Cast Away

Every time ABC runs an episode of its hit TV series Lost, Evanston’s Jeffrey Lieber gets an onscreen credit and his bank account gets a nice pop. But the twisting tale of his Hollywood triumph has left Lieber feeling a bit … well, lost.

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Lieber’s hard-earned “created by” credit-his sole surviving tie to the series

 

The guild rejected Touchstone’s argument, and the parties agreed to arbitration. Lieber readily acknowledges that he has nothing to do with the current show (which, he jokes, seems more like Lord of the Rings than Lord of the Flies). But, he adds, “I felt like, if credit was going to be handed out, somewhere in that pile, I deserved something.” He spent the next two weeks comparing his draft with the final shooting script, poring over them line by line to find similar plot developments, character traits, relationships, and even dialogue.

“It was easy to point out the parallels,” he says. “I didn’t feel as if I’d been robbed, but [comparing the scripts] I was able to go, ‘A equals A, B equals B,’” and so on. He compiled a ten-page digest of similarities and sent the list to the guild for a ruling. Then he waited.

About a month later, Lieber says, a representative of the guild called and said, “Congratulations.” The guild had sided with Lieber, ruling that the coveted ‘created by’ credit should be shared three ways. Specifically, Lieber says, he received 60 percent of the ‘created by’ credit, while Abrams and Lindelof split the remaining 40 percent. (Guild officials refused to discuss the specifics of Lieber’s case, saying that all arbitration proceedings are confidential. Braun, Abrams, and Lindelof declined to be interviewed for this story, as did executives for ABC.)

“This was the first of a thousand times someone said ‘Congrats’ regarding the show, where it felt hollow and embarrassing, because I wanted to say, ‘But I didn’t do anything,’” Lieber says. “‘I mean, I did something-and what I did was important-but it wasn’t the thing you’re congratulating me for.’”

On September 22, 2004, Lieber spent a quiet night at home with his wife, Holly, watching the première of Lost. There was the terrifying plane crash, the chaotic aftermath on a remote tropical island, and the introduction of the cast-all similar to what Lieber had sketched out in his script. But soon, there were strange, loud noises, followed by a mysterious force snatching up an injured pilot. Later on, a polar bear attacked the survivors.

Lieber was shocked at how the series had veered away from hyperreality to Jurassic Park. “Monsters?” he thought. “Really?” He recalled how ABC executives had told him to cut the “unrealistic” scene of a shark attack. “Had I pitched the same ideas that were in the pilot that aired,” he says today, “I would have been laughed out of the room.”

His discomfort peaked the following September at the 2005 Emmy Award ceremonies in L.A.’s famed Shrine Auditorium. Lost had the most nominations for a drama series, with 12 bids, including one for Lieber in the drama writing category-a nomination for the pilot episode in part “created by” him. Dressed in a newly purchased tuxedo, Lieber sat next to Lindelof. Abrams, who was also up for a directing award, sat a few rows in front of them. Lieber felt like a red-carpetbagger. He felt, well, lost. “To be in the midst of them, and have them be like, Who the hell is this guy? What’s he doing here?” recalls Lieber. “It was utterly painful; I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It was like being at a party where you know your mom has called and gotten you invited.”

But at the urging of his lawyer and his agent, Lieber had decided to attend. “To not go, to sit at home and isolate myself, would only reinforce for me that I hadn’t done anything,” he says. “I wasn’t under the delusion that it was going to be all fun.”

As things turned out, the awkward moment of sharing the stage with the show’s other principals never materialized: though Lost won six Emmys, the writing award for drama ended up going to the new medical drama House.

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