Mario Perez, ABC
Matthew Fox stars as Jack.

Some TV shows aren't meant to last 200 episodes. "Lost" is one of those.

Something closer to 100 would have been nice. But all things considered, 119 sounds like a pretty good number right now.

And it's possible — maybe — that a show that was "Lost" has found its way once again.

What's ironic is that the show's early success ruined it creatively. And its ratings collapse may have saved it.

"Lost" was the big story of the 2004-05 television season. A science-fictionlike show about a group of people who survived a plane crash only to be stranded on an island filled with unseen dangers — human and otherwise — hardly seemed like a surefire hit. Particularly because it was developed very late in the network pilot season that year, and the pilot episode underwent some rather large changes before viewers got a look at it.

The fact that "Lost" turned into a big hit surprised even the folks at ABC.

It was at the end of that hugely successful first season that things started to go wrong. Maybe it was, in part, the same sort of thing some star athletes experience when they start reading their own press clippings and decide they can do no wrong.

After just a couple-dozen episodes, some were already enshrining "Lost" in the Television Hall of Fame. Some writers were calling it the greatest science-fiction series in TV history — an utterly ridiculous assertion analogous to reading the first couple of chapters of a book and calling it a classic.

Worse yet, with the kind of success that "Lost" was experiencing comes pressure to keep it going as long as possible. You can keep a sitcom or a soap opera going more or less indefinitely; you can't do that with a show built around a central, science-fictionlike mystery without frustrating viewers.

And yet hit shows are so hard for networks to come by that ABC (which also produces "Lost") wanted to keep this one on the air as long as possible. And that meant Season 2 was filled with ... not much. More questions were asked, more mysteries raised and almost nothing in the way of answers was provided.

Viewers began deserting in droves. That got even worse as the weirdly scheduled six-episode fall season aired in October and November 2006. And that got worse still when the show returned in February and ratings plummeted.

Two years ago, producers of other shows were quick to compare their programs to "Lost." Now, producers of other shows are quick to say, "We're nothing like 'Lost'!"

Again, the irony is that the ratings collapse may have saved the show, at least creatively. Given the declining returns, ABC executives and producers saw the logic in planning a definitive end to the series.

So, after a 24-episode first season, 24-episode second season and 23-episode third season, we're going to get 16 episodes each in Seasons 4, 5 and 6. We'll get a finale — when, presumably, all our questions will be answered — at the end of Episode 119.

And, while scheduling for Season 4 has yet to be announced (presumably it will begin airing in early 2008), we have been promised "Lost" will run straight through, with little or no pre-emptions or repeats.

No longer under pressure to drag this thing out as long as possible, the writers/producers have already made "Lost" a much more watchable show in recent episodes. The plot has actually moved forward. Answers have actually been provided.

There are certainly a whole lot of mysteries remaining to be solved, but "Lost" has become a show worth watching again.

If you're among the millions who drifted away, tune in tonight at 7 p.m. (Ch. 4) for an hour that will catch you up on what you've missed. That's followed by the two-hour season finale at 8 p.m.

Then we'll have to wait eight months or so to see if "Lost" continues to find its way.