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Real-life castaway Jeffrey Lieber
Notwithstanding the guild’s ruling, some former members of ABC’s development team think Lieber has received an undeserved break. After all, given the success of the show, it’s hard to fault the decisions made by the network. One former executive, who asked not to be identified because Hollywood is a small town, says, “The fact that Jeff arbitrated and got credit and takes money away from J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, who literally work on this show till two in the morning every day-I just don’t feel bad for Jeffrey. He’s collecting a buttload of cash. He should be laughing all the way to the bank.”
Lieber says he gets paid every time an episode airs and again when episodes are rerun, annually collecting in the “low six figures.” Once the show is sold into syndication, he could potentially earn much more in royalties. He doesn’t apologize for the payout. “I own part of the genesis. That’s what the ‘created by’ credit is about. Lots of things happened subsequently, but what I did is somehow buried deep within the DNA of the show.”
Another former ABC executive who also requested anonymity is skeptical. “If you gave the script [idea] to ten writers in town,” the executive says, “the characters would’ve been the same.”
As it turns out, the success of Lost has left others besides Lieber in its wake. Most of the top executives at ABC were gone before the show aired. Meanwhile, Lieber’s career hasn’t stalled. He’s written a pilot that got shot but never aired, and multiple screenplays. One, The Express, a biopic about Ernie Davis, the first black Heisman Trophy winner-who died young of leukemia-was shot in Chicago from April through June. Lieber is currently working on pilots for Lifetime and Showtime-both six-figure deals.
He is no longer the little fish that he called himself years ago to the Dreamworks executive, but he still feels as if he’s swimming against the current in Hollywood’s high seas, and he still feels he has something to prove. “That’s the hardest part-my greatest moment of disappointment is my greatest moment of recognition. And finding peace in that is a daily, weekly, monthly type of thing.”
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Click on the links to read excerpts from Nowhere, the precursor to the pilot episode of Lost.
Leiber: “In my draft of Lost, I was working off a Lord of the Flies model, wherein a small group of people, cut off from the real world, are forced to reinvent society. What version of law and order who they create? What kind of morality would win out? Would the people who rose to power be benevolent, or is power itself corrupting? At the center of the society I imagined two half brothers, connected by their father, but raised very differently. This is their introduction.”
Lieber: “The biggest challenge with the show was removing, for the most part, the idea that these people would be saved any time soon. One doesn’t want to have to spend every episode dwelling on “rescuers” or plans of escape. This scene that follows was my attempt to get the viewer to buy into the survivors’ permanent residency.”
Photography: C. J. Burton