Posts Tagged ‘ lost ’

Taking TV off of the small screen

More than three years ago, I was navigating the sensory overload that is Times Square when a rather ordinary print billboard managed to stand out among all the digital clutter.

The advertisement touted Ajira Airways and was nondescript in just about every way — except that I had never heard of Ajira Airways. Crunched into Times Square’s abundance of flashy advertisements and noise, it’s minimalism was striking. And then there were those numbers scrawled along one of the corners, looking like graffiti at first: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42.

If you’re a fan of the hit television drama Lost, you know those numbers are not random graffiti. They’re the giveaway clue that Ajira Airways is yet another in an intricate network of fake websites, videos, companies and characters deployed by Losts’ producers to deepen the show’s mythology. It would be another two seasons before Ajira even emerged as a major plot point. By then, the observant and obsessed contingent of Lost’s fanbase had already noticed the billboard and grown familiar from Ajira through its website.

Lost’s commitment to multi-platform storytelling isn’t unique. More and more programs are expanding from television into multimedia platforms to richen the viewer experience. It’s a method taken to extreme lengths with The Matrix Trilogy — which incorporated anime, comics, video games and websites as supporting narratives in the cannon of the three films. Today the producers of dramas like Lost and comedies such as How I Met Your Mother create dummy websites and videos so the virtual world inhabited by their characters if more fully realized.

It makes for some neat content, and it plays right into the trend of participatory storytelling where the audience seeks out new information rather than just sits back and listens. Presentations from several of my classmates this semester have detailed the ways these programs seek to interact with their most avid viewers using online media.

But does it serve the television show? That’s a tricky objective that requires a precarious narrative balancing act. Duplicate the same stories from the TV show and you’re just wasting space. Offer too much new information on alternate platforms and you risk alienating viewers who now can’t make sense of the show because they didn’t follow all the websites. This was a critical hang-up with the latter two Matrix movies, as they glossed over key parts of the story that were addressed through other media channels.

Even Lost has scaled way back in its use of supporting media. In early seasons there was not only a fake website for the mysterious Hanso Foundation that was referenced in the show, there was also a television commercial and even a late-night TV interview with a “spokesperson” of the fictional foundation. But as the program winds down to the season finale May 23, it has put all the focus on the show itself being the conduit to provide answers for all of Lost’s questions.

And maybe that’s where supporting media falls short. It’s wonderful in building intrigue and mystery by fleshing out fictional worlds. But when it comes time to closing a narrative, the entire audience must be on the same page. A comedy can get away with supplemental content online because it won’t ever be necessary for casual fans to get the jokes. But a serialized drama can’t give away big secrets to only the fans who search for clues outside the television screen. Even the most elaborate stories need a single place to conclude.