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Worldwide TV Audience Gets 'Lost'

  • Heidi Chang

Lost has found an audience, and it's as international as the show's cast. Now in its third season, the award-winning ABC hit is one of the most-watched television shows in the United States and one of the most popular around the world, seen in more than 200 major cities in dozens of countries. The series follows the survivors of a plane crash who are stranded on a tropical island, where they must fend for themselves in a mysterious and dangerous new world.

Filmed entirely in Hawaii, the Aloha State's tropical islands have also doubled for Australia, England, Korea, Iraq, the U.S. mainland and Africa, all seen in flashbacks.

With actors from nearly a dozen countries, the show features one of the most diverse casts on network television, and John Bartley thinks that appeals to an international audience. The New Zealand native, a director of photography for the series, says people can relate to Lost because it doesn't come off as an "American" project. "It's a multinational project," he explains. "It doesn't have the usual TV outlines and the stuff we're used to seeing. It's totally different from anything else on television."
He says the series is a big hit back home in New Zealand, and also in Australia, where his daughter lives. "She watches the show, and she hears about it on the radio. People are talking about the episodes."

People are talking about, and watching, Lost in South Korea, as well, where Yunjin Kim was already a film and drama star before joining the cast. She and her co-star Daniel Dae Kim, who are not related in real life, portray a Korean couple. Their characters speak Korean, and their dialogue appears in English subtitles, a first for a primetime American network television series.

The international cast of characters and actors also includes Henry Ian Cusick. Born in Peru and raised in Trinidad and Scotland, he plays Desmond, a former member of the British military who was shipwrecked on the island a few years before the plane crashed there. He calls the show "completely groundbreaking." Reflecting on its sound, he says, "It's just so nice to hear a mix of accents in one show. I don't know of any other show that has such a wide variety of accents, and no one blinks an eye."

But it's more than the international cast that has fans flocking to the series. Executive producer Jack Bender says the show's strongest appeal is its contemporary message in a post-9/11 world. "I think this show also speaks to how could you survive with a group of people you've never met before." He points out that each character has secrets and past experiences that affect their behavior and relationships. "But this island is the future," he says, "the island is the life they're living now."

Fans are also living that life, vicariously: they're watching episodes they've downloaded onto their computers and cell phones, they chat with each other on the Internet, they purchase Lost books, puzzles, games, trading cards and even toys. One of them is modeled after Hurley, the castaway played by actor Jorge Garcia. He told fans having his own action figure was a big deal, especially since he used to play with toy versions of movie heroes when he was a kid. "There are certain marks that mean you're definitely part of popular culture," he explained, adding that having a toy was one of them.

Even with a personal action figure, though, Hurley and his fellow castaways may not all survive in the uncertain island environment. Several characters have already been killed off. But the high ratings and global popularity of Lost seem to guarantee that the show itself will survive, at least for another season.

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