The first thing you notice when you walk into Damon Lindelof’s office is a book on the coffee table titled “How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter, and Self-Preservation That Makes Starvation in the Wilderness Next to Impossible.”
It’s been a useful reference for Mr. Lindelof, co-creator and showrunner of ABC’s new big-budget drama “Lost,” about a group of plane crash survivors stranded on a mysterious tropical island.
Mr. Lindelof said “Lost” is part wish-fulfillment fantasy, part bracing jolt of reality for anyone who has lazily dreamed of castaway life. “The fantasy is I’d be away from my job, I’d be away from all these things. We’re saying, here’s the nightmare: Very quickly, the island is an equalizer. How much money you had or the color of your skin or the level of your education, all of those things become increasingly less important, because it doesn’t matter anymore what you did for a living unless it has practical applications here on the island.”
Despite its high concept and an expensive pilot shot in Hawaii, some wonder whether “Lost” can sustain as a TV series for several years. Mr. Lindelof seems confident it can. “It’s a character drama,” he said. “You could do an entire episode about two people who get in a fight. People fall in love, they break up. People lie to each other. They get discovered in the lies. People are jealous. All that stuff is still very much happening in this show, except it’s in a petri dish.”
Mr. Lindelof, who has been a writer on “Crossing Jordan” and “Nash Bridges” but never created a series, has been in a petri dish of his own ever since he teamed with veteran writer/producer J.J. Abrams in January to develop the concept that ABC threw at them.
Mr. Abrams [“Felicity,” “Alias”] wasn’t really interested in working on the concept until he met Mr. Lindelof.
“Damon showed up and I couldn’t stand that we had never worked together,” Mr. Abrams said. “He was incredibly smart. He had a point of view and seemed to have a take on what this show could be. He pitched, in the room, this idea for how he had to open the show, which is literally shot for shot what’s there,” said Mr. Abrams, who ended up co-writing and directing the pilot.
Mr. Lindelof, who grew up in New Jersey, always knew he wanted to be a writer. After graduating from NYU film school, he moved to Los Angeles to learn how the entertainment business worked. While he continued to write on the side, he worked at talent and literary agency Metropolitan, then Paramount and later for a production company before a friend piqued his interest with a writer’s assistant gig on a new ABC drama called “Wasteland” five years ago.
“I quit my job,” Mr. Lindelof said. “I took like a $65,000-a-year pay cut. But I showed up and was wearing this,” he said referring to his jeans, T-shirt and baseball hat. “I never felt better.”