Commentary

Lost; 24

Like every other middlebrow consumer of pop culture, I dig "Lost" and "24," or at least I did until "24" went off the rails creatively in March. Forced cliffhangers, nonsensical mythologies, improbably comely torturers and computer experts and fertility docs... sure, what the hell. It beats readin'.

Alas, there are people out there who want you to read about TV and, probably, dance about architecture. They toil for a company called Titan Magazines, which produces bimonthly mags on shows with particularly rapacious fans ("Lost," "24," "Smallville," "Grey's Anatomy," a few others). I should add that they appear to be successful at what they do, according to my anecdotal and specious research. Titan dominates a highly visible stretch of real estate at my local magazine store, and there's always a gaggle of people paging through their titles.

Which doesn't mean that they're any good, nor that, in this era of techy Internets and such, there's a pressing reason for them to exist. TV diehards tend be obsessive about their weekly tune-ins -- just try engaging me in conversation about any other subject when "The Wire" returns from hibernation -- but they sure don't lack for ways to indulge their fandom. "Lost" is perhaps the prime example. In addition to having replaced "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as Entertainment Weekly's every-issue crush, the show boasts roughly 72,000 Web sites that analyze its every red herring, not to mention a slew of books and podcasts and god knows what else.

So for a long-lead publication about "Lost" or "24" to gain any traction, it has to offer something that can't be found elsewhere. Yet despite the expected interviews and set visits, neither Lost: The Official Magazine and 24: The Official Magazine does so.

I sort of admire Titan's economy of scale. The May/June issues of the two mags are almost the same publication. Both run 66 pages long and include features on action figures, set design and music composers. They work from the same graphic templates and poach the same over-posed photos from ABC's and Fox's online press kits. Lost, in fact, runs the same exact shot of Elizabeth Mitchell (FWIW, she's the blond Other chick whose loyalty flips every six minutes) three times.

Tonally, each mag adopts the same faux-chummy and insight-free approach. One of the producers of "Lost" chimes in with this bombshell about a pivotal character: "As far as Ben, the question I always get is, 'What's his story?' So I would say, I would be very upset if we didn't find out a little bit about Ben this year." Take that, Internet spoiler-sports! 24, on the other hand, seems to have a bit of a media obsession. It notes how "industry aficionados from across the media have been praising the new season of '24'!" and that "the creators of '24' have turned down Hollywood superstars Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston for cameo roles on '24,' according to one of the biggest selling magazines in America (with nine million readers each week!), TV Guide." Sounds like somebody's angling to be bought, no?

24 is the more playful of the two mags, and thus by far the more embarrassing. In addition to the expected interviews and double-super-exclusive insights from the show's producers, 24 attempts to entertain. There's a "Chloe Tact Test" ("You're one of the few who knows Jack Bauer is alive since helping to fake his death. What do you do for his birthday?") and a quiz that comes across as something you'd read on a McDonald's tray liner (character-name anagrams, a find-the-differences-in-the-photos bit).

24 also gets the short end of the copyediting stick, twice referring to ninja-deadly cleft-chin babe Mia Kirshner as "Mia Kershner" and inventing new words in its subheds ("we try to prise (?) some answers out of ubiquitous actor Peter MacNicol"). Throw in an odd cover gaffe -- of the three individuals featured in stamp-sized head shots, two are referred to by their character names and one is referred to by the actor's name -- and 24 reeks of a cheap cash grab.

Lost is assembled a bit more professionally. There's a flashback to Sayid's flashbacks, a visit with the makeup folks and a poster pull-out of the trippy diagram that Locke saw in one of the hatches last season. There's also a calamitous "Love Island" cover story about Kate and Sawyer "los[ing] themselves by the firelight" that will likely prompt the show's producers to be more prudent about inking licensing deals in the future.

In one of my other massive-conflict-of-interest-inducing gigs, I yapped with a few of the "Lost" and "24" folks earlier this season. Lord knows that the resulting Q&A pieces didn't exactly reinvent celebrity journalism-lite for the new millennium, especially given my intensely articulate queries ("Hey guy who plays Hurley: When you went in the Hatch the first time, was the Hatch cool and was the Hatch nice and did you like being in the Hatch?"). Nonetheless, I came away from the conversations thinking, "Wow, these folks and their jobs are darn-tootin' interesting." That neither Lost: The Official Magazine nor 24: The Official Magazine can convey a smidgen of that personality or fascination is their fatal flaw.


MAG STATS
Published by: Titan Magazines
Frequency: Bimonthly (four issues and two "yearbooks")
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