It’s a riveting character study set against a supernatural backdrop.
“It” in this case is ABC’s often surreal, sometimes frustrating but always intriguing drama “Lost,” which airs its two-hour, fifth-season finale at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
But “it” could just as well be many of the works by Bangor’s own Stephen King.
That’s not coincidence, according to “Lost” executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, who, along with series creator J.J. Abrams, admit to being huge King fans.
In a 2005 “Lost” podcast, Cuse explained, “Stephen King is so artful at blending science fiction or horror concepts with really compelling character stories, and that is so much a model for what we are doing on the show. I mean, those books of his sustain for 800 to 1,000 pages. Not because of the mythology, but because the characters are so damn cool.”
In a recent phone interview, Lindelof and Cuse credited King’s influence for helping them to become the writers they are today.
“I read the first book in the Gunslinger series at age 9 or 10,” said Lindelof, 36, “When I read ‘The Stand,’ it was a real game-changer for me. It had supernatural leanings, but it was a character study as well. It shaped what I became as a writer.”
Cuse, 40, praised the addictive quality to King’s writing.
“Once I picked one up, I couldn’t put it down,” he said. “That was a lesson I strove to emulate in my own writing.”
A King masterpiece served as the model for “Lost” as it was being developed for its 2004 debut.
“There wasn’t a template for this type of show,” Cuse said. “The best thing for us was ‘The Stand,’ for its beautiful character writing more than the mythology. That’s why we owe a huge debut to Stephen King, for showing us the way.”
The “Lost” creators have repaid that debt with King references throughout its five seasons, such The Others discussing “Carrie” in their book group in the episode “A Tale of Two Cities” in Season 3. The Web site Lostpedia is packed with hundreds of “Lost”-King connections, but Lindelof downplays the actual number of in-tentional shout-outs.
“Clearly there are things we do consciously,” Lindelof said. “Others are less overt but purposeful. Then there’s a vast number on the subconscious level. If you look hard enough, you’ll find hundreds. But only 10 percent of those are purposeful on our part.”
King has been a “Lost” fan since the beginning, touting the show in his monthly Entertainment Weekly column “The Pop of King.”
Therefore, he enjoys the connections to his writings.
“It’s amusing and sometimes touching,” he said in a recent e-mail interview. “It makes me feel a little old — more like a founding father than an angry old man — but I guess that’s part of life. The important thing is that I’m still here to appreciate it.”
Lindelof, Cuse and Abrams got to meet the idol in 2006 during an Entertainment Weekly-sponsored visit to Bangor for a round-table discussion on writing. It’s a visit that Cuse and Lindelof remember fondly.
“We had the ultimate Stephen King tour,” Cuse said. “He took us to his house, showed us around Bangor, took us out for a lobster meal and then finally to the horror movie ‘The Descent.’ It was fantastic to be there with him, to witness his enthusiasm for that movie and that genre. That was unbelievably special.”
“For someone who doesn’t get starstruck, I have never been so starstruck as I was hanging out with Mr. King,” Lindelof added. “It kept getting more surrealistic as it went on. He’d seen the movie before, so he provided us with a DVD commentary as it unfolded.”
King was the first to suggest, in a 2005 EW column, that the “Lost” producers firm up an end date for the series, which will conclude next season,
“Having an end date is the difference from being out of control and in control,” Lindelof said. “Until you establish that there’s going to be an end date, all you have is middle. [Having an end date] allows us to save the show, to hammer out the plan we’ve been executing ever since.”
King isn’t the only Bangor connection to “Lost,” as Bangor native Melinda Hsu Taylor joined the show’s writing staff this season.
“Melinda has been great,” Cuse said. “She’s a real genre fan and a Stephen King fan, and shared the same interests that we have. Once we heard her story, we figured that she’s the perfect fit for our group. We felt an immediate kinship with her.”
“Lost” has more science-fiction elements this season, and fans have responded well to it, Cuse said.
“The audience seems to embrace the time-travel elements of the show, and that’s been enormously satisfying,” he said. “The biggest question we get now is, ‘Will you change the future by changing the past?’ and the show will be asking that question through to the end.”
King remains a big fan of the show, which recently passed its 100th episode.
“It’s still terrific fun,” he said. “It’s not quite as mysterious, because we’re in the ‘answers’ phase rather than the ‘questions’ phase, but the lure of the island is, for me, still very strong. I never miss an episode, which is probably the best answer.”