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Rowan alumna and RTF adjunct part of biggest hit on TV.
If you watch TV, chances are you watch Lost, the ABC superhit whose sixth and final season wraps May 23.

And, if you watch Lost, chances are you're just as confused now (maybe more so) as you were in Season 1, when Oceanic Flight 815 mysteriously dropped from the skies somewhere over the South Pacific onto a tropical island inhabited by polar bears, a malevolent smoke creature and an unfriendly band of "others."

Since it first aired, the show has developed an almost mythic following as viewers try to explain all the twists, turns, detours and roundabouts - literally across time and space - that have come to define the program.

But Rowan's own Tara Bennett, a 1994 alumna and adjunct communications professor, has the answers.

Bennett, who since the show's inception has written for the official Lost magazine and who, with a writing partner, is compiling the official Lost encyclopedia, actually knows what the mysterious DHARMA Initiative is about (aside from a 1970s research organization that built bunker-like "stations" around the island) what that kooky set of recurring numbers mean (there's great power in them but six years along viewers don't know how or why), and, most importantly, what the island is and why the survivors of Oceanic 815 were stranded on or brought to it.

Is it heaven? Is it purgatory? Is it hell? Bennett knows but she can't tell.

"I know people who have started web sites to try to dissect it," said Bennett, who for three years has taught TV Program Packaging at Rowan, a writing and TV business course in the College of Communication. "Others have taken scholarly looks at the show. There are a billion different ways to look at it."

Bennett, who has been to Hawaii on shoots and personally knows the show's stars, writers and producers, said Lost, one of the most expensive programs in television history, actually changed the industry by announcing, several seasons before the finale, when the show would end.

Further, because of the show's tremendous popularity, its producers were able to negotiate shorter seasons - just 15 to 18 episodes per year versus the normal run of 22.

And, despite what some fans believe - that some of the tortuous plot lines were made up ad hoc - Bennett said the story has been very well-mapped.

"They knew they only had so much story to tell so they had to limit the length of the show," Bennett said.

While she doesn't write for the show per se but writes about it, Bennett draws on her experience as a journalist covering television for lessons in class. Through her course students learn to write TV dramas following a six-act model that allows for commercial breaks and to write a tight 42-44 minutes of screen time.

The course prepares students to not only write for TV but to understand its business models and, ultimately, pitch a show of their own.

"At the end of the course they have a script in hand for a first episode" or they have the episode fleshed out "and some ideas on where the show will go," she said.

In addition to Lost, Bennett has written extensively about the Fox drama 24, about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and for various online and print publications that cover the TV industry.

The Lost Encyclopedia she's compiling is a 400-page coffee table book that will be released August 24, the same day the final season comes out on DVD.

As for the show's popularity, Bennett said it isn't the tropical polar bears, quirky numbers or other week-to-week mysteries that attracted viewers and kept them tuned in. It was good writing and old-fashioned storytelling.

"When you write interesting characters and the story feels deep and well-executed, people will want to invest their time in it," she said. "Lost started as a character drama and that's what it's remained. Is Jack going to lose his daddy issues? Will Sawyer become a better person? Will Kate stop running? If people weren't interested in the characters the polar bears and smoke monsters never would have carried it."

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