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DVDs, online video replays help 'Lost' find more fans

Peter Mongillo

Late last year, I heard from a friend that "Lost" was returning in February for its sixth and final season. My response was the same as it had been to anyone who had recommended the show to me before: I didn't care.

The funny thing was, however, that my friend hadn't seen the broadcast of the show, either. Rather, she was watching it online. ABC really wants people to see the show. Not only is every season available on DVD, but it streams online in multiple places, from Netflix to IMDb.

Because it was so accessible, and because nothing else I wanted to watch was airing in that dead time during the holiday season, I decided to give it a shot.

It quickly became my secret vice. I watched episode after episode, sometimes until late at night, wondering who the Others were and what was going to happen to Jack, Kate and the rest of the characters. I ended up watching all 103 existing episodes of the show, about 72 hours of television.

I'm not alone. "Lost" regularly appears among the highest-ranked shows on Amazon, Netflix and Hulu. Stuart Kelban, who heads the screenwriting department at the University of Texas and has written for both television and film, says that the popularity of watching television on DVD or via online streaming services allows shows like "Lost" a greater chance at success.

"Serialized shows like '24' and 'Lost' get on the air more readily now because they have an afterlife on DVD, whereas in the past those shows were really difficult to syndicate," Kelban said.

Part of the difficulty in syndication is that serials require a higher level of commitment from the audience. "A lot of people come home after a hard day and want to veg out in front of their TV," Kelban said. "Something like 'House' or 'The Mentalist' that you can digest in 48 minutes, it goes down easier than having to remember what happened last week on 'Lost.' "

With DVD or streaming services, on the other hand, there is not as much pressure to remember what happened a week, a month or even a year earlier on a series when the next episode is accessible with the push of a button.

This convenience, however, sometimes clashes with the conventions of the original broadcast. While much of "Lost" moves ahead with the pace of an action movie, it is still full of plot recaps and flashbacks that become less necessary, even annoying, when watching multiple episodes at once.

The ease of viewing shows on video also doesn't mean that it's a better way to watch. There is a certain entertainment value in having to wait for the next episode. A big plot reveal might not pack the same punch when it happens immediately as it would with a week's worth of anticipation. While Kelban says that while it is difficult to predict whether storytelling will evolve as television moves closer to an Internet-based distribution model, we're already seeing changes in the kinds of shows that thrive. "As advertisers lose their influence and a subscription model takes over, then you can have a character like Tony Soprano as your hero."