“Life on Mars”: Ending (almost) on its own terms


The showrunners just starting the prep for their last episode of the season when the official word came down from the network. Life on Mars would not see a second season.

As much as ABC execs from Stephen McPherson on down love the show, the math just didn’t work. The long-gestating U.S. remake of the hit Brit series garnered mostly strong reviews (certainly from this space and from Variety‘s Brian Lowry) but it hasn’t been able to draw a crowd, despite the benefit of landing ABC’s two best drama lead-in slots, behind “Grey’s Anatomy” in the fall and behind “Lost” for the past two months.

The “Mars” masterminds — showrunners/exec producers Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg — were just starting to get ready to shoot episode 17, the last of their order, in late February when the final call was made. There would be no second season of psychedelic adventures for Sam Tyler, the NYPD cop who mysteriously finds himself transported from Gotham 2008 to Gotham 1973 after getting hit by a car in the line of duty.

But the news was not all bad. In a sign of ABC’s affection for the show, “Mars” was not yanked immediately. The show has been allowed to finish Tyler’s journey through deep-seated emotional traumas that scarred 4-year-old Sam in ’73 in ways that grown-up Sam has largely blotted out.

“It was a gift that Steve gave us, creatively to finish out the show and to have that closure for the audience,” says Nemec.

It wasn’t that hard to turn the script for the season finale to the series finale, set to air April 1. Because they were already building to a big revelation, they wound up rewriting the second half of the script to fully explain the “Mars” mythos and enlighten the loyalists on what’s been going on and what becomes of Sam.

(Pictured above, “Life on Mars” stars Michael Imperioli and Jason O’Mara shooting on location in Gotham.)

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  1. unrbcl119 says:

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  2. Closely attend to, respect and show appreciation of each relationship, recognizing each relationship is a gift of God.

  3. Zac W. says:

    actually sci-fi wouldnt pick it up its owned by universal who also owns NBC so that is a no show… the real problem these days is that the top brass and writers try to keep prolonging the show not one good ending like LIFE ON MARS!!!

  4. Zac W. says:

    It was actually a great ending… not sad or sucky. It all makes since and is amazing.

  5. Wendy650 says:

    This show was amazing and had/still has a faithful following. There is a dedicated group of fans at http://www.SaveOurSam.com making every effort to revive and/or at least have the show rerun over the summer. Over 16,800 people have signed an online petition regarding the cancellation of the show. With the hiatus, change in time slot, etc. the show was not given its due course to attract viewership. Please join us at http://www.SaveOurSam.com and follow the link under resources to the discussion board.

  6. Bob Sullivan says:

    Can someone tell me where the BBC Life on Mars is available “Stateside on DVD”? I’ve only seen it for sale from BBC in the UK in Region 2 format.

  7. Dale Wrazen says:

    Of course….typical America… if the show isn’t so “UNREAL” and farfetched… or if a show makes our brains hurt by exerting a little “thinking” pressure on it… the show gets cancelled. Anything with some quality or substance gets shoved under a rug to make room for the next trailer park – wife swapping show or people dining on insects!

  8. Susan says:

    This show held my interest, and became a “MUST SEE” for me. ABC, viewers are passionate about losing shows like “Life on Mars,” because it’s rare to get excited about anything on TV any more. It combined great writing, and a wonderful cast. Get a clue.

  9. Megan says:

    ABC should truly reconsider. This show is my favorite because it is smartly written and keeps the audience intrigued!

  10. Karen says:

    Wow, this show should not end. Finally something to watch on network that is worth a dam and then, POOF…………..

  11. rdww says:

    Sorry, but I’ve watched LOM from the start, and it’s never really worked. They took the very-Anglo names from the BBC original (wierd for New York), and since have made the show more incoherent and thrown together with each episode. O’Mara is channeling Mel Gibson’s character from the Lethal Weapon films, and Harvey Keitel is too old and phoning it in. The show is a mess, though an occasionally interesting mess.

  12. Dale says:

    I wish they would change their minds! This show is worth my brain time.

  13. Maria says:

    I am so sick and tired of hearing Stephen McPherson say he loves these shows but cancels them anyways.
    In my opinion he has no clue what good TV is all about.
    Maybe they should cancel him.

  14. Jim says:

    Life on Mars made my week with so few shows for adults on TV these days. The actors, the story, and the 1970s made it all worth waiting for. This is good TV when we have so little. I hope cable will pick it up, maybe Sci Fi Channel.
    I’ll miss Sam, Annie, Gene, Ray, and the great music. Come on networks, KEEP THIS ONE ALIVE!

  15. Dave owens says:

    I’m really gonna miss this show!!

  16. Ramzilla says:

    I’m very disapointed in ABC. This is one of three shows I watch on their network. It takes how many seasons to wind down the never ending “make it up as we go” or “smoke some more weed and write another episode” series LOST. (I like LOST but it’s begining to get on my nerves.) And you can close this great show in one fricken season. What a bunch of idiots. Let LOST get FOUND and keep this series on the air!

  17. Oliver says:

    Are these people at ABC insane. They continue crap reality shows forever but they cancel great shows like “Life on Mars”, which is not only is a great show because it makes you think where we are today and where we came from. It is funny and mind sobering sometimes, when you Sam Tyler starts talking about things that are so common in our life today but were not even remotely imaginable back in 1973. Why don’t they cancel shows like “LOST”. That show was great for a couple of seasons. But now, if you don’t have already ADD, this show with its jumping back and forth between different places and different times in addition to the frequent commercial interruptions, will give you ADD.

  18. Richard says:

    My wife and I wish so much that ABC would reconsider. We’ve watched this show from the beginning, and it was so intriguing, but never left you feeling like answers wouldn’t be forthcoming. The writers are excellent and creative, without leaving you hanging. The cast is superb! We wish ABC would consider another time slot , please. The classic period nature of this series coupled with the fine performances is tremendous. ABC, what are you thinking? I’m “lost” on Lost, won’t invest in that anymore. This is like Firefly the series that got canceled.
    Shows like this with a superb cast, intriguing writing, just don’t come along that often. In these tough times or even prosperous times, a show like this let’s you detach, without the drama of “real life” as many shows have to dwell on. Life On Mars has a light, quirky, and wonderfully witty feeling to it, without leaving you feeling depressed, or dragged down.
    ABC, there is an audience for this kind of show. The times we are living in are not always so pleasant. Are you listening. Less heavy cop drama, please. Less crime investigation with gruesome autopsies please. Even a new “Barney Miller” might be in order. We would think that ABC, with it’s family orientation, would know that there is a large, but silent audience for the 7PM to 9PM time slot that America wants and needs these days. No “Happy Days”, no Andy Griffith, no Mary Tyler Moore. These kind of shows have entertaining value. America surely likes to escape into TV in the evening and detach from pressing concerns of life. Some may call that mindless, but then so would reading a classic novel or crafts or hobbies. Please, no more reality series that give a person more to deal with mentally and emotionally. Leave us feeling with wonder for the next episode, not with worry and depression.

  19. Pissed in Sacramento says:

    NOOOOOOO!!!!! Why are you taking away my show??? I left TV in late 2003 when reality television took over… I’m 23 years old. When I saw this show I became hooked and now I’m devastated that my one and only source of entertainment is being taken away… Maybe I should go jump off of a bridge….

  20. Tim says:

    It’s amazing how shortsighted ABC is when it comes to great drama. Any show that’s intelligent and actually makes you think is bound for the cutting floor. I’d pay to watch a show like Life on Mars, but the networks can’t see that. And they wonder why their stock prices continue to sink.

  21. Pissed in Oregon says:

    ABC sucks, I cannot believe they are cancelling this show. I want it moved to cable. Can ABC have any good shows anymore? They cancelled a good show for stupid reality TV, it says a lot about America’s culture. I’m sticking to my HBO thanks.

  22. Luke says:

    Why are all of the shows I actually like cancelled? I’m getting tired of network television, and only watching the HBO & Showtime series. SMITH, MY OWN WORST ENEMY, LIFE ON MARS, and maybe FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS .. man who cuts these shows. Thanks goodness for HBO and Showtime.

  23. Bill says:

    I started watching this show a few episodes in and really was starting to enjoy it. What a shame that the plug is being pulled. I guess entertainment these days is cut throat “reality shows” and a dozen versions of CSI, etc. So much for originality.

  24. Maureen says:

    I am a huge fan of this show – I’ve watched it since the beginning (being a big David Bowie fan, I was intrigued). I am so disappointed that ABC would cancel this show – it has the best story lines, phenomenal acting – something sorely missing from most television shows. It reminds me of the too early demise of 2 of my other favorite shows – Freaks and Geeks and Veronica Mars. Guess I’ll have to go back to reading novels…

  25. Sarah says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  26. Alessandra says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  27. tom says:

    wow dont suprize me with abc they never seem to do much right. I am so tired of tv shows the last few years, everytime a good one comes it is cancelled, life on mars was the most refeshing thing ive seen in years but the networks all want to waste our time with crap reality tv and shows of dancing and singing yawn,oh well I guess the target age is the 12 – 29 year olds that can’t afford cable the people that pay for everything just dont matter

  28. Foster says:

    I enjoyed it more and more as the weeks went on, and thanks to the writers, cast, and crew. I hope these short-commitment, closed-arc series become a staple.

  29. Jon says:

    Really, really not good that this couldn’t hold enough of an audience. Perhaps network TV no longer calls for brainwaves.

  30. rick cramer says:

    without question the most well acted show on network television with a fantastic cast. ABC = “Asses Being Crazy” for canceling the best thing they have on the air. I guess the show wasn’t dumb enough for most of America to understand, hence the lack of ratings

  31. Steve says:

    How sad! One of the rare times the show is as good as the original British version. Great cast and great writing. Much like when NBC cancelled Star Trek in the ’60’s, ABC is making a big mistake I feel. If they played the shows through the summer for people to catch up or sold it on DVD right away, I think they would pick up enough to keep it going. That means nothing though if they are finishing the story. Sigh……

  32. Al D says:

    Life on Mars is probably one of the best dramas of the century. If ABC couldn’t make it work, then sell the show to cable, spice it up and keep it going.
    ABC are idiots. They think their new crap cops shows will be better than Mars. LOL! Keitel, Imperioli, Mol…are you kidding me..awesome ensemble.
    The networks srew the audience again.

  33. Lisa Stolze says:

    They killed this show themselves. 10 at night? Really? My husband and I didn’t watch it at first because of the late time, but then we started catching up online. We are fans of the British version. We were worried they would lose the real meat of this story on ABC, and were pleasantly surprised how good it was.
    I find it mind boggling that a show like Lost, meant to be a mini-series, can go on and on (it lost our interest about half way into the second season) but this show, which features believable characters, dedicated actors and actresses, and a fun, almost nostalgic atmosphere, is just shut down like that. Not even a trial run during a different slot. Terrible.

  34. Perry Lane says:

    It’s been unexpectedly fun so far, and I’ll be sad to see it go. Without a doubt, the best cast on TV today.

  35. Crystal says:

    When I watched the British version and he went SPLAT! at the end I knew I wouldn’t bother with the US version. What do you expect with an ending like this? I know the writers just love this type of ending but it leaves a crappy feeling with the audience. So why invest in it? Ashes to Ashes will probably do the same, so I’m not watching it. Times are really hard right now, who the hell needs these endings?

  36. grip says:

    you could give jane raab some credit for doing a great job on this show.
    a grip

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