On the night that the ABC Cast Away–meets–The Twilight Zone prime-time hit Lost concluded its second season, something strangely unfunny occurred on the late-night gabber Jimmy Kimmel Live. After his usual monologue, the comedian interviewed Hugh McIntyre, who was identified as a spokesman for the Hanso Foundation which, as many Losties know, is the shadowy financier of the Dharma Initiative, a weird science project that once unfolded (and is possibly now unfolding) on the show's mysterious island. With a straight face, McIntyre accused Lost of misrepresenting the supposedly real foundation. With an equally straight face, Kimmel asked the flack about a hacker named Persephone who has been waging war with the foundation. When the bit finally ended, no one laughed, the audience undoubtedly feeling a little...lost.
Ah. You're getting it. Welcome to The Lost Experience, an innovative mix of interactive media, serialized storytelling, and old-fashioned marketing designed to keep Lost fans obsessively busy as they impatiently wait for season 3 to begin this fall.
Produced in partnership with Lost's TV carriers in the U.K. and Australia, the Experience was conceived by ABC's marketing department and the show's producers as a three-act story steeped in official show mythology but involving new or peripheral characters. ''You don't have to know all of Lost to pick it up,'' insists ABC's senior VP of marketing Mike Benson. ''But at the same time, it will answer questions for fans that reach back to the beginnings of Lost and even give you information leading up to season 3.''
Of course, this being Lost, things have to be complicated, so the Experience is structured as an epic Internet Easter-egg hunt: Participants must rummage through multiple websites to uncover elements of the story, then piece all of the clues together. The Experience also incorporates PR stunts (like the Kimmel bit), TV and print advertising, and the Lost tie-in novel Bad Twin, whose fictional author, Gary Troup, died on the plane crash that brought Lost's characters to the island. (Check out the video interviews with Troup housed at Amazon.com and other online booksellers for possible clues.) The extravagant enterprise is partially underwritten by corporate sponsors (which rankles some fans), but the commercial tie-ins have been intriguingly woven into the story. Locate the classified material at letyourcompassguideyou.com, and you'll find documents showing that Jeep was once involved in the Dharma Initiative. Yep, it's a reality-blurring head-scratcher just like the show.