A House Is Not a
Home” (5.22). Thanks to Scott Diffrient for the catalog.
The Collected Works of David Lavery 5

A
soap
opera
scholar
draws
on
Dickens
in
order
to
illustrate
the
usefulness
of

9
reader‐response
criticism
for
understanding
television. 

A
critic,
contemplating
HBO’s
Deadwood’s
seriality,
draws
extensive

comparisons
with
Dickens’
work
and,
in
particular,
to
the
novel
Lost’s
Desmond
saved

10
for
last. 

And
in
a
controversial
book
a
cognitive
science
popularizer
argues
that
“mass

culture,”
including
television,
reveals
not
the
end
of
the
world
as
we
know
it,
as
its

adversaries
so
often
insist,
but
a
“progressive
story”
in
which
our
entertainments
are

“growing
more
sophisticated,
demanding
more
cognitive
engagement
with
each

11
passing
year”
(Johnson
xiii). 
And
of
course
he
finds
Dickens,
“The
classic
case
of


9
“During Dickens’s lifetime,” Robert C. Allen writes in a seminal essay
on “Reader-Oriented Criticism and Television,”
most of his readers read his novels in weekly magazine installments,
rather than as chapters of a single book. In fact, says [Wolfgang] Iser,
they frequently reported enjoying the serialized version of The Old
Curiosity Shop or Martin Chuzzlewit more than the same work as a
book. Their heightened enjoyment was a result of the protensive
tension occasioned by every textual gap (What’s going to happen
next?) being increased by the “strategic interruption” of the narrative
at crucial moments, while the delay in satisfying the reader’s curiosity
was prolonged. By structuring the text around the gaps between
installments and by making those gaps literally days in length, the
serial novel supercharged the reader’s imagination and made him or
her a more active reader. (84)
10
With Our Mutual Friend, “a serial fiction about seriality,” in mind,
Sean O’Sullivan observes that “Dickens understood how the serial, by its
nature, exists at the crossroads of the old and the new. Unlike the stand-
alone novel, or a feature film, which presents itself to us in toto, the serial
offers constantly the promise of the new—the new installment next week or
next month, often bringing with it a new plotline or character that will change
everything. Given its leisurely unfolding, however, the serial also draws us
into the past, as old characters appear and disappear, as old green covers
pile up by our nightstand, or old episodes of a program burrow into our
memory, creating a history commensurate with our lifespan, unlike the
merely posited past and present of a text we can consume in a few hours or
days. Every reading, or every watching, requires a reconnection of old and
new, an iteration of past and present; and within a week or a month, what
was new will get funneled into the old” (117).
11
According to Johnson, popular culture, video games, television,
movies, are “getting more intellectually demanding, not less” (9). He has
particularly interesting things to say about LTTVNs, which, as he
demonstrates, “have also increased the cognitive work they demand from
their audience, exercizing the mind in ways that would have been unheard of
thirty years” (62).
”To follow the narrative” of a contemporary television series, Johnson
argues, “you aren't just asked to remember. You're asked to analyze. This is
the difference between intelligent shows, and shows that force you to be
intelligent” (my italics).

With many television classics that we associate with "quality"


entertainment—Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, Frasier—the
The Collected Works of David Lavery 6

highbrow
erudition
matched
with
popular
success,
.
.
.
who
for
a
stretch
of
time
in

the
middle
of
the
nineteenth
century
was
the
most
popular
author
writing
in
the

English
language,
and
also
.
.
.
the
most
innovative”
(Johnson
133),
central
to
his

considerations.


2:
Lost
as
LTTVN


Carlton
Cuse:
[Dickens]'s
getting
a
lot
of
play
on
Lost,
isn't
he?

Damon
Lindelof:
He
is
indeed.
He's
a
favorite
writer
of
ours.
He
wrote

serialized
stories
just
like
we
did.
He
was
accused
of
making
it
up
as
he

went
along,
just
like
we
are.

Cuse:
That's
right.
.
.
.
He
didn't
even
have
a
word‐processor.

12
Official
Lost
Podcast,
Oct.
3,
2006 


The
above
exchange
between
the
executive
producers
of
Lost
concerning

serial
fiction’s
founding
father
took
place
in
the
fall
of
2006,
just
after
the
airing
of

the
first
of
a
six
episode
“miniseries”
that
would
launch
its
third
season
prior
to
a

two
month,
Lostless
hiatus
during
which
the
network
would
launch
(unsuccessfully)

Daybreak,
a
new
serial
drama
in
Lost’s
timeslot.
Reruns
of
Lost
in
Season
Two
had


intelligence arrives fully formed in the words and actions of the


characters onscreen. They say witty things to each other, and avoid
lapsing into tired sitcom clichés, and we smile along in our living room,
enjoying the company of these smart people. But assuming we're
bright enough to understand the sentences they're saying—few of
which are rocket science, mind you, or any kind of science, for that
matter—there's no intellectual labor involved in enjoying the show as a
viewer. There's no filling in, because the intellectual achievement
exists entirely on the other side of the screen. You no more challenge
your mind by watching these intelligent shows than you challenge your
body watching Monday Night Football. The intellectual work is
happening onscreen, not off. (64)

Now “another kind of televised intelligence is on the rise,” demanding the


same kind of “mental faculties” normally associated with reading: “attention,
patience, retention, the parsing of narrative threads” (64).
12
The following exchange, on a later podcast, is likewise noteworthy:

Cuse: And Charles Dickens was also a wonderful inspiration, because


here he was, writing these great, wonderful, sprawling, serialized
books . . .
Lindelof: Also, Dickens, the master of coincidence. Y'know. . . . His
stories always hinged on the idea of interconnectedness. . . . in a very
strange and inexplicable way. (Official Lost Podcast, Nov. 6, 2006)
The Collected Works of David Lavery 7

not
done
well
in
the
ratings
(the
show’s
avid
fandom,
it
seemed,
wanted
only
new

shows
to
watch
and
found
reruns
a
turn‐off).
Hence
the
new
scheduling
strategy:

after
the
miniseries
and
the
hiatus,
the
remainder
of
Season
Three
would
air

13
uninterrupted,
a
new
episode
each
week,
February
to
May. 

In
Lindelof
and
Cuse’s
simpatico
bond
with
the
ancestral
father
of
modern

seriality—both
charged
with
the
“serial
crime”
of
narrative
contrivance—we
can

detect
a
hint
of
the
difficult
situation
in
which
Lost,
for
most
of
its
first
two
seasons

a
fan
(and
media)
darling,
now
finds
itself.
Despite
Lost’s
creators’
insistence
that

they
had,
even
at
the
outset,
five
years
of
stories
to
tell,
they
are
now
frequently

accused
of
having
lost
their
way.
When
“Not
in
Portland”
aired
in
February
2007,
a

month
after
the
media
was
filled
with
stories
that
Lindelof
and
Cuse
were
in

negotiation
with
ABC
to
set
an
agreed‐upon‐in‐advance
duration
for
the
series,
three

million
viewers
in
the
US
did
not
return
with
it.

The
challenges,
the
“peaks
and
valleys,”
as
Marc
Dolan
deems
them,
facing

the
creators
of
today’s
long‐term
television
narratives
are
unprecedented.
Of

indeterminate
length
(they
may
have
multi‐season
runs
or
could
be
peremptorily

terminated),
the
product
of
multiple
authors
(who
may
or
may
not
be
there
for
the

long
run),
required
to
sustain
suspense
and
audience
interest
not
only
within
an

episode
but
between
episodes,
susceptible
to
diegetic
and
non‐diegetic,
internal
and

external,
artistic
and
commercial,
industry
and
fan
pressure,
obligated
to
supply

temporary
satisfactions
and
yet
promise
continuing
dramatic
developments—it
is

amazing
that
so
many
television
series
have
maintained
their
excellence
for
so
long.

Lost,
in
this
regard,
is
especially
miraculous.
The
story
of
its
birth—its

metamorphosis
from
banal
“plane
crashes
on
desert
island”
into
fantastic,
perplexing

serial
mystery—has
been
told
elsewhere
(Porter
and
Lavery
17‐41).
No
LTTVN
has

been
more
cognizant
of
its
failed
predecessors,
and
yet
none
has
taken
larger
risks,

posed
more
challenges
to
its
viewers
or
to
itself,
or
given
us
a
greater
“cognitive

workout”
(Johnson,
quoted
by
Mittell
[32]).


13
The usual gaps that punctuate a typical American television season
are the result of the necessities of production. It is impossible to have
enough episodes for uninterrupted airing throughout a season “in the can”
beginning in September of each year; the gaps allow a series’ creative team,
working under a time-intensive schedule, to eventually catch up, turning out
the (customary) twenty two episodes needed to complete a season. A series
like 24, which, in keeping with its time-sensitive nature, now (since Season
Four) airs all its episodes without interruption, can only do so by delaying the
start of its season (or “day” in 24 parlance) until January, a strategy which
may well be implemented by Lost for 2007-2008.
The Collected Works of David Lavery 8

In
its
first
season
a
Lost
champion
(and
influence)
Stephen
King
had
pleaded

in
Entertainment
Weekly
for
the
series
to
end
when
it
needed
to
end—when
its
story

had
naturally
run
its
course,
and
not
in
subservience
to
“the
Prime
Network

Directive:
Thou
Shalt
Not
Kill
the
Cash
Cow.”
Lindelof
and
Cuse’s
seeming
readiness

to
commit
preemptive
narrative
euthanasia
on
their
story
in
the
hopes
of

maintaining
quality
of
life
for
Lost’s
remaining
days
would
seem
to
indicate
their

acquiescence
with
King’s
entreaty.

How
did
it
come
to
this?
Why
have
even
successful
LTTVNs
become
imperiled?


3:
LTTVNs:
A
Brief
History

The
LTTVNs
at
which
the
medium
has
excelled
have
taken
on
many
forms
in

14
television’s
relatively
short
history. 
Prime
time
was
dominated
until
the
Sixties
by

the
episodic
series,
in
which
individual
episodes
stood
for
the
most
part
alone,

discrete,
with
the
storyline
of
any
particular
hour
(or
half
hour)
almost
never

escaping
its
own
frame,
seldom
spilling
over
into
episodes
to
come.
“To
a
certain

extent,”
Dolan
observes,
“viewers
of
an
episodic
series
watched
in
the
secure

knowledge
that,
whenever
something
drastic
happened
to
a
regular
character
like

Lucy
Ricardo
or
James
T.
Kirk
in
the
middle
of
an
episode,
it
would
be
reversed
by
the

end
of
the
episode
and
the
characters
would
end
up
in
the
same
general
narrative

situation
that
they
began
in.”
“[N]arrative
change
is
minimized”
in
such
series
(33).

Existing
contemporaneously
with
the
episodic
series,
ghettoized,
however,
in

15
the
wholly
different
mediacosmos
of
daytime
television, 
continuous
serials
told

stories
that
“were
by
contrast,
deliberately
left
hanging
at
the
end
of
each
episode;

nearly
all
plots
initiated
in
a
continuous
serial
were
designed
to
be
infinitely

continued
and
extended”
(33).
Linear,
as
opposed
to
the
episodic
series’
inherent

circularity,
the
continuous
serial
makes
narrative
change
its
raison
d’etre. 

16

14
Here and throughout I have relied extensively on the superb
examinations of television’s narrative forms by Dolan and Reeves. The work
of Ellis, Feuer, Tulloch and Alvarado, Nelson, and, of course, Mittell has also
been influential.
15
Until the ‘70s, Dolan observes, “the episodic series and the
continuous serial were almost inevitably segregated into separate areas of
viewing time, the former dominating the prime time hours, the latter
dominating the mornings and afternoons. This gave network television a
remarkably split personality, with happy love affairs and marriages ruling by
night, for example, and infidelity and divorce ruling by day” (33).
16
As Tulloch and Alvarez note, the continuous serial is “characterized
by the fact that it can run infinitely and that it possesses multiple narrative
strands which are introduced and concluded in different temporal periods”
(ix).
The Collected Works of David Lavery 9

Once
the
continuous
serial
broke
free
from
its
daytime
prison,
migrating
to

prime‐time
first
in
the
form
of
night‐time
soaps
like
Dallas,
the
sequential
series
was

17
born: 
television
schedules
were
quickly
populated
by
shows
“that,
had
they
been

made
a
decade
earlier,
would
almost
certainly
have
been
constructed
in
almost

purely
episodic
terms,”
series
which
“could
very
often
not
be
shown
in
an
order

other
than
their
original
one,
since
events
in
one
episode
clearly
led
to
events
in

18
another”
(Dolan). 

The
last
two
decades
of
television
have
seen
the
spread
of
what
Robin
Nelson

terms
“flexi‐narratives,”
a
“hybrid
mix
of
serial
and
series
forms
.
.
.
mixtures
of
the

series
and
the
serial
form,
involving
the
closure
of
one
story
arc
within
an
episode

(like
a
series)
but
with
other,
ongoing
story
arcs
involving
the
regular
characters
(like

a
serial)”
(82).
The
widespread
appeal
of
the
flexi‐narrative
is
not
difficult
to

understand,
for
it
“maximises
the
pleasures
of
both
regular
viewers
who
watch
from

week
to
week
and
get
hooked
by
the
serial
narratives
and
the
occasional
viewers
who

happen
to
tune
into
one
episode
seeking
the
satisfaction
of
narrative
closure
within

that
episode”
(Nelson
82).

Drawing
on
the
ideas
of
Umberto
Eco’s
call
in
The
Open
Work
for
a
“poetics
of

serial
thought”
and
Gilles
Deleuze’s
notion
of
individual
narratives
as
incarnations
of

the
“infinite
work
in
progress,”
Angela
Ndalianis
has
described
the
advent
of
the

latest
generation
of
LTTVN
as
“neo‐baroque.”
The
defining
trait
of
neo‐baroque,
she

argues,
is
not,
as
is
traditionally
thought,
the
visual
or
the
spectacular,
but
“lack
of

respect
for
the
frame.”
The
“madness
of
vision”
of
the
neo‐baroque
manifests
itself

in
narrative—in
what
Focillon
once
deemed
“an
undulating
continuity,
where
both

beginning
and
end
are
carefully
hidden”
(86‐87).


17
Tulloch and Alvarez identify a closely related narrative form which
they deem the episodic serial. Episodic serials exhibit continuity between
episodes but only for “a limited and specified number” (ix). The subject of
their study, Doctor Who, serves as an example, as does another famous
British series, The Prisoner.
18
Horace Newcomb uses a different designation for essentially the
same narrative manifestation: "cumulative narrative."

Like the traditional series and unlike the traditional "open-ended"


serial, each installment of a cumulative narrative has a distinct
beginning, middle, and end. However, unlike the traditional series and
like the traditional serial, one episode's events can greatly affect later
episodes. As Newcomb puts it, "Each week's program is distinct, yet
each is grafted onto the body of the series, its characters' pasts."
(Reeves 30)
T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 10

4:
Exemplary
LTTVNs

This
narrative
system
has
permutated
a
wide
variety
of
LTTVNs
over
the
last

three
decades.
Dallas
(CBS,
1978‐91),
a
night‐time
soap/sequential
series,
which

gave
us
perhaps
the
mother
of
all
cliffhangers
(1980’s
“Who
shot
J.R.”),
begat
the

manically
inventive
and
intertextual
St.
Elsewhere
(NBC,
1982‐88),
a
medical
drama

episodic
serial
which,
begat
Twin
Peaks
(ABC,
1990‐91),
a
splendid
postmodernist

failure
of
an
episodic
serial,
which
peremptorily
ended
with
its
hero,
Special
Agent

19
Dale
Cooper,
possessed
by
the
supernatural
parasitic
being
named
BOB, 
begat
The

X‐Files
(FOX,
1993‐2002),
a
flexi‐narrative,
which
mixed
monster‐of‐the‐week

episodes
with
a
multi‐season
“mythology”
arc
about
an
alien
invasion
of
Earth,
begat

Buffy
the
Vampire
Slayer
(1997‐2003),
another
flexi‐narrative
that
each
year

combined
a
self‐contained,
season‐long
story
arc,
in
which
the
Scooby
Gang
battled

and
defeated
a
“Big
Bad”
threat,
with
multi‐season
character
development
and

repeated
a
famous
line
in
its
final
episode
(Giles’
“The
earth
is
doomed”)
that
had

20
ended
its
first
installment,
144
episodes
and
seven
years
before, 
begat
24
(FOX,

2001‐
),
an
episodic
serial
in
which
each
season
tells
the
“real
time,”
“by
the
clock”

story
of
one
day
in
which
Jack
Bauer
(Kiefer
Sutherland)
must
save
the
world
from

America’s
enemies,
begat
The
Sopranos
(HBO,
1999‐2007),
a
flexi‐narrative
mob

drama,
which
put
similar
demands
on
its
audience’s
memory,
and
all
the
quality
“not

TV”
HBO
dramas
that
followed
in
its
wake,
series
such
as
Six
Feet
Under
(2000‐2005)

and
The
Wire
(2002‐
)
and
Deadwood
(2004‐2006).

Signs
of
the
neo‐baroque
can
be
found
throughout
these
series
as
the
era
of

television
complexity
dawns
and
comes
into
its
own.
One
season
of
Dallas
(its
eighth)

turned
out
to
be
Pam
Ewing’s
nightmare
while
her
husband
Bobby
was
in
the
shower

(thus
permitting
Patrick
Duffy,
who
had
quit
the
series,
to
return
after
his
character

had
seemingly
been
killed
in
the
Season
7’s
finale).
St.
Elsewhere’s
final
shot—a

snow
globe
containing
the
series’
eponymous
hospital—suggested
that
its
entire

story
had
been
the
dream
of
an
autistic
boy.
Twin
Peaks
regularly
showed
no
respect

for
the
frame:
to
cite
but
one
example,
after
his
landmark
dream
in
the
second

episode,
Agent
Cooper
impossibly
snaps
his
fingers
in
sync
with
the
extra‐diegetic

score
on
the
soundtrack.
In
a
famous
Season
3
episode,
“Jose
Chung’s
‘From
Outer


19
Tulloch and Alvarez raise the intriguing question “whether a
continious serial which ‘fails’ . . . becomes, through its failure, an episodic
serial!” (ix). What does a failed episodic serial then become?
20
For more on Buffy’s narrative form see Lavery’s “Apocalyptic
Apocalypses” and “A Religion in Narrative.”
T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 11

Space,’”
The
X‐Files
self‐consciously
spoofed
its
own
conventions,
and
in
Season
7’s

“Hollywood
AD,”
Mulder
and
Scully
serve
as
consultants
for
a
hyper‐reflexive

Hollywood
version
of
their
story.
Buffy
the
Vampire
Slayer
often
deconstructed
itself,

and
in
Season
4’s
“Superstar”
gave
us
an
episode
in
which
a
minor
character
hijacks

the
diegesis,
making
himself,
with
the
assistance
of
a
magic
spell,
the
show’s
hero.

The
Sopranos
has
regularly
given
dreams
significant
roles
in
the
ongoing
story:
in

Season
Two’s
“Funhouse”
a
talking
fish
reveals
to
Tony
the
identity
of
the
traitor
in

their
midst.

But
none
of
these
series
could
be
said
to
be
so
ardently
neo‐baroque
as
Lost.


5.
Lost
as
Neo‐Baroque

The
“madness
of
vision”
of
Lost,
its
“undulating
continuity,
where
both

beginning
and
end
are
carefully
hidden,”
is
both
its
blessing
and
its
curse.
Conscious

as
no
LTTVN
before
it
of
the
potential
of
the
“collective
intelligence”
(Mittell
31)
of

its
hyper‐activated
audience,
Lost’s
creators
have
stoked
the
fires
through
a
number

of
strategies.

At
heart
the
story
of
a
plane
crash
on
a
mysterious
South
Pacific
island
and

the
struggle
of
its
survivors
in
its
aftermath,
Lost
also
opted
to
tell
the
backstories,

in
flashback,
of
each
of
its
key
characters,
in
which
we
learn,
in
a
series
saturated
by

dramatic
irony,
of
the
many
ways
in
which
the
lives
of
Oceanic
815’s
perfect

strangers
have
actually
intersected
before
they
boarded
the
plane
(“Lost
crosses”

Lindelof
and
Cuse
call
them
in
a
podcast).

Consciously
modeled
on/inspired
by
video
games
(Porter,
Lavery,
and
Robson

39),
Lost
teases
both
the
characters
within
the
diegesis
and
the
fandom
with
Easter

eggs
to
reward
their
diligent
obsession,
even
offering
the
painstaking
their
own
ARG

(alternative
reality
game),
The
Lost
Experience,
from
which
discoveries
made
might

be
imported
back
into
the
narrative
(see
Mittell,
“Lost
in
an
Alternative
Reality”).

Lost
has
also
been
wildly
intertextual.
Cinematic
ancestors—disaster
films,

Castaway,
Jurassic
Park,
The
Wizard
of
Oz—and
television
series—The
Adventures
of

Brisco
County,
Jr.,
Buffy
the
Vampire
Slayer,
Gilligan’s
Island,
Survivor,
The
Twilight

Zone,
Twin
Peaks,
The
X‐Files—have
all
influenced
Lost’s
themes,
its
mise‐en‐scene,

its
characterization,
its
narrative
style.
And
no
series
has
made
actual
texts
more
a

part
of
its
own
text
than
Lost.
I
have
already
noted
above
Dickens’
Our
Mutual

Friend’s
guest
appearance,
but
a
list
of
book
cameos
would
need
to
include
as
well

Dostoyevski’s
The
Brothers
Karamazov,
Nabokov’s
Laughter
in
the
Dark,
Stephen

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 12

King’s
Carrie,
Stephen
Hawking’s
A
Brief
History
of
Time,
Richard
Adams’
Watership

Down,
Madeline
L’Engle’s
A
Wrinkle
in
Time,
Judy
Blume’s
Are
You
There,
God?
It's

Me,
Margaret,
Walker
Percy’s
Lancelot,
Ayn
Rand’s
The
Fountainhead
(the
last
five

all
read
by
Sawyer),
Henry
James’
The
Turn
of
the
Screw,
Ambrose
Bierce’s
An

Occurrence
at
Owl
Creek
Bridge,
and,
most
notoriously,
Flann
O’Brien’s
The
Third

Policeman
(the
last
three
found
in
The
Hatch),
and
Bad
Twin,
a
Lost
tie‐in
novel

supposedly
written
by
the
late
Oceanic
815
passenger
Gary
Troup.
To
paraphrase
a

question
Stanley
Fish
once
famously
asked
in
the
title
of
a
book:
“Is
there
a
text
on

this
island?”
Many,
many
texts
is
the
answer,
each
of
them
inviting
additional

reading
and
rereading,
research,
and
speculation.

And
Lost
piles
mystery
upon
mystery.
What
do
Hurley’s
lottery
winning

numbers
(4,
8,
15,
16,
23,
42)
really
mean?
What
is
The
Monster
that
terrorizes
The

Island?
How/why
was
Rose’s
cancer
cured
and
Locke
made
to
walk
again
on
The

Island?
Who
exactly
are
The
Others?
What
is
the
significance
of
that
four
toed

statue?
Why
did
a
shark
have
a
Dharma
logo
on
its
fin?
Did
that
bird
call
out
Hurley’s

name?
Can
Desmond
see
the
future?
Satisfying
answers
have
yet
to
be
provided.

At
the
beginning
of
the
last
decade
audiences
were
so
impatient
to
learn,
finally,

who
killed
Laura
Palmer
that
they
began
to
jump
ship
en
masse
after
only
eight

episodes.
Visitors
to
Mars
have
only
been
asked
to
wait
for
sixteen
episodes
to
learn

the
truth
about
Sam’s
conundrum.
The
core
Lost
audience
has
to
date
waited

patiently,
enjoying
speculation,
engaging
in
their
own
“amateur
narratology”
(Mittell

38)
in
lieu
of
answers,
but
many
are
now
becoming
increasingly
irritated
and

annoyed.



6:
The
Future
of
LTTVNs

Jason
Mittell
detects
evidence
in
the
sort
of
narrative
moves
Lost
makes—he

speaks
of
“narrative
pyrotechnics”
and
“the
narrative
special
effect”—of
a
growing

tendency
to
“push
the
operational
aesthetic
to
the
foreground,
calling
attention
to

the
constructed
nature
of
the
narration
and
asking
us
to
marvel
at
how
the
writers

pulled
it
off;
often
these
instances
forgo
realism
in
exchange
for
a
formally
aware

baroque
quality
in
which
we
watch
the
process
of
narration
as
a
machine
rather
than

engaging
in
its
diegesis”
(Mittell
35).

Mittell’s
choice
of
the
word
“machine”
is
unfortunate.
The
behind‐the‐scenes

processes
which
fans
of
LTTVNs
now
follow
as
avidly
as
any
Shipper
follows
mating

patterns
on
a
favorite
show
are
not
being
executed
by
a
computer
or
ground
out
by

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 13

an
industry
engine.
They
are
born
in
the
neurons
of
a
Joss
Whedon,
a
Damon

21
Lindelof,
a
Tim
Kring. 


If
Johnson
and
Mittell
are
right,
if
today’s
television
viewer
is
becoming

smarter—and
must
become
smarter—to
keep
up
with
today’s
series,
then
it
goes

without
saying
that
the
creators
of
these
series
must
be
smarter
too.
Consider
the

hit
series
de
jour,
NBC’s
Heroes
(2006‐
),
created
by
Tim
Kring,
best‐known
previously

as
the
creator
of
Crossing
Jordan
(2001‐
),
an
episodic
serial
about
a
Boston
medical

examiner
(played
by
Jill
Hennessey).
While
Lost,
whose
inspiration
Kring
readily

acknowledges,
is
indebted
to
video
games,
Heroes
draws
on
the
conventions
and
look

of
comic
books.
From
its
opening
sequence—in
which
(unlike
most
television
shows)

we
actually
get
to
see
the
episode
title
and
chapter
number
onscreen
(“Chapter

Seventeen:
Company
Man”)
onscreen—to
Issac’s
paintings—rendered
by
comic
book

artist
Tim
Sale)—to
its
episode‐closing
“To
be
continued,”
Heroes
embraces
the

comic
book
aesthetic,
splicing
it
together
with
the
LTTVN.
Will
it
succeed
where
Twin

Peaks,
The
X‐Files,
and
Lost—its
inclusion
here
should
be
read
as
a
lamented

prediction?

For
several
years
now
I
have
been
speaking
of
“rooting
for
television”
(Lavery,

“I
Only
Had
a
Week”),
a
scholar‐fan
tendency
I
find
in
myself
as
well
as
others,
to

identify
with
television
creativity,
finding
myself
happy,
thrilled
in
fact,
at
brilliant

character
developments,
at
ingenious
narratological
developments,
at
tour‐de‐force

action
sequences
and
special
effects,
at
delicious
subversions
of
broadcasting
codes,

at
getting‐away‐with‐murder
wickedly
risqué
verbal
and
visual
double
entendres,
at

perfect,
fertile,
closureless
endings.”
Mittell’s
notion
of
the
foregrounding
of
and

mine
are
not
in
opposition.
I
root
for
creative
achievement
in
all
its
forms
and

spheres,
and
nowhere
does
it
amaze
me
more
at
present
than
in
television’s

splendidly
imaginative
engagement
with
long
term
television
narratives.


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21
For several years now I have been speaking of “rooting for
television” (Lavery, “I Only Had a Week”), a scholar-fan tendency I find in
myself as well as others, to identify with television creativity, finding “myself
happy, thrilled in fact, at brilliant character developments, at ingenious
narratological developments, at tour-de-force action sequences and special
effects, at delicious subversions of broadcasting codes, at getting-away-with-
murder, wickedly risqué verbal and visual double entendres, at perfect,
fertile, closureless endings.” Mittell’s notion and mine are not in opposition.
T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 14

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