Just like the island the characters inhabit, Lost mysteriously fell off the radar this week. 

Wednesday's episode of the Emmy-winning drama pulled in the smallest audience for a new episode in its history, a relatively scant 12.8 million viewers when compared with its 20 million-strong heyday. 

Despite ABC's best efforts to protect Lost from the ravages of American Idol and the encroaching threat of Criminal Minds by moving it to 10 p.m., the flashback-happy show instead lost about 1.7 million of those who tuned in for Lost's big comeback last week after a three-month hiatus.

In turn, it was soundly beaten by CBS' CSI: NY and 14.8 million forensics aficionados. 

Also on CBS, Criminal Minds, which had started to overtake Lost in overall viewership last fall (17.5 million to 17.1 million the last time the two squared off), is holding its own in its slot Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Last night, the Mandy Patinkin-led procedural drew 15.4 million people who didn't care that, over on Idol, Simon, Paula and Randy were whittling the list of pop star hopefuls down to 24. 

Meanwhile, 25.8 million totally cared. 

Lost has been able to hang on to the youngsters, though, leading the time slot yet again in viewers ages 18-34 and helping make ABC second only to Fox in the key 18-34 demo for the night. 

In total viewers, however, ABC (7.9 million) trailed Fox (20.4 million—big winner!), CBS (12.6 million—crime shows!) and NBC (8.6 million—Deal or No Deal). It beat the CW (3.2 million), though. But so did Univision (4 million).  

So, are Lost's creators and executive producers wondering what in eerie black smoke's name they have to do to win back the fans whose interest seems to be dwindling in the Others, the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle, Desmond's sudden ability to see the future, the questionable paternity of Sun's baby and all the other plot twists cooked up so far for season three? 

Probably not. Since the Lost brain trust has already announced that it foresees the end of the series sooner (say, after five seasons) rather than later (hammered into the ground, like Friends), the loose ends are slowly inching toward each other.  

Hopefully for ABC, the promise of answers, or at least hints—several of which were dropped Wednesday, reports E! Online TV columnist Kristin Veitch—will re-attract the mystery and action lovers who may have nodded off during a slowed-down season two and a new layer of Otherness in season three's first six episodes.

Or maybe some people just really miss Mr. Eko. 

Of course, no one is going to be writing Lost's epitaph anytime soon. The supernatural-tinged ensemble drama pulled in 18.8 million for its third-season premiere and is still the 10th most watched prime-time offering of the 2006-07 season (before Wednesday's drop-off, anyway) with an average 17.4 million people showing up each week.  

And, according to Veitch, last night's developments, combined with her advance knowledge of what's to come, suggest that the series is back on its previously mind-blowing/twisting/bending track.

Now the mystery is whether viewers will still be along for the ride.

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