Lost is having a moment.
As to what’s been fueling the recent interest in a show that ended 11 years ago with one of the most divisive endings since The Sopranos, you can point to any number of things. For instance, the series—a six-season, heavily serialized sci-fi drama largely set on a mysterious island that delved into everything from time travel, spirituality, and the afterlife to a Survivor-like atmosphere and a lofty fight between good and evil—has been readily available on streaming platforms for years; it’s called Hulu home since 2018. But in 2019, as Game of Thrones delivered an even more divisive ending, some people wondered if they had been too harsh on Lost, which focused more on its characters at the expense of some of its mysteries in those final hours (whereas Game of Thrones focused more on the plot at the expense of most of its characters). And of course, it’s been a pretty fitting quarantine binge: When you couldn’t go anywhere, watching 121 episodes of a TV show in a short time didn’t sound as intimidating anymore.
With the ease of a binge, you didn’t need to hop down rabbit holes, chase theories, and unlock puzzles like some of the viewers watching it live did. You could locate recaps to give you a contemporaneous view of the show. If you were curious about the lengths to which people went to unpack those interactive mysteries (or the prizes they yielded), the internet is here to help. And “The New Man in Charge,” the Lost epilogue that was a season 6 DVD/Blu-ray bonus feature that revealed the answers to a few of those nagging mysteries—and gave a glimpse of how the Island was being run under new management—is readily available on YouTube.
But among that treasure trove of Easter eggs, you might come across mention of another Lost digital marker: For most of Lost’s run (which fell early enough into the lifespan of a podcast that people constantly had to explain what podcasts were), ABC put out an official Lost podcast. While it wasn’t the first official TV companion podcast out there—Ron D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica commentary podcasts, which allowed fans to listen to episodes alongside their viewing of Battlestar Galactica, would both predate the initiative and prove to be an inspiration for Lost’s podcast. But more than a decade before Netflix would anchor its own podcasting initiative and HBO would put out podcasts fact-checking Chernobyl and analyzing Watchmen, years before Starz would podcast about Outlander, and well before Shondaland would become a podcasting giant in its own right, ABC became an unlikely pioneer in TV podcasting.
Out of ABC’s early podcasting initiative, The Official Lost Podcast still has the biggest online footprint today; it’s been mentioned off-hand as an early entry into the format and another column credits it as the beginning of a TV staple we’re more than familiar with: the explanatory postmortem. But if you try to look for most of those podcasts from ABC during that period—whether out of curiosity, a whiff of nostalgia, or genuine interest—most of these shows have been erased. Their iTunes feeds are long gone; they’ve been more or less deleted from the internet. For the podcasts that weren’t purged from iTunes (which was later built off into Apple Podcasts) such as a podcast dedicated to Once Upon a Time that only ran during OUAT’s second season, they remain digital gravemarkers of a mostly forgotten era. ABC’s podcasting efforts nowadays are focused less on scripted shows and more on news-oriented, true-crime shows, or non-scripted programming like its popular Bachelor Nation podcast Bachelor Happy Hour. Yet The Official Lost Podcast lives on.
The show, which covers five of Lost’s six seasons and marked its 16th anniversary this week, is a time capsule: Some of the references might make zero sense outside of those five years and some of the jokes haven’t aged well, but it’s an utterly fascinating window into a phenomenon that was very much a product of the mid-2000s internet. Thanks to a vast collection of transcripts and archived files on the fan-run wiki Lostpedia (which has been such a monumental resource since its launch in 2005 that some of the people involved with the show have used it) and audio uploaded onto various platforms like YouTube, you can still access just about every one of those episodes today.
“The official Lost Podcast isn’t on iTunes anymore,” Alan Maguire, the co-host of Juvenalia, a podcast about childhood pop culture obsessions, tweeted in 2019. “Why would ABC do that? Never trust corporations with your HERITAGE kids.”
If a podcast makes an impact when it hits the airwaves but gets deleted from the internet, does it still make a sound? In one sense, those podcasts were full-on marketing tools created to continue conversations around the shows they were about; they were designed to tease what came next. Podcasts regularly disappear from podcast feeds to not clog up the archives all the time, and audio files only exist on websites as long as the people behind those shows keep hosting them. But in the case of one of ABC’s success stories of the 2000s, that podcast also helped to cultivate the show’s online fandom in a time before fandom played out on social media.
As Kristopher White, who pitched the Lost podcast when he worked at ABC (and whose distinct voice you heard throughout each episode of the podcast), said, Lost was “a perfect test case;” if a Lost podcast was a success, it could, with the proper tweaks, potentially work elsewhere. It’s also an emblem that features many of the key factors that are commonplace in many TV podcasts nowadays: Hosts with great audio chemistry, a centralized show to obsess over, and a place to listen to discussions over the many fan theories surrounding a show driven by its mysteries.
“One of the things that [Lost co-showrunner] Carlton Cuse has always said is that Lost is a little bit like an iceberg,” White, who left ABC in 2013 and is now head of strategy and digital at Blue Raven, told the Daily Dot. “The show itself is really just the tip of the iceberg, but beneath it, there’s a whole lot more. It’s just not visible. Podcasting kind of helped show a little bit of that depth and thinking that was there. Also, just really connect to the creators and give them a voice that they hadn’t quite had in that way prior to that point.”
The right show (and the right technology) at the right time
When Jay Glatfelter first proposed starting a Lost podcast with his dad Jack, Jack initially dismissed him. The duo binged the first season of Lost on DVD (their DVR didn’t record part of the pilot when the show aired in reruns), and Jay, who had some audio equipment from playing in a band and discovered podcasts after reading about them, thought the medium sounded cool. Jack had to work late when Lost’s second season premiered, but Jay took notes and used those to launch a discussion about theories when Jack got home.
That discussion cemented what Jay and Jack Glatfelter were doing: Creating a podcast. The Glatfelters launched The Lost Podcast with Jay and Jack in October 2005; several other fan-led Lost podcasts like LostCasts, Delta Park Gets Lost, and The Transmission cropped up within weeks of each other.
In The Revolution Was Televised, Alan Sepinwall wrote that “Lost didn’t invent internet discussion of TV shows…but the show and its fandom may have perfected the art.” The marriage of Lost and podcasting, as Jay Glatfelter described it, was a perfect storm. People were already engaged on sites like the Fuselage, a now-defunct official Lost forum (“sponsored by [Lost co-creator] J.J. Abrams,” the site’s header read) that became a centralized hub for theories, discussion, and interaction with the cast and crew during the show’s run; it would go offline sometime between February and June 2019, according to archived versions of the site. A few years before 2005, iPods became Windows compatible, and newer models like the iPod Nano were available at more affordable prices. In June 2005, iTunes 4.9 added support for podcasts, and there was an entire section of the iTunes store devoted to podcasts, which helped to make podcasts mobile. Disney, ABC’s parent company, became the first company to make its shows available digitally (at $1.99 an episode) in October 2005, just a few weeks after Lost season 2 started airing.
And that all helped the burgeoning Lost podcasting industrial complex: If you searched for new episodes of Lost on iTunes around that time, those fan-led Lost podcasts would show up in the search results, too.
“We were all on iTunes around that same time, early October,” Jay Glatfelter explained. “Then the iPod video came out with Lost episodes. I think everyone’s searching for Lost because the TV show is on there. The rankings still showed the Lost podcasts. So a bunch of us started getting downloads and getting listeners that we probably had no right to have, but it built this audience and from there, it just went crazy.”
Just one month later, as Lost was settling into its second season, those other Lost podcasts would have company from none other than ABC itself.
The Lost podcasting industrial complex goes corporate
The Official Lost Podcast debuted on Nov. 8, 2005, and the initial press release is something of a fossil. There is a reference to November sweeps (one of several key broadcast TV rating periods for advertisers throughout the year), and it leads with actor interviews instead of what would become the main draw: That Lost showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse would offer weekly teases and answer fan questions. Lindelof and Cuse’s statement, which included a joke that they dreamed “about podcasts back when we were working on Nash Bridges together—even though there was no such thing yet,” previewed the kind of chemistry and humor they would go on to perfect on the airwaves over the next five years.
White was always a fan of Lost; he read the pilot and watched the first few episodes of the show before it even aired and fell in love with it. He was inspired by Moore’s Battlestar Galactica podcast and eventually went to Lost’s publicist to pitch the idea of a podcast, outlining both what a podcast was (again, it was the early 2000s) and exactly why Lost would make a good fit for the medium. Among those factors, he said, were that Lost had mythology, it was serialized and long-form storytelling, and it had a hook to keep people wanting more. (And like Battlestar Galactica, it was also sci-fi in nature with a built-in fanbase.) According to White, he had full support across ABC, and Lost’s creative team was on board, too.
“We knew that the fanbase was there, and we believed that if we delivered something interesting, exclusive, and timely that it had a better chance than not of catching on and filling a void,” Kevin Brockman, the former executive vice president of global communications at Disney-ABC Television Group, who was among the people at ABC who supported the venture, said in an email. “And that is absolutely what happened!”
If you listen to some of those early episodes now, it’s a far different beast than how a podcast operates today. White would sit across from Lindelof and Cuse in a small room, and their camaraderie sounds like they’re a comedy duo. They’re trying to get each other to laugh, and sometimes they were even trying to get White—who would sometimes get recognized in public during the podcast’s run because of his voice—to laugh as White recorded their audio.
The Official Lost Podcast was an early entry into the “Two guys shooting the shit on a mic” podcast format—but instead of talking about whatever they were watching or reviewing the latest movie, they’re trying to tease a show that would, years later, frustrate some of their fans on what did and didn’t get answered. And the fans didn’t throw softballs, either: In the podcast’s very first episode, Lindelof and Cuse are asked by someone going by the handle TonyStark2000 about how much of the show they have planned out, a question they’d have to field to the end, as well as long after it ended. (Another indicator that 2005 was a much different era than 2021: Lindelof preempted that answer with an explanation of just who Tony Stark was.)
ABC would release more podcasts over the next several years. In early February 2006, ABC launched a podcast around Grey’s Anatomy, which would be its next biggest success story and featured conversations between producers Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers that had the feeling of listening to two friends update you on the lives of their loved ones. It wasn’t the only follow-up, and not everything would stick as well as Lost and Grey’s Anatomy. Ugly Betty, which ran for four seasons, had a podcast during its run. Shondaland Revealed, which ran from 2012 until 2017 (a few months before Rhimes would sign her historic Netflix deal), covered just about every show under Rhimes’ TV umbrella. But other podcasts created by ABC were short-lived because the shows they served as companions for were short-lived as well. A podcast around Commander In Chief launched in January 2006, but the series was canceled just four months later. And other shows like FlashForward (canceled after one season), ABC’s V remake (canceled after two seasons), and even the controversial sitcom Cavemen (canceled after just six episodes) all got the podcasting treatment.
There was some initial wariness toward The Official Lost Podcast. When The Transmission posted that 2005 press release, the comments section rallied behind its hosts while putting down the official podcast; “Why would we ever want to move to a corporate sponsored podcast?” one person wrote. If 30 Rock existed in late 2005, someone probably would’ve quoted “How do you do fellow kids?” in reaction to the announcement to illustrate ABC coming into a medium already well-covered by the fans. But, over time, it became as much of a weekly ritual for some Lost fans as conversing on message boards or reading Jeff Jensen’s weekly recaps at Entertainment Weekly.
Jay and Jack Glatfelter were able to pick the brains of MuggleCast and PotterCast (two Harry Potter podcasts that were immensely popular at the time) to see how they interacted with Warner Bros. Jay said that Jay and Jack weren’t “necessarily endorsed but [ABC] was always supportive of what we were doing.” Well into the show’s run, Disney reached out to help coordinate opportunities for interviews and set visits for the podcast. (Jack Glatfelter pointed out that they probably avoided ABC’s potential wrath because “we were also good about not playing any clips from the show.”)
“I think, because of that podcast and because Damon and Carlton were so engaged with the fan base… you had showrunners that understood what all of these podcasts, all of these fan communities, offered to the show,” Jay Glatfelter said. “Even before the podcast came out, The Fuselage was one of the big forums before, when the first show first came out. People like J.J. Abrams would post in there. Actors would post in there. So I think they had a much more intimate connection and relationship with the online fandoms that allowed us to flourish. There was never a sense of ‘maybe they’ll shut us down’ or something like that, which was really cool. It made us feel really supported.”
Marketing vs. fandom
Was a show like The Official Lost Podcast more than a marketing tool? Were these podcasts important documentation of Lost canon, especially as Lindelof and Cuse began to debunk theories on the air? (Did it even matter?) What was the line between the showrunner and the fan in a time when the internet was monumental to Lost’s success? And what about when part of the show’s marketing involved interactive sites that readers could crowdsource solutions for in a matter of hours?
We have the foresight of how the close interaction between the powers that be and fans can work both for and against a show. Parasocial relationships can form, but when something doesn’t go the way people want it to, the attacks can be personal; if fans don’t like a thing, chances are some will complain to the writers and directors themselves. But in the heyday of Lost fandom and the podcast’s reign, while the line was thinner, how that push and pull between creators and fans would turn out wasn’t as concrete back then; that type of interaction, like most things about how Lost operated, was still fairly unexplored territory.
They’re not just the kinds of questions we’re asking now; academics pondered it back then, too. A January 2006 article in Flow, the University of Texas at Austin’s television and media studies online journal, compared how Battlestar Galactica and Lost used the internet to reach fans in ways many shows hadn’t before. As the media scholar Derek Kompare wrote:
“Like their fan-produced counterparts (which number in the dozens), these official blogs and podcasts offer new spaces for analysis, interpretation, and creator-fan interaction. That said, these practices shouldn’t necessarily be taken at their face value. They still function primarily as promotion material, drawing fans not only to the programs, but to ad-supported websites and other media. Moreover, significant cultural and social power differentials still remain between creators and fans, no matter how sincere the formers’ intents may be. Still, though, creators like Moore and Lindelof are clearly enthusiastic about their work, and about talking about their work with other enthusiasts. There’s something in these exchanges that needs to be acknowledged and studied, rather than ignored or written off.”
A conversation between Kompare and fellow media scholars Henry Jenkins and Cynthia Walker from 2007 touched on the bigger picture of how marketing and fandom intersect. “I don’t think fans mind all that much being used to promote their favorite source texts,” Walker said. “Heck, we ourselves proudly admit to ‘pimping.’ The real issues are power and control. Producers and marketers are accustomed to seeking control over audiences or, at least, being able to predict their behavior.”
But cynicism aside, there was a connection between the fans and the creators. Jay Glatfelter described it as feeling “very welcoming in a way that you don’t always get with online communities, probably especially nowadays,” so something like Jack Glatfelter making a snarky comment toward White about how he should listen to a “real” Lost podcast while tossing a Jay and Jack shirt at him at San Diego Comic-Con broke the ice; the three of them remain friends. And, work or not, some parts of the podcasts seemed to truly excite Lindelof and Cuse.
“One of Damon and Carlton’s favorite parts of the podcast was answering fan questions,” White said. “It really was. We would spend time in advance of recording. I’d come to them with a selection of questions. Then we’d narrow it down, and they would pick their favorite ones. They got to the point where they were like, ‘You can’t see my questions. I’m going to circle the ones I want to ask you, and you circle the ones you want to ask me, and we’ll surprise each other with them on the podcast.’”
Stefan, a Lost fan in Germany who’s helped to preserve and share older Lost material online over the past few years and is working on a documentary about the Lost pilot, told the Daily Dot in an email that while The Official Lost Podcast was a piece of marketing and publicity, “It didn’t feel like it was exploiting the audience in any way, so it was just a win-win situation for everybody.”
“It just created this bond and eventually provoked my curiosity in the behind-the-scenes happenings and the craft of film/TV-making,” Stefan wrote. “I was interested in that before and watched making-ofs on DVDs etc. before—but there was always this disconnect between me as the viewer and the producers/writers/directors. On a rational level, I of course knew those were real people… but I never got to know them. I didn’t know where they came from, what kind of people they were and what made them tick—Damon and Carlton changed that at least to a degree when they told some personal stories or even invited their own mothers to the podcast.”
Brockman, for his part, also points to how when you have a strong piece of supplementary entertainment that services the fans, it doesn’t matter if it’s also marketing.
“It is actually the holy grail for something like this, and incredibly hard to achieve,” Brockman said. “These types of endeavors work best when fans feel as if they aren’t being marketed to, or targeted, but are instead getting a glimpse ‘behind the curtain.’ That is why having such a strong association and partnership with the creative team of the show is so important.”
There might have been some friendly rivalries in the mix, but the Lost podcasting community was supportive. White pointed to a recent fundraiser by Cancer Gets Lost—which auctions off signed or rare pop culture memorabilia to benefit different cancer charities—in honor of The Transmission‘s Jen Ozawa, one of the original Lost podcasters who had died from cancer, as an indicator of how the fandom still came together.
What comes up must also come down. At one point, The Official Lost Podcast was a place where Lindelof and Cuse could give the shark with a Dharma Initiative logo on it a name; make references to the Zombie Season (the season 7 that would never happen); play random sound effects; and highlight the various names fans called them (one was “Darlton”). By season 6, when Lost started wrapping things up, it became something else. As Dave Gonzalez, one of the hosts of The Storm: A Lost Rewatch Podcast (which analyzed the show with a modern lens while looping in contemporaneous sources like ABC’s podcast), observed while discussing the season 6 episode “Dr. Linus,” people started to turn into the podcast for answers to mysteries the show would never address.
“The official podcast, at this point onwards, becomes a battle where they’re trying to justify things that, very frequently, de-evolves into telling people how to watch television,” Gonzalez said. “Which, maybe that’s where we were at as a fandom, or maybe they’re just being fucking pedantic…it’s just really interesting to watch these guys try to stick the landing from a position of, ‘you know, the end of the season’s coming, you’re gonna love it, we’re gonna answer all of the questions.’ But also knowing that they’re not gonna get there.”
And then, in later seasons, Twitter burst the bubble of an online community that could feel close and insular wide open. Lost ended divisively, leading to a vocal backlash, and Lindelof and Cuse, whose smiling faces adorned the iTunes album art for the podcast with the Island’s shores behind them—in the bottom left corner, the album art read, “By Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse”—were seen as the faces of that show. Lindelof, who was on the receiving end of criticism over the Lost ending Twitter for years, permanently left the platform in 2013 and admitted that negative tweets from people still pissed about the Lost ending led to his departure.
The Official Lost Podcast goes dark—and offline
By the time The Official Lost Podcast took its final bow on May 20, 2010—just three days before the series finale aired—it had aired 136 episodes, as tallied by a recent mirror of the podcast (adding Lostpedia’s archives together puts the number at 134). It was a mix of audio and video podcasts, glimpses of the set, and panels at Comic-Con and the Paley Festival. Starting around 2006, Lost fans would create new pages for each episode of the podcast, which included direct links to each episode and transcriptions. The effort became so unwieldy that each season was split off into its own page in 2010; a glance at the landing page for the podcast’s season 6 episodes gives you an idea of what keeping everything updated for the current model in real-time looked like.
There’s no post-series finale podcast: According to White, Lindelof and Cuse wanted the final episode to speak for itself. Before the year was out, those podcast episodes would be yanked from iTunes.
“I popped over to itunes, and they have no official lost podcasts anymore, so I am guessing that is the problem,” Lostpedia user Greyeyed123 wrote on the Talk page for the podcast (in response to some of the archived links no longer working) on Dec 5, 2010. “It would be really awesome if someone who had already downloaded them could fix this on lostpedia.”
A couple of weeks later, a few people noticed within a day or two of each other on Twitter that the iTunes feed no longer worked.
So what led to the feed’s disappearance? It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason or reasons; White would only speak about the show’s removal off-the-record. It’s not even a thing that many people might have even noticed at the time. For example, many listeners could’ve unsubscribed to the podcast once it ended because there weren’t any more episodes, or they just moved on to the next podcast.
ABC did not respond to a request for an interview.
The removal of The Official Lost Podcast isn’t unique to Lost, nor is Lost immune to the deletion or inaccessibility of older materials online, regardless of whether that removal is accidental or it’s done by a studio; it sometimes happens with movie or TV show trailers. But for some Lost fans, that didn’t mean that its removal didn’t sting.
“Over the years there was just so much content with interviews from websites and panels where the showrunners gave away interesting insights,” Stefan said. “This also applies to other things like the official Magazine. They are out of print, the website for them is dead and gone—it’s almost like it never existed.”
The Glatfelters, who have launched more than two dozen new podcasts since Lost ended, still have all of their archives online and a readily available link for their listeners who are just starting Lost for the first time (or are embarking on a rewatch). But keeping all of those episodes online takes up space and costs money, not something everyone can swing, and hosting older episodes isn’t exactly a money-maker.
“You hope that maybe the Internet Archive, the Way Back Machine, might pull up that data for you,” Jay Glatfelter said. “But it doesn’t give you the complete picture. It’s weird now because there’s 20 years of stuff that existed that was very important to people. If the people that created didn’t put forth the effort to archive it well and make sure it still stayed, then it’s just gone.”
“One of the things that we talked about before the show ended was how we wanted to present some of those podcasts because they were so beloved by the fan community,” White explained, pointing to Lost: The Complete Collection, which Disney released in August 2010.
It’s a behemoth of a box set in the shape of the Island’s mysterious (and sometimes maligned) Temple, and the podcasts (24 in total) are among the Easter eggs located on a hidden disc. White noted that there was a particular interest in preserving the 2008 episode when Lindelof and Cuse’s mothers guested on the podcast. Finding that disc provided another mystery for fans, one hidden so well that White called the team behind it to get a cheat. It’s out-of-print now, but you might get lucky nabbing a copy on eBay.
If that’s too much hassle, YouTube has you covered. Some of the oldest videos containing audio from the podcast were posted by YouTuber DanielM96 in April 2013. Stefan started posting the podcasts to his YouTube channel in November 2017, and several others have also uploaded versions online.
Stefan accessed the files through iTunes, but having seen that the internet isn’t always forever and the Internet Archive isn’t always able to save everything, he kept records of all the podcasts, interviews, and photos when he could. It’s not necessarily something that every Lost fan is trying to access, but Stefan said that those who do want to listen to the podcasts are appreciative of his efforts. And so far, the only copyright issues he’s ever had with Disney is when he tried to upload episode commentaries in an attempt to give people without access to DVDs and Blu-rays a chance to listen to them.
“I don’t want to advocate piracy, but since less and less people watch the show on DVD/Blu-ray they have no access to the audio commentaries, I tried uploading those to YouTube, too,” Stefan said. “They were available for a little while, but Disney marked them as copyrighted material one by one and so I took them down. This is where Disney acts a bit weird because you can find pretty much the complete bonus features on YouTube—and nothing happens. Disney doesn’t seem to enforce anything here for some reason. I don’t have a problem with that. They of course own the rights, but I’m not sure why some things are allowed and others are not – so it’s hard to navigate.”
Stefan also pointed out that while the podcasts might have been wiped off iTunes, many of them aren’t truly gone. Even if ABC and Disney removed the podcast feed itself, many of the direct files are still located on ABC’s servers—and they still work today.
Lost fandom’s enduring legacy
Sixteen years on, The Official Lost Podcast lives on—and so does the fandom.
Jay and Jack Glatfelter have made dozens of podcasts since Lost, but no show has been able to catch the magic that came with podcasting about Lost. But a few (Westworld season 1, Game of Thrones) came close.
“Nothing has matched the holistic experience of Lost yet as a podcast, even though we’ve done many since then,” Jay said. “I think at this point, Jack and I are just waiting for the Lost bat signal to come on again, to put on our Lost hats and get back into the thick of [things].”
What sticks out in White’s mind is not just how much podcasting and audio as a medium have evolved and changed but also the fandom camaraderie.
“It’s just really, for me at least personally, it’s really great and gratifying to see that the community is still there,” White said. “These people, these connections that were made as a result of the Lost podcast, in particular, are lifelong and that these people are still talking with each other and supporting each other 10 years or more than 10 years after the project started.”
And for those who help to maintain the archives, like Stefan, it’s still important to the community even if there is only a small audience for it.
“Lost was a special show to many people and I think it should be remembered for what it was—more of an experience than just television—and you can’t really do that if you only have the episodes on Hulu or Disney+,” Stefan said.