Forbidden Island

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
819
1,854
About a year ago, 90 minutes of dailies from this pilot were posted on YouTube:

Watching dailies is obviously not a good way to judge what a finished show would be like, and for the most part this video has the same small handful of scenes repeated over and over again in different takes, even the same takes with different coverage. But barring the pilot itself or a script finding its way online, this is the only way to get some idea of what this fascinating historical footnote would have been like. And we do get some interesting glimpses from these few scenes.

Backing up a bit: First off, although IMDb credits Mark Frost as the sole writer of this pilot, Frost says in Conversations that he in fact did NOT write it, but only executive produced it as part of his Spelling deal. So it remains unclear who actually wrote the script. Stuart Gillard directed. The pilot was shot in New Zealand in July 1999 (three months before Peter Jackson started shooting Lord of the Rings there), and was made for UPN, who obviously passed (and later picked up another short-lived Gillard/Frost/Spelling project, All Souls). One thing that amazes me is that a UPN show would have been given the budget to shoot in New Zealand, largely with all exterior location scenes. I wonder what the plan would have been going forward. Would the whole show have shot there if it had been picked up? Or would they have settled on a cheaper alternative, building Gilligan's Island-style beach sets on a soundstage?

Outside of Frost's involvement, the project is primarily interesting for its ostensible similarities to Lost. Frost, in the Conversations book, comes off as feeling a bit ripped off: "the pilot [...] made the rounds, and within two years, Spelling was trying to repackage it and get in on Lost when that script came along." The official version of Lost's origin has entered into show biz lore: ABC Chairman Lloyd Braun conceived the VERY basic concept as a mashup of Survivor and Castaway, a perfectly credible story, as both had become massive hits in 2000 (Forbidden Island really just missed the boat--pun intended--on the "desert island" craze). Braun, who had previously served as an entertainment attorney for the likes of Larry David and David Chase, had already achieved immortality by having a Seinfeld character named after him (George's lifelong rival), and also apparently convinced Chase to turn his Sopranos movie idea into a TV show (a medium Chase had spent years toiling in and initially had no desire to return to). In true Hollywood form, ABC fired Braun just months before the shows he had greenlit that year--Lost, Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives--saved the network, leaving him out in the cold as ABC reaped the benefits of his decisions. As a small acknowledgement of his contribution, the Lost producers included Braun's voice at the start of every episode ("Previously, on Lost...").

While there's no reason to disbelieve Braun's account of Lost's genesis, Frost makes a valid point that the Lost project did initially end up at Spelling, where writer Jeffrey Lieber worked on it and promptly retitled it Nowhere, to Braun's annoyance. Of course, that wasn't the script that ended up being made (although Lieber did manage to finagle a co-creator credit on the show through WGA arbitration), and Spelling's involvement ended when the Nowhere script lived up to its name.

So, did Spelling and Lieber, or even later, Abrams and Lindelof, consciously rip off Forbidden Island? We'll probably never know, but it's interesting to think about the similarities and differences.

First off, a big difference: The plane on Forbidden Island was fleeing from a U.S. embassy that was under siege, so the survivors have a large number of military personnel in their ranks, as well as other government employees. That obviously changes the dynamic quite a bit, as opposed to having a bunch of rag tag civilians.

The lead character (if we're judging by the rushes uploaded to YouTube) seems to be Anna, a third-year medical student. To me, this seems like the clearest connection between Forbidden Island and Lieber's Nowhere script for Spelling, as Lieber included a prominent character named Nell Woods who was also a med student, and struggled with the pressure of caring for all the wounded crash survivors with her limited medical knowledge. Aside from that, though, there's little similarity to the Nowhere script, based on the small glimpse provided by these dailies. Lieber's script was very much a straightforward Lord of the Flies-type story, with a family feud between two brothers at its core, and not even a whiff of the supernatural or anything being off about the crash or the island.

The parallels become more interesting when we get to the show we all know and love. The visual iconography is similar (the plane wreckage on the beach, the heated nighttime debates with all the survivors gathered around a campfire, the makeshift tents--although the embassy flight clearly did not have nearly as many tarps on board as Oceanic 815 did). The survivors can't get radio contact, even though their radio appears to be working fine. The cause of the crash is obscure, and one character even proposes an electromagnetic pulse that knocked out the engines (albeit due to a nuclear detonation). The plane's engines crapped out at night, but the next thing any of the survivors can remember, they were on the beach in daylight (the night-to-day transition during a crash, due to the Island's bizarre time properties, was used on Lost for the crash of Ajira 316 in season 5). There is an implication that those who survived the crash were "selected" (although in Forbidden Island, the theory is that whoever did the selecting killed off all the old and only wanted the young...a neat excuse to populate a Spelling show with the requisite number of sexy model types...is Aaron Spelling himself this show's Jacob?). A character says he doesn't recognize the sky above the island (presumably referring to the stars/constellations). Other popular theories that Lost teased early on are proposed by the Forbidden Island survivors: that they are all part of a sociological experiment, and that they all actually died in the crash. In Conversations, Frost mentions one other similarity that is not evident from these rushes: "they encounter strange animals that shouldn't be there."

Without passing judgment either way, interesting stuff to think about. And while I would never want to give up the version of Lost we got, it's fascinating to imagine an alternate dimension where a similar show run by Frost became a hit instead, and what future seasons of that might have looked like.
 
Last edited:

AXX°N N.

Waiting Room
Apr 14, 2022
317
751
Wow, I never expected to see footage of this, as in I'm almost flabbergasted; shame it's not the actual pilot.

Also, more generally: I've long felt it a shame Frost's obscurer works haven't been discussed much, and this rectifies that and more--these posts lately are wonderful supplements that make me think back fondly on fansites, often at a quality I'd call "thankfully free but deserve to be in book form." I've long planned a read/watch-through of his credited episodes and ephemera and I think this is going to jump-start me and serve as great resources for thought.
 

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
819
1,854
Wow, I never expected to see footage of this, as in I'm almost flabbergasted; shame it's not the actual pilot.

Also, more generally: I've long felt it a shame Frost's obscurer works haven't been discussed much, and this rectifies that and more--these posts lately are wonderful supplements that make me think back fondly on fansites, often at a quality I'd call "thankfully free but deserve to be in book form." I've long planned a read/watch-through of his credited episodes and ephemera and I think this is going to jump-start me and serve as great resources for thought.
I’m about two-thirds through The Six Messiahs so far and enjoying it a lot! I plan to make my way through all his books, and will probably do some sort of write-up on each of them in turn. This is definitely something I’ve meant to do for a long time.

Would love to do a Hill Street Blues rewatch one day, but I’m still holding out hope for a Blu Ray set!
 
Last edited:

Dougie Cooper

RR Diner
Apr 12, 2022
27
33
"The lead character (if we're judging by the rushes uploaded to YouTube) seems to be Anna, a third-year medical student."

I'd read over the years that Kate was originally intended to be the main character, as opposed to Jack. This would appear to be another hint that the shows are/were connected.

Not to mention . . my reading of Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks is that of a bardo journey. I've also lumped Lost into that same category when discussing these shows over the years. Now that I see Frost has connections to LOST it makes even more sense to do so.
 

Dom

White Lodge
Jul 10, 2022
811
783
Origins of so many shows are always debatable. Ultimately, they emerge from the culture in an era. There are times when things look a bit suspicious: Babylon 5 was being shipped around networks and suddenly Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was announced, for example. Joe Straczynski remarked that he doesn't think Rick Berman and co copied his work, but that studio executives who had seen the Babylon 5 pitch steered the Star Trek team in the direction of making a space station series set near a wormhole.

Kung Fu was first alleged to have been plagiarised from a pitch by Bruce Lee in the film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and that myth is sadly come to be believed to be true, although the guys who created Kung Fu maintain that they developed their series on a different coast of the USA, completely unaware that Bruce Lee had asked to make anything. The reason the Kung Fu makers didn't sue was because Brandon Lee died around that time and they didn't want to put the family through a trial.

The biggest issue is that there's a limit to the number of stories that are out there and the zeitgest generally results in different people coming up with similar ideas at similar times. With Star Trek TNG's huge success in syndication - a series that was much more heavily ship-based than the original Star Trek - if anyone was looking at making a space series, it was logical (ahem!) to consider a space station, given the standing sets could be made use of for the majority of episodes, saving on budget. In the 1970s, with martial arts being big, a hybrid of martial arts and the Western genre was inevitable. The likelihood of people in New York and Los Angeles independently, simultaneously coming up with an idea blending the Western, martial arts and the ever-popular 'Fugitive' format of a lone hero wandering from place to place on the run was pretty high. Also, Brandon Lee later appeared in a couple of Kung Fu TV movies...

So the idea of a series set on a weird island was bound to pop up every so often, with similar characteristics to other concepts. Jules Verne gave us the novel Mysterious Island, which led to a 1961 film and 2005 TV version starring Kyle Maclachlan and Patrick Stewart - plus we've had Robinson Crusoe, JM Barrie's The Admirable Crichton, both adapted numerous times, The Swiss Family Robinson, Fantasy Island, Gilligan's Island, Lost in Space and countless other riffs on similar ideas. The chances of a weird island-based fantasy-sci-fi series turning up in the post-Twin Peaks, X-Files era was substantial. For that matter, what is a space station other than an island in space?

There's a good reason few series take unsolicited manuscripts, because inevitably someone will see similarities to ideas they've had. I came up with an idea for a science fiction series just like the 2003 version Battlestar Galactica in the early 1990s, when I was a teenager. I bet loads of other people did. Lots of us have probably watched Star Trek and seen episode names and character names and starship names and storylines pop up that we imagined when creating ot imaginary 'perfect' episodes in our heads, but never even wrote down.
 

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
819
1,854
"The lead character (if we're judging by the rushes uploaded to YouTube) seems to be Anna, a third-year medical student."

I'd read over the years that Kate was originally intended to be the main character, as opposed to Jack. This would appear to be another hint that the shows are/were connected.

Yes, the original plan was for Michael Keaton to play Jack, and to die midway through the pilot. Keaton was at a point in his career where people would believe that he would do series television (even though he actually had no interest in doing an ongoing series and only wanted to do the one episode). The series would be advertised as starring Keaton, he'd do press, etc., so it would be a genuine shock to the audience when he died (a la Janet Leigh in Psycho), and the show would establish that "no one is safe." Kate would then take over as lead. The network managed to talk Abrams and Lindelof out of this, apparently because they felt the audience wouldn't trust the show after that. Or, as writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach more cynically put it to them, "you can't kill the white guy." So, Jack's death scene was given to the airplane pilot (played by JJ's buddy Greg Grunberg), and Jack stayed on as lead and was recast. (One thing I've always wondered about this: Why not just eliminate the Jack role entirely, and keep Kate as lead? It seems like that would be less of a seismic shift in their overall vision of the series. I'd love to ask Lindelof about the thought process on this one day.)

As to any links between Kate and the Anna character in Forbidden Island (and the Nell Woods character in the Nowhere script): Abrams has always maintained that he never read Lieber's Nowhere script, but Lindelof at least clearly did (elements taken from it include a marshal transporting a fugitive, the California-to-Syndey flight--albeit in reverse--and the main character going to Australia to retrieve his deceased father's body, and some variation on the "live together, die alone" phrase). Conversely, it seems extremely unlikely that Lindelof (a lowly staff writer at that time) would have seen Forbidden Island, but it's possible that JJ could have seen it somewhere. Anyway, in the very first document Lindelof wrote up after his first meeting with Abrams, the Kate character they discussed is described as being inspired by the Faye Grant character in V: shy and vulnerable at first, but growing into a badass leader. Lindelof explicitly notes that she should NOT be a doctor (distinguishing her from the V character in that way). The initial conception of Kate does seem inspired slightly by a different character in Lieber's script, a character named Sarah Hill, whose husband was lost in the crash, but she is convinced that he is still alive (they eventually gave this storyline to Rose instead). So I'm not sure that there's a direct line from the Anna character to Kate, other than both being female. (Elsewhere in the same document, Lindelof is open about lifting the marshal/fugitive storyline—which wasn’t yet connected with Kate—from Lieber's script, so it's not like they were trying to hide the ball when they did take inspiration.)

Not to mention . . my reading of Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks is that of a bardo journey. I've also lumped Lost into that same category when discussing these shows over the years. Now that I see Frost has connections to LOST it makes even more sense to do so.
Peaks was definitely a big formative influence on Lindelof as he has often acknowledged, one of the biggest along with Watchmen and The Stand, so that checks out even without the Forbidden Island connection.
 
Last edited:

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
819
1,854
(One thing I've always wondered about this: Why not just eliminate the Jack role entirely, and keep Kate as lead? It seems like that would be less of a seismic shift in their overall vision of the series. I'd love to ask Lindelof about the thought process on this one day.)

I found my answer to this: It's because the execs wanted to have a male lead. They felt all the other male characters were "assholes" and felt the show wouldn't be able to carry a male audience with Kate as the lead.

For those who are interested, here's the first draft of the script, where Jack dies:
 
Last edited:
Top