Ed Martin: How Lost Can Reward Viewers and Strengthen Broadcast Television (Hint: Look to Doctor Who)

If not for the inescapable influence of Fox's American Idol, I would choose ABC's Lost as the top show of the last decade.

Why this acclaim? I can't think of another scripted series during that time, and perhaps ever, that demanded so much of its viewers yet retained their loyalty, all the while doing so much to alter the perception of what a scripted television series actually could be. Fox's 24 winningly played with the format, but one must go all the way back to that fabulous failure Twin Peaks to come close to the mad complexity of Lost.

Twin Peaks was ultimately a flop, largely because of its legendarily loopy if intermittently brilliant storytelling. Lost, on the other hand, proved to be a pop-culture phenomenon on arrival and has remained a media sensation ever since. Seriously, with its fascinating and frustrating primary story (set in the mid-Aughts); its flashbacks, flash-forwards and alternate timelines; its multiple character arcs and their occasional mind-bending collisions, and its ever-expanding list of questions that demand to be answered but likely never will be, not even to the satisfaction of its most forgiving fans, there has never been anything like this show.

(An aside: I spent time in Los Angeles, New York and New Haven in the days leading up to last Tuesday's season premiere, and everywhere I went it seemed everyone was talking about Lost. I haven't sensed so much excitement about the arrival of a filmed entertainment product since last November during the run-up to the arrival in theaters of The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Who says broadcast television has lost its punch?)

All I can say after watching the season premiere of this already iconic television series (other than to ask if Juliet is really a mass murderer) is that I hope the series finale in May is as satisfying for and respectful of its viewers as The End of Time, the recent conclusion of David Tennant's spectacular four-year run on BBC America's Doctor Who, a science-fiction adventure every bit as exciting and as emotionally fulfilling as Lost. I traveled quite a bit during January, so I only recently caught up with the two-part saga that ended with Tennant's beloved title character regenerating into someone else (as have all of the Doctors throughout this franchise's remarkable 47-year history).

It wasn't exactly a series finale, but it was the end of a cycle that spanned three years in series form and a fourth with four television movies (one telecast in two parts), all starring Tennant and collectively the best flight ever in the hallowed history of Who. (In truth, I'd say the stellar Tennant years were so good they qualify as one of the best television series of all time, though only if they are separated out from the various incarnations of the Doctor Who franchise that came and went during the previous four decades.)

Anyway, during the final 15 minutes of The End of Time, as Tennant's Doctor realized he was about to regenerate into someone new, the character traveled through time and space to bid a mostly silent farewell to the many people with whom he had memorably interacted during the last few years, some of them not seen in a very long time. They included Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), now married to Rose's old friend Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke); Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), who was seen drinking in an other-worldly bar filled with unforgettable alien species viewers had met over the seasons (including my favorites, the Slitheen and the Adipose) in a sequence that recalled the legendary cantina scene in the 1977 classic Star Wars; Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen, the actress who has played this role since an earlier version of Doctor Who way back in 1973); recent travel companions Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), plus a host of recurring characters from the Tennant era.

These scenes were, in a word, lovely. I'll admit they choked me up, in part because of nostalgia, in part because I hated to see Tennant go, in part because I realized I would likely not see most of these wonderful characters again -- but mainly because I was so moved by the obvious affection writer and executive producer Russell T. Davies has not only for his creations but for the millions of viewers who embraced them. Davies, the creative force behind the mid-Aughts revival of Doctor Who (which began with a season starring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor) and its spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures is leaving the series as well, so The End of Time was clearly a love note to his legion of loyal fans. (Doctor Who will continue with a new show-runner, Steven Moffat, and a new Doctor played by a young actor named Matt Smith.)

This kind of huge emotional payoff -- a great big "thank you," if you will -- is what I want from the final episodes of Lost. I'm certain that executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are up to that challenge. Under their guidance, Lost has enthralled its loyal audience since September 24, 2004 and engaged fans in a wholly unique way that has yet to be duplicated, though dozens of series have since tried (including FlashForward and V, two ABC freshmen currently on hiatus) and none of them have enjoyed anywhere near its success.

I hope Lindelof and Cuse take as much care with their characters and their viewers as Davies did with his. They can't possibly address every one of the hundreds of burning questions and puzzling observations fans have about the show after five pulse-pounding years, but they can certainly give it a grand and glorious send off that will keep people talking for years to come. If they do, they'll leave millions of viewers satisfied and ready to commit all over again to tantalizing serialized dramas that strengthen broadcast television. If they don't, there will be so many pissed off viewers out there we may never again be able to enjoy a show as complex and uniquely entertaining as theirs. Such is the legacy of Lost.

This post originally appeared at JackMyers.com.

The E-Book Marketplace: Does Anybody Really Know What Price It Is?

Macmillan's 'Priceless'

Someone at Macmillan has a sense of humor. When I landed on the site Saturday night to check on e-book pricing and availability following Amazon’s one-week banishment, the book being promoted at the top of the front page was Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It) by William Poundstone about pricing as a “collective hallucination.” More than fitting as Macmillan and other publishers challenge Amazon’s mission to sell most e-books for $9.99.

Among the current collective hallucinations about e-book pricing: Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) stands alone in trying to keep prices lower and publishers can’t set rates. Publishers haven’t been able to set Amazon’s rates but Macmillan is selling books online for the price it prefers—while linking to other sites with lower or sometimes similar pricing. Case in point: best-seller Sarah’s Key disappeared last Friday during a power play between Amazon and Macmillan. (See our chart Pricing E-Books: A Snapshot.) Macmillan said it was switching to an “agency” or commission model where it sets the rate and e-tailers get a commission (usually 30 percent) and by the beginning of March would be pricing new books and bestsellers higher. Amazon retaliated by removing all Macmillan from its print and Kindle stores, but within days went public with its plans to follow the new pricing scheme. Late last week the print versions started to return; paidContent can confirm the Kindle downloads are back, too.

At what price? For now, Sarah’s Key is $9.99 for Kindle and for BN.com (NYSE: BKS), which describes it as 28 percent below list price. The e-book is selling for list price of $13.95 at Macmillan.com, where it can be purchased in Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) PDF and eReader formats, and Mobipocket. The $13.95 matches the list price of the trade paperback—which runs $7.96 on Amazon and $10.04 at Borders. Macmillan is charging more than the going rate of a print edition for an online edition. Amazon is too but it also discounts the $25 hardback to $17, which is considerably more than the Kindle edition.

When Macmillan implements its new scheme in March, some e-books could wind up with lower prices but new releases are likely to be $12.95 and $14.95. In an ideal world, prices would ratchet back after the book has been out for a while and e-book prices would take the lower costs of digital distribution into account but it could be months before we get any real gauge. One possible wrench: Apple’s desire to wear the white hat for publishers and its willingness to go in a different direction with e-book prices than it did with music by encouraging a new release price around $15 and promising not to discount a la Amazon and B&N. If Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) promotes a sliding scale, that could make a difference.

Meanwhile, Amazon is pre-selling Game Change—a hot political book that HarperCollins has kept from e-book editions since it published Jan. 11 in the hopes of selling more hardbacks—on Kindle for $8.91; when the book is finally available Feb. 22, the price goes up to $9.99. The hardback is $13 on Amazon, list $27.99. The book mentioned at the top of this story came out in January and there’s no sign of its arrival as an e-book so no way for me to impulse buy. Hachette, which is joining Macmillan in the switch, told literary agents that it would promise same-date release as part of the change, according to GalleyCat.

About those higher prices: If all publishers switching to the agency model follow suit—and add scaling as print books shift in price or release dates fade in the distance—it will go a long way to appeasing readers currently supporting the nascent e-book sector. If they add e-book-only extras, as Apple and others have encouraged with music and albums, that will help support the higher price. Ditto, if they come up with a combo print/e-book version or guarantee access to text-to-audio features on the Kindle and other devices. Over the two years that I’ve been buying e-books, I’ve noticed that when an e-book costs more than $10—and in some cases, more than $7 or so, that either makes it a library book for me or a book that I’ll consider buying in print if I know others who will read it. Publishers who leave readers and book buyers out of the equation when they set these price plans may still win the round—but they’ll lose the game.


‘Who’s Scruffy-Looking?’

Philip Elmer-DeWitt on the highlights of this week’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco:

John Gruber. The ill-tempered author of the widely read Daring Fireball blog is flying from Philadelphia, presumably without his “What Are You Looking at Dicknose?” t-shirt, to discuss the “top 10 issues facing our world.” Friday 4:30 p.m. PT

First, “ill-tempered”? Second, everyone knows that shirt doesn’t have a question mark.

The Baffler Returns – Huzzah!

Long before Gawker Media changed the way we consume information, analysis and media, there was a surprising little literary journal out of Chicago’s south side called The Baffler. Edited by Thomas Frank, who’s also known as columnist for WSJ and best-selling author of What’s The Matter With Kansas, The Baffler compendium Commodify Your Dissent was a must-read for every literary hipster in lower Manhattan in the mid to late 90s. Well good news now-aging-hipsters. The Baffler is back with a brand new issue!

Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Christopher Borrelli reports:

The Baffler magazine — which punctured egos and provoked, which irritated New York Times editors and Hyde Park intellectuals alike, which was rooted in Chicago and became a smart, abrasive must-read during the 1990s, which predicted our economic future, then burned down (quite literally) — has returned. It’s been four years since the last issue; the new issue, slowly working its way into bookstores nationwide (and recently mailed out to patient subscribers), is only its 18th issue.

Its 18th in 22 years.

The staff was so slow and often distracted by other non-Baffler-related jobs, said former managing editor Matt Weiland, they would refer to the magazine as “a quarterly publication that only came out once a year.”

“But see, thing is,” said Thomas Frank, the founder and editor, from his home in Maryland, “I never had any intention of going away. I would get e-mails that said, ‘Too bad you guys are gone.’ So I would write back: ‘Don’t give up on us.’ Because we need the Baffler more now than ever. That contrarian attitude toward culture, that scoffi

Keli Goff: Which CNN Anchor Has His Eyes Set on a Future in Politics?

CNN Anchor T.J. Holmes, who co-hosts the network's weekend morning edition of CNN Newsroom, recently expressed an interest in throwing his hat in the political arena, once his broadcast days are over. In an interview with TheLoop21.com, Holmes said if he could trade places with anyone for a day it would be Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe. Holmes went on to add, "People ask me all the time 'what's your dream job?' and something I would love to do is be governor of Arkansas. Who knows? Right now I'm certainly involved and busy and got a good thing going with CNN and my career in journalism but really it's politics on that level on a local level -- statewide -- it's a job in which you can actually reach out and touch people day in and day out and it's my home state so its certainly got my heart in it so it's something I might love to do one of these days."

Read the entire interview here.

Scott Lee Cohen Drops Out of Illinois Lt. Governor Race Amid Salacious Allegations

Just a few days after asserting that his past troubles with domestic violence, steroid use, alimony, and the IRS were “not an embarrassment” to the Democratic Party, Illinois Lt. Governor candidate Scott Lee Cohen took to a local bar to announce his exit from the race.

Cohen’s departure was to be expected after a shocking appearance on regional program Chicago Tonight, where last week he tried to dispel rumors of domestic violence, tax issues, attempted rape, steroid use, and not paying his alimony in time – by bringing his ex-wife, Debra York Cohen, on the air to confirm them all. There, host Phil Ponce did a superb job of carefully extracting from his subjects every last shocking detail, from his divorce proceedings to the legal albeit seedy fact that Cohen owns a pawn shop.

It took very little prodding for Cohen to initially accuse his ex-girlfriend (who he allegedly attacked with a knife) of a Jon Gosselin-style apartment wreckage: “She destroyed my apartment, so I had her locked up.” Oh, and he had no idea she was a prostitute, just an innocent “massage therapist.”

His ex-wife’s defense of him is even more damning. Are the allegations that he was using anabolic steroids and attempted to rape you, true, as per your testimony in the divorce proceedings? “That was who he was then, and that is not who he is now.” So, for now, we know that at least during some point in his life, Cohen was the type of man who abused drugs and would attempt marital rape. She tries to salvage his reputation when the question of alimony and child support comes up, but her fearful “I would rather not discuss that” does more to confirm his guilt than make us forget about the topic. Then Ponce asks if there’s anything else that could be an embarrassment to the ticket, just in case. Attempting to hide his outrage at being disparaged so openly, Cohen answers, “I do not believe I am an embarrassment to the ticket.”

The initial questions surrounding the Cohen case and his attempt at exonerating himself of his crimes by airing them so publicly involved his executive campaign staff: how could they have let Cohen be the one to dig his own political grave so spectacularly? There was no need to attempt to argue that his actions were not embarrassing, even though the crimes themselves would have sunk his campaign to begin with. This now leaves Illinois Democrats with a major vacancy in their gubernatorial ticket, which the Chicago Sun-Times is now reporting may go to Comptroller Dan Hynes, primary runner-up Art Turner, or one of the other primary candidates: State Senators Rickey Hendon and Terry Link, State Rep. Mike Boland and electrician Thomas Castillo.

Watch Cohen’s interview with Chicago Tonight below:

Toyota Dealers Pull Ads From ABC Over ‘Excessive Stories’: ‘Punishment For Reporting’

Toyota dealers in five southeast states have pulled their commercials off ABC TV local affiliates, complaining about the coverage of Toyota safety problems by ABC News and its chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross.

The ad agency representing the 173 dealers told ABC affiliates last week that the shift was due to "excessive stories on the Toyota issues." The dealers shifted their commercial time buys to non-ABC stations in the same markets, "as punishment for the reporting," according to an ABC station manager.