Don't despair, "Lost" fans. The island won't be disappearing come May.
Anything and everything is on the table, as Disney execs map out a long-term strategy for "Lost," the ground-breaking mystery/sci-fi series that returns in February to begin its sixth and final season.
In the short run, that could mean "Lost" novelizations and comicbooks, as well as gaming extensions, digital distribution, recut "Lost" DVDs and an oft-rumored "Lost" amusement park attraction. But further down the road, that might also mean a new TV or feature take on "Lost," complete with new auspices and cast -- in other words, "Lost: The Next Generation."
"We've been talking about this for a couple of years now," says ABC marketing exec VP Mike Benson. "We want to keep it alive but make sure we maintain the integrity of the franchise. We're not about milking this thing for all that it is right now; it's important to see this live for years to come."
But "Lost" exec producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse won't likely be a part of those plans. The duo have made it pretty clear that they have no intention to keep the show going after the finale, and would like their work to stand on its own once "Lost" slams the hatch door shut.
"People deserve an ending, and to promise a continuation of the story in any form in some way negates the finality in some way," Lindelof says.
If and when new "Lost" content emerges, Disney/ABC will have to find someone new to entrust with the franchise.
"What 'Lost' becomes after it ends its run is up in the air," Benson says. "It really depends on who comes in to interpret it next."
There's plenty of precedence for franchises being reinvented by new voices. Most of TV's recent remakes have been produced without input from their original auspices -- be it ABC's "V" or the CW's "90210."
And then there's that constantly reinvented sci-fi franchise that boasts even more passionate fans than "Lost" -- "Star Trek."
Benson and fellow marketing exec VP Marla Provencio say they would like to handle the "Lost" franchise much in the same way Paramount navigated "Star Trek" through the years.
"We do believe 'Lost' can be a 'Star Trek' for us," Benson says.
Originally created by Gene Roddenberry, "Star Trek" carried on even after its initial TV run, eventually returning via a string of movies. That led to four smallscreen spinoffs: "Next Generation," "Deep Space Nine," "Voyager" and "Enterprise." Coincidentally, "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams was behind the recent "Star Trek" redux, while Lindelof is co-writing the next one.
"I loved J.J.'s interpretation of 'Star Trek,' " Benson says. "It was smart of Paramount to bring his interpretation of that franchise."
That's not to say Disney/ABC wouldn't prefer that Lindelof and Cuse stick around on "Lost."
"Damon and Carlton laid such groundwork, it's going to be a challenge for us, and we have to rise to the occasion," Provencio says. "We have to find different, creative and innovative ways to keep the fans happy and to keep the franchise healthy."
Benson and Provencio admit to quite a bit of nostalgia as they head toward the final season of "Lost," having worked closely with Cuse and Lindelof on the show's marketing campaigns and ancillary content from the beginning.
"It's been such an amazing collaboration," Benson says. "Most of the time we were not just creating promos, we were creating content that surrounded the program. It helped define who we are today as TV marketers."
For the final season, ABC has kept its marketing campaign close to the vest. Promos and clips have utilized footage from past seasons only -- but that will change a week before "Lost's" Feb. 2 season premiere, as 815 fans give the correct answer to "Lost" trivia online and receive a message in a bottle.
That bottle will include a USB drive that features a clip from the season's first episode. The network is fully expecting that clip to then quickly go viral online.
Meanwhile, the net will hold a final season-premiere screening on a beach in Hawaii, as well as a wrap party in Southern California. ABC is also sending half-hour "Lost" specials to affiliates and will include "Lost" "starter kits" in People and Entertainment Weekly.
"We're building anticipation and making this a pop culture event," Benson says. "We want to build to the end of the series, like when 'MASH' or 'Seinfeld' ended and people wanted to be there for the end of it."
Why the effort to keep "Lost" going? Quite simply, it's too valuable a commodity for Disney and its various divisions to just let it go.
Lost" has already experienced a robust existence off the air: Disney's Hyperion Books has released several novelizations of the show, while several websites have been produced over the years featuring Easter eggs and clues for "Lost" fans.
Lindelof and Cuse have also hosted a podcast for the show; mobisodes ("Lost: Missing Pieces") were produced for Verizon's V-Cast; a videogame ("Lost: Via Domus") was created by Ubisoft; McFarlane Toys produced various "Lost" toys and action figures; and much more.
TV properties that can morph into massive, multiplatform franchises remain rare. News Corp. has enjoyed the fruits of animated series like "The Simpsons" (which has been worth billions to the company) and reality shows like "American Idol," but most hit programs can't sustain themselves beyond the smallscreen.
It also remains to be seen whether a show like "Lost" can keep the fires burning once it's no longer in originals. "Star Trek" actually reps one of the few shows that has maintained a following for decades; in a more recent example, "The X-Files" (which didn't have much luck stoking interest in a recent feature revival) has failed to hold on to its once white-hot relevancy, eight years after signing off.
Lost" may not be as huge as it was in the beginning, but it still signs off in a solid place -- and could very well experience a ratings revival this season.
The show ranked a strong eighth among all series last season in adults 18-49, and held its own against the powerful "American Idol" juggernaut, dominating its scripted competition in the young adults demo. The show was also tied for second place on the list of most popularly recorded shows on DVRs.