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Alphabet lands on ‘Mars’

Kelley gets 'Life' support at ABC

David E. Kelley is crossing the Pond for inspiration, landing format rights to buzzworthy BBC skein “Life on Mars” and setting it up at as a one-hour drama at ABC.

“Mars,” from U.K.-based Kudos Film & Television, revolves around a modern-day police detective who finds himself transported back to 1973. Kelley will write and exec produce the pilot via his company’s overall deal at 20th Century Fox TV.

Stephen Garrett and Jane Featherstone of Kudos will also serve as exec producers. Alphabet has ordered a pilot for fall 2007, with a significant penalty attached if the project doesn’t move forward to series.

Project came together relatively quickly following the BBC bow of “Mars” in January. U.K. skein generated big ratings — more than 7 million viewers its first night — and an order for a second season.

“Mars,” which takes its title from the David Bowie track, focuses on Det. Sam Tyler, who gets into a near-fatal car wreck shortly after his g.f. is kidnapped by a serial killer. He wakes up in 1973, still a cop but in a completely alien universe.

Further complicating matters: The first case he tackles in the 1970s seems to have links to the serial killer who nabbed his girlfriend. Viewers don’t know whether Sam has gone crazy, traveled through time or is actually still in a coma and dreaming the whole thing.

Skein makes heavy use of classic 1970s rock tracks, with music from the likes of the Who, Cream, Nina Simone and Roxy Music, among others.

NBC expressed a serious interest in the program even before Kelley was involved, but ABC — with its strong record launching hit dramas — ultimately landed the rights to the project, insiders familiar with the negotiations said. Alphabet broadcasts Kelley’s “Boston Legal,” which is on the bubble for a third-season renewal.

Peacock last year developed a pilot dubbed “NY-70,” a period drama about cops set in 1970s Gotham.

Kelley got wind of “Mars” via his reps at William Morris, who recently signed Kudos as a client. Kudos also produces the U.K. hits “MI-5” and “Hustle,” which air in the U.S. on A&E and AMC, respectively.

Matthew Graham, Tony Jordan and Ashley Pharoah created “Mars.”