'Alcatraz' producer on 'Lost' comparison: 'We totally embrace it.'

alcatraz

Image Credit: Wendy Redfern/Getty Images

Is Alcatraz the next Lost? You can’t help asking the question. The show comes from Bad Robot productions, home of Lost co-creator J. J. Abrams. The Alcatraz showrunner is iconic Lost writer Elizabeth Sarnoff. One of the show’s stars — arguably the biggest name attached, depending on how often you rewatch Jurassic Park — is Jorge Garcia, Lost‘s lovable Hurley. After a rough pilot season that saw the series picked up as a midseason replacement, Fox hired Jack Bender as an executive producer and director — the same Jack Bender who directed most of the iconic episodes of Lost, including the three-hour finale. And that’s not to mention the plot, which focuses on a mysterious island, features extensive use of flashbacks, and might even (why not?) include time travel.

At today’s Alcatraz Comic-Con panel, Sarnoff was genial about comparisons to that other island show. When asked about the comparison, she said simply, “We totally embrace it. Certainly, there’s no better show. But we’re our own show, we want to do our own thing.” The pilot screened in its entirety for a crowded audience at Hall 20.

This was actually the second time Alcatraz screened at Comic-Con this week. EW’s Sandra Gonzalez talked to some fans after the earlier screening, whose reactions ran the gamut from “It looks very good” to “It looks like a re-hash.”

I’m inclined to agree with both reactions. The most important thing to note about the Alcatraz pilot is that it is decidedly nothing like the Lost pilot. Lost‘s first two hours were a close-up perspective on characters who had zero idea what was happening to them; as far as mythology, there was nothing more complex than a loud roar in the woods and a strange French woman on the radio. Alcatraz, conversely, unloads a fierce amount of backstory in its first hour. Sam Neill — whose clipped line readings as a government hardass earned regular laughter from the audience — starts the show off with a portentous narration describing the disappearance of 302 men from Alcatraz in 1963. This narration is actually repeated later in the episode — an unnecessary amount of hand-holding. Then again, the series’ premise doesn’t quite have Lost‘s initial simplicity: The disappeared 302 men are reappearing, one by one, to undertake tasks for reasons, and persons, unknown.

This makes the Alcatraz pilot feel closer in spirit to the premieres of The Event and FlashForward — which threw a barrelful of mysteries at the audience hoping something would stick. But Alcatraz is more focused than either globe-trotting show: The plot immediately zeroes in on Sarah Jones’ cop, who gets enmeshed in Neill’s special task force. You could argue that the better comparison is another Abrams show, Fringe, which had a historically awkward beginning before evolving into an essential slice of genre TV.

It’s always wrong to judge a show by its pilot, and the addition of Bender clearly indicates that the series may be slightly retooling itself over the next few months. But it’s mildly worrisome that the one character who really pops out in the premiere isn’t even a member of the main cast. Watching the pilot, I found myself rooting for Jeffrey Pierce’s Jack Sylvane, a disappeared Alcatraz inmate who returns to the modern world and embarks on a vengeful murdering spree. (MILD SPOILER ALERT: Sylvane survives the pilot episode, but is currently only credited as “guest cast” on the show’s website. Bump him up to regular status, Sarnoff!)

Sarnoff contrasted the two Island/Abrams shows thusly: “The big difference between this show and Lost is that this show has an incredibly aggressive story engine. There’s gonna be a bad guy they’re gonna have to catch every week. We want to answer these questions. We want to explore the mythology. We want to do flashbacks and see Alcatraz in their heyday.”

“In other words,” joked Bender, “Jorge won’t be building a golf course.”

Alcatraz will debut in January 2012.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Comments (68 total) Add your comment
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  • Trey

    So excited for Alcatraz, but it sucks majorly it’s not airing until January :(

    • wsugar

      Whats wrong with a Glof course?

  • DS

    One “Lost” was one too many.

    • kl

      dislike.

    • wsugar

      one “DS” comment too many.

  • Ryan

    I would rather Alcatraz be the first Alcatraz rather than the next Lost. I don’t believe people will want to sit through another Lost experience which was good but extremely frustrating at the same time. Look all the other “next Losts” that have been on the air.

    • ks

      this

    • Jenni

      took the words right out of my mouth

    • Lily

      FlashForward was supposed to be the “next Lost” and it was phenomenal. It had great actors, an amazing story, action, romance, mystery, and a devoted following. Had ABC execs had the good sense to renew it, it would be one of the best things on TV today.

      • Sue

        I agree they didn’t support Flash Forward enough. We’ll never know what it could have been.

  • Gregoire

    I hope they tell the audience they are in purgatory from the start.

    • um…

      they weren’t in purgatory. sigh.

    • quangtran

      Sign. This reminds me of the arguments I had with my brother about the finale. I told him that only an idiot wouldn’t get that they weren’t in purgatory from the very start, while he argued that a non-fan wouldn’t get that (like his whole office the next day) and that the writers should have spelled it out more for the easy-to-confuse audience. Sadly, comments like those of Gregoire’s proves that he was probably right.

      • jean

        Its one thing to understand a show and not like it but the amount of people who watched the show and still had no clue what was “actually” happening really makes me lose faith in people.

        IT WAS NOT PURGATORY GOD DAMN PEOPLE ARE RETARDED.

  • Tim

    STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT!!!! I WILL NOT WATCH ANYTHING THAT COMPARES TO LOST. I loved LOST (hated the ending), but I don’t want to see the next LOST.

    I want to see a really good show that has its own identity.

  • Bill Shakes

    Alcatraz = “I’ll Catch Rats”.
    Is the smoke monster a good guy in this one?…

  • Em

    Every show that has any kind of mystery gets compared with Lost. It’s getting ridiculous. I’m curious and will give it a shot though.

  • Shane

    I will watch anything JJ offers up, at least until it wins me on its own, simply at first because I can be assured that it will be interesting and challenging. So this, plus Ben’s new show will all get me watching. But the show I am most looking forward to continues to be The River. Still sounds like the most potential to me.

    • Tim

      After Super 8, I’m losing faith in JJ, but I still have more faith in him that M. Night.

      • Mincha

        Good lord, yes. I didn’t love Cloverfield, but I would rather watch it every day than sit through one viewing of another M. Night movie.

      • xxc

        super 8 had good reviews. what are u talking about :/

      • Ryan

        I agree. Super 8 was overrated IMO. It was well made but had a lot of elements that I didn’t care about.

  • GunnerGA

    Based on the comment in the article aobut people dissappeared from Alcatraz and then reappeared with tasks sounds a lot like “The 4400″ that was a very good SciFi hit on the USA Network a few years ago before it got canned. Am I misreading the parallels?

    • Ryan

      Agree about The 4400. It was good and getting better when they cancelled it. The premise for Alcatraz seems similar.

    • Carla Houston

      @GunnerGA – that’s exactly what I thought, sounds like The 4400. As a fan of both Lost and The 4400, I hope this show lands somewhere between those two in terms of tone and pacing.

    • Amber

      It sounds like a cross between the 4400 and Journeyman. I immediately thought of both of those shows.

    • Jennifer

      @GunnerGA – Agreed. I instantly thought of the 4400, with the disappearing/reappearing people, and the task force chasing the bad guys every week. It’s only missing Joel Gretsch!

  • Gusteaux

    Sorry, but I just can’t get past the fact that Elizabeth Sarnoff wrote “Egg Town”, the WORST LOST episode ever.

    • LOL

      Dunno. Bai Ling / Jacks tattoo episode was pretty terribad

    • LOL

      Also the finale is that running. Lets not explain anything and chalk up everything that happened in sideways world as pointless since everyone is dead. Then lets claim that its all about the characters and not about the mystery. Cop. Out.

    • Ruby

      Agreed. Hated hated hated Eggtown. Stranger in a Strange Land is also terrible.

    • Mike

      Sarnoff wrote more than just Egg Town. Every episode was basically a collaboration but only 2 names from the staff got credit for writing the episode. And yes…worst episodes by far were Stranger in a Strange Land and Fire + Water (Aaron Baptism). And LOL, you must have no heart! lol BTW, They had already answered the mythology questions prior to the finale. People didn’t like the answers but they did provide them. (bright light, protect it!) The Finale was putting into action the plan to SAVE THE ISLAND and SAVE THEIR SOULS! (aka, the redemption that each character sought throughout their run on LOST) I found the resolution to the sideways world very fitting for bringing the show full circle and giving the characters a proper send-off. I was just as big of a mystery buff as the next LOST fan, but I saw nothing wrong with the awesome conclusion.

  • Kevin

    Jorge Garcia REALLY knows how he can go to one mysterious island to the next (GASPS).

  • Morrie

    This show has the stink of impending cancellation all over it. I’m not going to get invested unless it proves to be a mild ratings hit & gets a second season pick up.

  • LOL

    Lost finale taught me much. After season after season of mystery they ended with a resounding thud. Clearly had no idea how to answer anything so they just didnt.

    Will no watch Lost 2.0

    Fool me once shame on you
    Fool me twice shame on me..

  • Jesse

    I love how ALL of the negativity circling around LOST is strictly based on the ending. The journey to get to the ending was far more compelling to me. And so I will absolutely sign on for the long haul with ALCATRAZ. I can’t wait.

    • LOL

      The ending seals the deal. Its like a joke with no punchline. Lame.

      • Justsayin

        @lol it’s too bad your a.d.d. ruined a great show and didnt let you understand the ending.

      • Ryan

        @Justsayin – I don’t think people didn’t “understand” the ending. I just think they expected better.

      • LOL

        Oh I “got” the ending. Stop trying to be elitist and pretend it was more than it was. Its really ok to admit that the series was good and season 7 was a piece of garbage. Stop being an apologist.

        Its a mystery show until the last season when they paint themselves into a corner and then all of a sudden its a charcater driven show.

        Oh you want answers? Heres a couple answers on the DVD if you buy it. Crap answers at that

        Bleh.

      • quangtran

        Derp. There was no seventh season!
        Personally, I liked (didn’t love) the sixth last season. The last six episode string were terrific, minus the horrible Across The Sea. Thank god they didn’t waste answering a more pointless questions in the real series, instead throwing them into the DVD.

        It was always a character show. That was the whole point of the flashback device that the stuck by for the whole series. The writers have always obviously cared more for telling Kate the fugitive stories, time-travelling romances and Korean love stories than answering mysteries. The whole point of the side-ways stories ways to tell the same-but-slightly-different character stories again.

      • imisslost

        I agree with quangtran. I think it was a completely character driven show. The island and it’s mysteries were the backdrop. If a week had a bad character story line I came back for the thrill of the mystery. But it was always the characters for me. I don’t think I would’ve even cared for Lost as much as I did if the characters sucked. I also think season 6 tried to show us what the characters lives wouldve been like if the plane never crashed. I think this works because they were in purgatory and hadn’t accept the fact that they had died so they lived as though the island never wanted them, but eventually they had to accept it and realize it’s time to move on. Anyways, just my thoughts haha I’m no Lostmaniac, I now watch Dexter, Breaking Bad and possibly Alcatraz when it airs.

      • Marc

        What questions do you still need answers for? If you watch each episode and pay attention, everything is pretty much explained. How many answer do you need? Look, life is full of mysteries. If the writers spent the whole last season answering your retarded questions rather than finishing character arcs, the show would have been unwatchable. It was a drama, not a documentary.

      • @ MARC

        Some of these are jokes yes. Some of these were answered in the DVD extra features (cop out btw) Most unanswered.

        w w w . collegehumor.com/video/6099973/unanswered-lost-questions

        I dont understand all the die hard apologists. Why raise questions if you dont intend on answering them? Fine it had good characters. Why introduce scify, time travel, and fiction if you have no desire to answer them. Dropped the ball. Almost as bad as X-files.

      • dgh

        Some liked the finale some didn’t why must you act like just because you didn’t like the finale that it sucked are you some kind of elitist of something?

      • aweg

        @lol it was always a character driven show..or did you not pay attention to the flashbacks every episode? I get don’t why all these people complain about Lost..if you thought it was stupid, bad or whatever, why did you watch it for 6 seasons?

  • Margeaux1280

    Did not watch LOST after the first season; it was too stupid.

    • Mike

      you missed out on a great ride.

    • jean

      ok…terrific!!

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