Damon Lindelof: HBO's The Leftovers Is About 'What Happens Now?' Versus 'What Happened?'

HBO Orders The LeftoversFormer Lost boss Damon Lindelof has a message about the central mystery of his new , Rapture-esque HBO series The Leftovers: The answers to the big question aren’t that important.

Based on Tom Perrotta’s best-selling novel, The Leftovers revolves around what happens when two percent of the world’s population disappears without explanation. So what can the man behind some of TV biggest puzzles offer about this mysterious premise?

“Our answer to it is fairly simple: Just watch the show,” Lindelof said at the show’s Television Critics Association winter press tour session. “Hopefully, what you’re going to care about more and more is how these characters are dealing with this world rather than what happened and where everybody went and why.”

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He continued, “These characters are not actively searching for what happened in the departure. They’re searching for what they’re supposed to do in their lives.”

For the 10-episode first season, “We’re more interested in what the world is like three years later than what happened in that moment,”  executive producer/writer Perrotta added, noting that while the series is “very much based in the world of the book, it is this new thing we’re creating.” As such, the pilot will feature characters who aren’t in the source material.

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Speaking of the novel, both book fans and non-readers alike will be able to enjoy the show, the producers insisted.

“The assumption has to be that people haven’t read the book, even if it was a massive phenomenon,” said Lindelof. “And as a storyteller, you don’t want to make people feel left out. So there was certainly an effort on our part in the storytelling to bring the audience in. … There are clearly deviations between the book and the series that we have to do” to give the show legs, to exist on for years, “and then there are beautiful things in the book that have to happen in the series.”

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Lindelof, though, did let slip with one “spoiler”: “The Leftovers will answer what the dome is in Episode 2, just to f—k [the CBS series].”

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50 Comments
  1. Big Mike says:

    The most interesting part about this is, “what happened”. But, f*ck that, we’re not going to deal with that.

    • b says:

      I don’t know why that’d be the most interesting part. It was a rapture. There doesn’t have to be a lot to explore about a phenomenon which already has an established backstory. And yes I realize it says “rapture-esque,” but if it happened in real life some would call it a rapture and some wouldn’t. But essentially I’m sure it’s a religious rapture.

  2. Pat says:

    Just another cop out like Lost, it’s all about the characters, but we are still going to use all this other stuff and never bother to explain it because it is all about the characters. the whole premise of the show we don’t want you to care about, just care about the characters. Pfffffft maybe he watched one too many episodes of care bears?

    • Joel says:

      Or maybe he’s watched one too many episodes of the walking dead? They don’t explain the cause of the outbreak in that one either, but people don’t seem to mind…

  3. Ray says:

    Lindelof lost all credibility after promising fans answers and then crapping out the turd that was the final season of Lost.

    • Scott says:

      Every single question in Lost was answered before the show ended. Its hardly Lindelof’s fault that the audience was too stupid to understand most of the answers.

      • Teag says:

        100% this. Also, looking forward to The Leftovers!

      • Ray says:

        Absolutely not. The final season of lost made it abundantly clear the writers were flying by the seat of their pants and making stuff up as they went along. It was not some high brow philosophical-question posing series like you’re making it out to be.

        • Drew says:

          How did it show that they were flying by the seat of their pants? What did you expect from the show? It resolved the story that they were telling and dealt with the issues they had been discussing. How was that flying by the seat of their pants?

          It is one thing to say that you didn’t like the end. It is something else entirely to assume that the writers didn’t know what they were doing just because it didn’t turn out the way you wanted.

        • Mike V. says:

          All television MUST to some degree fly by the seat of their pants. They have to adjust for what’s working and what isn’t working. The showrunners of LOST felt pressured to make promises to the audience that they know where things are going so that they didn’t abandon the show in masses. Still, they had a basic outline of where they were going after season 1, and more specifically after they defined an end date. But, they had to leave room for certain plots to evolve and characters to rise in popularity.

          One exception to this rule would probably be Game of Thrones as they’re heavily sticking to their well defined bible. But, even they are finding ways to write more to what works well and what doesn’t. Case in point, the Arya/Tywin scenes in season 2. Not in the book whatsoever, but some of the most popular scenes from that season.

          LOST provided answers. But the mystery may have been the initial hook to get people to watch the show. It was ALWAYS about these characters plucked from their regular lives and placed in this crazy world where crazy things happen. Lindelof is trying to set expectations very early with The Leftovers to avoid facing 50% of his audience going for his head when the show ends.

          “Watch the show” is the best advice any showrunner can give. If you just sit back and enjoy LOST as a drama, I assure you it is one of the best dramas that ever aired on network television. Granted, I overobsessed with LOST too because it was fun to discuss it with everyone and come up with all of the wacky theories. I normally did not let that fun get in the way of me enjoying LOST first as a television show and not the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

      • Drew says:

        Agreed. I rewatched Lost after the finale and I realized that I wasn’t left with any questions. The problem was that people didn’t get the answers that they wanted… the ones that they spent years constructing in their minds but which never had anything to do with the writers of the show. The writers can’t be blamed for that.

        • n8ball78 says:

          Exactly! It didn’t end the way people wanted it to so they hate on it. It drives me crazy that people still are crying about it all these yrs later. I personally loved Lost and while the end left mec wanting more I was satisfied with it. Its still one of my top 3 tv series of sll time and the only one that was on broadcast tv. I can’t wait for this new show.

      • the danger says:

        maybe you weren’t paying attention to the amount of mysteries that were going on

        • Mike V. says:

          There is a logical explanation for almost every mystery on the show. There are enough clues in the 6 seasons worth of episodes to piece together every answer without them having to directly provide it for you. And if there aren’t answers, there’s probably a good reason why there isn’t. Either logistical or they were never intended by the writers to be questions. Most people go back to questioning why was Walt so special? And that was a problem with the actor aging too quickly. Over the course of 6 seasons we saw several characters that were just defined as being “special”. That was the answer. They were just special. Locke and Walt just happened to be more in communion with the Island, which is why Walt returned to the island in the “epilogue” on the season 6 dvd/blu-ray bonus features.

          Yeah, there’s the outrigger thing and why was Libby in the psych ward, but storylines just don’t always pan out the way the writers were planning. I read an interview once with Lindelof that the outrigger thing was initially supposed to be answered in season 5, but characters weren’t in the right place to get to it. They had to go where the story was taking them. Sure, lots of outriggers in season 6, but they were done with the time travel stories and were trying to tackle the end game. So, going out of their way just to answer a loose end question wasn’t a top priority. And it would’ve messed with the narrative of the show. This was something the writers strived not to do with that final season. They wanted to tell a story and not just have a the architect from the matrix rambling off answers to every question raised in seasons 1-5. Or they didn’t want Anakin randomly asking Qui Gon what midichlorians are in the middle of the season.

          After rewatching the series (after the end), I found that there really weren’t that many loose ends to worry about. And it really didn’t matter that they were, because the show itself was just an enjoyable rollercoaster ride with great characters. I’m sure a greater percentage of people that binge-watch LOST now do not mind the end because they never got bogged down in the minute details of the show to be over-critical of the finale. It was a helluva ride, and I’ll never forget or regret it.

      • Julie says:

        I didn’t give a crap that things like “”who shot at Sawyer and Juliet in the outrigger” weren’t answered in the end. I just wanted to know what the island was, whether Sawyer ended up with Juliet, Jack with Kate, etc. and they answered those. The rest of the stuff I could’ve cared less about.

        • the danger says:

          That outrigger mystery really bothered me, especially considering how many times they used outriggers in the final season. They could have spared 30 seconds to answer that one. Only it never made sense for anyone to shoot at them. So why make it a mystery?

          I know a lot of people watched it for the characters, it had great characters. I and many others got hooked on the show due to the mysteries and then fell in love with the characters.

          • Et al says:

            Seriously. The outrigger is my #1 Lost complaint. Not paying it off was just lazy. It could have been so clever and fun.

        • Big Mike says:

          If I wanted to use my imagination, I’d write my own story. If I’m watching/reading someone else’s, I’d like the whole thing.

        • Viktor says:

          The Island was based on a mixture between delos and lemnos, use Wikipedia and read about these islands Its very interesting.

      • the danger says:

        You know what bothered me? In season 3 or 4, Jack sees his dead father in the hospital in LA, and the smoke alarm went off. They then established that Jack’s father’s ghost was smokey the whole time. Yet the entire final season was based around the idea that smokey couldn’t just travel off the island. You could say Jack was hallucinating, but then why did the smoke alarm go off?

        • Len says:

          Smokey was “man in Locke” NOT Jack’s father. He (man in locke) posed AS Jack’s father on the island.

          As for the hospital, it was simply jack hallucinating his father in a time of crisis.

          Sometimes a smoke alarm, is just a smoke alarm and not some simile for the smoke monster.

          • the danger says:

            First, I think you misread what I typed. I never inferred Jack’s father (while alive) was smokey, I clearly stated (and as the show clearly stated) the GHOST of Jack’s father was smokey. Smokey had the ability to appear as anyone who’s dead body was on the island. Second, hallucinations do not make smoke alarms go off. Now lets try this with a different example. The ghost of Jack’s father (smokey) appeared to Michael the moment before Michael and Widmore’s mercenary boat blew up (season 4). This sets the precedent that the ghost/smokey could transport himself onto any vehicle/vessel near the island and thus could have hitched a ride on that vehicle to anywhere else in the world. Thus, in theory smokey could have boarded the submarine or whatever method Richard and Ben used to travel to and from the island. Yet the entire premise of season 6 was that smokey could only board a vehicle literally on the island and be taken off the island by someone else. My point is the entire premise of season 6 was negated by earlier seasons. It was sloppy writing, and clearly not well thought out ahead of time.

          • Len says:

            No. You are making the assumption that every appearance of the ghost of Jack’s father is smokey. It could just well be the ghost of Jack’s father, or at least what jack and Michael think they see in a time of crisis to help them through. But there is absolutely no proof that the occurrence of the ghost is smokey. Nor does it make sense that it would be such, as smokey was made clear cannot cross water.

            Will repeat with a different saying. Sometimes a ghosts just a ghost and not smokey.

            As for the smoke detector, something was needed to get Jack’s attention. Again, one should not assume that ‘smoke’ detector alludes to ‘smokey’. Again, just an assumption you kept to.

          • Chuck Finley says:

            Who the hell is the “man in Locke”? Are you trying to say “Man in Black” but just don’t have any idea what you are talking about?

          • Chuck Finley says:

            The man in black impersonated many people, not just Locke btw.

          • the danger says:

            They made it very clear the ghost of Jacks father was always smokey. I mean think about it, how could Michael hallucinate a man he never met? Really think about that…

          • Mike V. says:

            The Man in Black became the smoke monster when Jacob threw him into the cave of light thousands of years before Flight 815 (there is strong evidence to support that the Mother was both the protector AND smoke monster prior to her being killed by the man in black). He could then take the form of various dead people (i.e. Yemi, Alex, Christian Shephard, Locke) until Jacob was killed. Then he could only turn into Locke as that was the form he was when Jacob died. It was unclear what apparitions of Christian Shephard were smokey vs. ghost vs. hallucination. The LOST Encyclopedia tried to chalk up Jack’s vision (with the smoke alarm) as Jack being all tripped on on medications and seeing things. It’s possible, or it could’ve been the ghost of his father. we know Hurley could see ghosts and Jack could eventually see the ghost of Jacob on the island (as could Kate and Sawyer). So, there are plenty of explanations. We have to go with what we were told. Man in Black could not leave the island, so therefore Christian off island was not smokey even if a lot of us theorized that it was.

            As for the appearance to Michael, I’m not sure why Smokey would appear to Michael to tell him he could go. Maybe because he was a candidate, and that was scratching one off his list. It could have been ghost Christian as well. In any case, I guess it really doesn’t matter in the scheme of things.

            There is still enough information there to draw your own conclusion and shouldn’t retroactively hinder your previous enjoyment of the show. My opinion anyway.

          • Mike V. says:

            Whoops need to clarify the Christian Shephard appearances. Any time he showed up on the island (with the exception of maybe the freighter…but that was probably him too), it was Smokey. So that includes in the cabin, when Jack was chasing him and with the donkey wheel. Also, it was smokey in the cabin when Ben and Locke showed up there in season 3. This was proven by the break in the ash circle. He was impersonating Jacob to manipulate both Ben and Locke. All part of his “loophole” to kill Jacob.

            Smokey also took the form of Isabella (Richard’s wife) which we saw in Ab Aeterno. The ghost of Isabella also showed up in that episode at the end when she was talking through Hurley to Richard. I think Smokey also may have portrayed Ben’s mother (i.e. Michael Emerson’s wife) in a Ben flashback as well.

      • The Truth says:

        Oh please enlighten the rest of us then know it all. They had no end game in mind, and basically wrote themselves into a corner that they did write themselves out of, but poorly. This is why I am glad George RR Martin is taking his time, since as he said himself he doesn’t want to “pull a Lost” and end up with a crap ending.

      • Why was Walt special?

  4. Rook says:

    I guess I’m the only one interested in the show…

    • Len says:

      There is no imagination left in the world. We need the answers to everything. Everything needs to be thrust in your face so that you do not need to create your own imagery.

      • Big Mike says:

        If I wanted to use my imagination, I’d write my own story. If I’m watching/reading someone else’s, I’d like the whole thing.

        (Sorry for the double post…..dunno how it ended up posted above.)

        • Len says:

          Yet even Shakespeare didn’t describe the details of the Juliet death, how lng a weapn, how uch blood, where did the blood land and a million other unanswered questioned yet we all managed to survive and know the story that was told. Even considered a classic.

          Tolkien and his need to describe every vein in a leaf is all to blame for this downfal
          Of society and our total lack of imagination today.

          • Big Mike says:

            Silly comparison. Details of amount and location of blood, versus details of the MAIN CONCEPT of the show! Just a bit different.

  5. JSG5 says:

    I guess he learned nothing from the diaster final season of Lost. The premise for the show is pretty good, and it begs the question of “what happened to them”, and then he says nope, that’s irrelevant. To anyone writing TV shows that are reading these message boards, basically do the opposite of this nonsense. If you’re lucky enough to come up with a show that becomes a hit and has a passionate fan base, don’t BS them.

  6. asm says:

    Why does hollyweed execs keep giving this man a writing job? This guy is a total hack! Cant believe you hollywood!

  7. n8ball78 says:

    Love seeing all the hate these people are still living with 6 yrs after Lost ended. You people need to get over it or just don’t watch.

    I for one got all the answers from Lost I needed and the things I didn’t “get” I got other peoples opinion on before rewatching. Just about every question was answered some people just think they can skip episodes or watch Lost while doing other things.

    I’m looking forward to The Leftovers and am glad irs on a cable station. This way it doesn’t need as, many people watching it.

  8. Brooke says:

    I read the book. not impressed. it was a soap opera, plain and simple. no sci fi or mystery involved. the show will likely be the same way.

  9. Dizzle says:

    Yeah I don’t think we need endless discussions about “what happened” when I think anyone with even a passing familiarity with the books knows its about the Rapture…. All you need is some news reports on television in the background of scenes with talking heads banging on about the “Rapture” to solve that specific mystery! I’m much more interested in the “what happens after”, as this article puts it, and Lindelof and his cohorts created such an interesting world and set of characters in Lost that I’m confident he’ll do the same here.

    • John T says:

      The problem I have with the concept is that they WON’T just say it was the rapture, and then go on with “What now?” – they will insist on adding “mystery”, and then never explaining it. That’s lazy writing, and it’s dishonest writing, and it’s why I have no interest in the show.

  10. Joel says:

    The Walking Dead has never answered what happened, or why and how everybody is infected and turned into zombies. And (as far as I’m aware based on what I have read in interviews, and the source material) they don’t intend to. And that’s one of the most popular shows around at the moment.
    Not answering why doesn’t make it a cop out, it just means that it’s not the story they’re telling. If it was anyone else it wouldn’t be an issue, but because it’s the guy from Lost everyone’s acting like they’re entitled to know every detail about the show, based on their level of satisfaction with the ending of Lost. Seems to me that DL is mentioning this now to try and preempt that sort of response once the series begins.

  11. The Truth says:

    Cool, thanks for warning me so I don’t fall for that shiate again.

  12. The Truth says:

    Also, all the crap he says about Lost and now this just leads me to believe he is just a poor writer. Maybe come up with an idea and actually think that idea through and complete a story, rather than just half-a$$ it.

  13. Peter says:

    If this show is even half as good as Lost I will be a happy man. No tv show has been or never will be more intriguing and entertaining than Lost.

  14. Viktorh says:

    Island= delos/ lemnos