Let's see, so, on "Lost," the castaways are building a second raft, Claire still hasn't had that baby, and Hurley has befriended the Frenchwoman. And on "Desperate Housewives," Carlos has replaced Gabrielle's birth-control pills, Lynette thwarted Tom's promotion, and ... what exactly is going on with the investigation into Martha Huber's murder, again? And what do viewers know about the mysterious Dana, and the equally mysterious Deirdre?
If you're a viewer of ABC's two top-rated dramas, you can be forgiven if some of the plot points in each have begun to slip your mind. The latest new episode of soapy "Desperate Housewives" aired on Feb. 20, with no new episodes until five weeks later, on March 27. Things are slightly better for fans of plane-crash drama "Lost." Its latest new episode aired on March 2, with a new episode planned for March 30.
Sure, fans know that filming new episodes takes time and money, and that reruns will always be a part of television. But if the amount of e-mail complaints MSNBC.com has received is any indication, viewers think the situation with these two shows is different.
Both "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" require viewers to keep a constant mental chart of who's keeping secrets about what, and what has yet to be revealed. That's a lot of material to juggle, especially when months may go by between revelations.
Fans get ‘Lost’
Says Marcia from Michigan: "All of us at work watch ["Lost"], however, we are becoming very discouraged & may quit watching it. This is a show that you have to follow closely EVERY week. Then BANG, [the network] throws 2-3 reruns in the middle of everything! So please, let’s keep the show running, so that people can follow the story. I'd hate to see it go off the air for that reason."
Reader B. Williams says: "I have watched 'Lost' from the beginning and was a huge fan. The suspense was awesome, the good guys good, the bad guys bad and the plot was actually in existence. (Rare for reality-swamped television.) The problem is they keep showing reruns. At this point in time I don't care where Claire's baby is, where Ethan (or was it Evan? see, I can't even remember their names anymore) came from, whether or not the French woman is really crazy, why there are polar bears on the island, etc. ... Too bad because this show had serious potential."
Desperate "Housewives" fans aren't happy, either. Says Lori in San Juan: "I love the show, however I think they are bringing in too many new stories and not completing old ones. For instance, what happened to the body in the trunk? How is the old lady in the coma? And what’s with all the reruns? By the time a new one comes, I have forgotten what’s going on.”
Part of the problem is that both shows are striving for something that's more like "Twin Peaks" than "Dallas." Unlike that show's famed "Who shot J.R.?" plotline, these mysteries aren't always straightforward. Writers don't want us to have an exact picture of who Dana is on "Desperate Housewives," or what exactly young Walt's powers are on "Lost." They deliver flashes, just enough to spark viewers' interest. So when there's a long break between episodes, it's easy for readers to forget exactly what was going on.
Jeff Bader, executive vice president, ABC Entertainment, has heard the complaints. He tells of a letter from one angry viewer who'd scheduled her Sundays around "Desperate Housewives" viewing and was quite angry about the reruns, comparing the show to dramas on HBO that don't do the same thing. And some viewers compare the shows to ABC's own "Alias" or FOX's "24," which seem to run fairly uninterrupted streams of new episodes.
But it's only fair to point out that HBO has been known to wait 16 months between showing seasons of "The Sopranos." And where "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" began when most new TV seasons kicked off, in the fall of 2004, "Alias" and "24" both started their new seasons in January.
Top-rated show "CSI" seems to be immune from rerun complaints, but Bader points out that in five weeks of December, only one new "CSI" episode aired — and during January, only one new episode of "CSI: Miami" was shown.
He's got a point: Because each episode of "CSI" ties up the case within one show, that show doesn't get called on the carpet for its reruns as much as the two ABC dramas. It's because viewers savor "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" so much, opening up Web sites and discussion groups to pick apart the meaning of or the true identity of baby Dana, that they're so irate when there's nothing new to discuss.
Fans can start to relax, however. Bader says they can look ahead to only one "Desperate Housewives" rerun from now until the show's yet-undated season finale. "Lost" fans will get two new shows, then two reruns, then all new episodes up until the two-part season finale. "There's still a lot to come," says Bader.
Still, Bader understands viewers' frustration. "There's a passion right now for 'Desperate Housewives,' " he says. "I get upset too when there's a few weeks between scripts. I want to know what's going to happen!"
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor