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Former ABC Exec Lloyd Braun, the Voice of ‘Previously, on Lost,’ Says, ‘I Know What the Smoke Monster Was ... ’

With Lost's time-twisting plots, it seems only appropriate that the disembodied voice that has introduced each episode's opening recap with the words, "Previously, on Lost ... " should belong to a figure from the show's past. It's that of Lloyd Braun, the former ABC chairman who helped hatch the idea for the series but was fired just prior to its debut. (He's currently the co-owner of BermanBraun, the production company behind Mercy and Accidentally on Purpose.) On the eve of Lost's final season premiere, we checked in with Braun about his aborted history with the show, what he knows about the finale, and how Howard Stern revealed his secret voice-over identity.

You've said that when you read the outline for Lost, you told a friend that it was the next ER. Do you still feel that way?
It was the eleventh hour and we weren’t happy with the original script that had been [commissioned for the concept], so I brought in J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof and they wrote a detailed outline — because we had to make a decision on whether to make the show or not based on this outline. By the time we had a script it would have been too late to greenlight it. So they wrote a 22-page outline — which I literally keep in my office because we often show drama writers this outline. I think it’s the best outline, to date, I’ve ever read. We use it as a model.

The show clearly evolved from that 22-page outline. But did you see Lost going to the place it’s at right now?
No, certainly not to the place it’s at now. Every show, once the show is up and running, finds its own course. However, before we greenlit Lost, J.J. and Damon had to walk us through where they saw the first season going. And, in fact, right at the pilot stage, they had the hatch at the end of season one; they had the Others; they had the tail of the plane being on another part of the Island; and they had, at that point at least, a theory on what was wrong with the island. Whether that in fact is still what’s wrong with the Island or not, we’ll have to wait and see.

As it happened, you left ABC before Lost even aired, and it went on to become a phenomenon. Do you feel vindicated at all by the success, or is it bittersweet because you weren’t there to revel in it?
It would be disingenuous of me to say that, certainly during that first season, there weren’t a lot of bittersweet moments. But, like anything else, you sort of work through that over the years. Plus, J.J., Damon, and [executive producer] Bryan Burk were unbelievably gracious during that period of time. I will never forget the day the show premiered — remember, ABC hadn’t had a big drama hit in about ten years, and this show was a very controversial show when we were developing it — and when the show premiered and got that first number [the pilot drew in over 18 million viewers], I remember more or less being in a state of shock only because I could not believe it actually had happened. That night — I’ve actually never told this story — the doorbell rang at like, 8 o’clock, and it was a messenger with a package. I take the package, I open it up, and there’s this beautiful silver frame with a picture of Oceanic flight 815. And written on it are notes from J.J., Damon, and Bryan. And I still keep that on my desk to this day. It is my most cherished possession. And that lead to my voice being on the show.

Yeah, how did that come about?
Maybe a month or two after I had left ABC, J.J. called me up and said that he wanted to use my voice on the show every single week, to open the show and say, "Previously, on Lost." It was important to him and Damon that I was somehow forever a part of the show. My initial reaction was not to do it. But I talked about it with my wife and she said, "You know what? This show is so important to you, it’s so much a part of you" — and this is before it even launched. So she talks me into doing it, and I call J.J. up and go, "Okay, I’ll do it, but no one is to ever know that I did it." And he agrees. So we meet in a conference room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They bring a sound guy and I did a slew of versions of it. And no one knew for years. And somehow — I forgot how it leaked out — I think Howard Stern ended up finding out. I’m very close to Howard, I used to represent him, but I didn’t tell Howard. But somehow, someone did. No secret in Hollywood can stay secret forever. It’s amazing this stayed secret for two or three years. I think they lowered my voice just a little bit to disguise it a little bit more.

You mentioned that during the development process, Abrams and Lindelof had a theory about what was wrong with the island. Based on that, do you think you know how Lost is going to end?
Any theories I have, I would only keep to myself.

Okay. One last thing: Do you know what the smoke monster is?
If I did I wouldn’t tell you. [Laughs.] I know what it was, but again, I can’t tell you what it is now.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images