Producers sound off on Life on Mars' cancellation

You have to give credit to ABC for trying to shake up the norm on television. Programs like Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone, and Life on Mars would never even get in the front door at the other major networks--but ABC embraces quirkiness. Unfortunately, the TV industry is a business, and original ideas and quality writing don't always translate to profit.

Life on Mars is the latest casualty at ABC, but thankfully, news of the show's demise came before producers Scott Rosenburg and Josh Applebaum finished writing the season finale. Because of this, the two were able to tie up the show's loose ends and deliver a complete package, rather than just going dark. We caught up with Rosenburg and Applebaum to discuss tonight's finale and get the story on what happened behind closed doors.

TV.com: When did you find out that Life on Mars was not going to get picked up, and how did that change the production process for you?

Scott Rosenburg: We were crafting the 17th episode, and we always knew what it was going to be. It was a big culmination episode for us in a lot of ways. We knew the ratings were grim, and we went to ABC and we said, "Look, we know the ratings were grim." We always knew what our end point was for a season finale and for a series finale, and we basically said, "Listen, we have this thing, and we'd love to be able to shoot two Act Six's, you know, one for a series finale and one for a season finale." And they came back to us and they said, "You can do the series finale." We were like, "Okay, but what about the season finale?" And they were like, "Just do the series finale," and that was a pretty good indication right there.

But it's not something that [networks] often do. They usually wait 'til May, but it was a general true affection for the show in the executive's suites at ABC, and because of that they let us actually wrap it up--because it just would have sucked to be cancelled and to have the 17th episode and all these cliff hangers. And now it exists as a complete thought. It's got a beginning, middle, and an end.

TV.com: So the finale does have a full resolution. We will see exactly what's going on with Sam.

Scott Rosenburg: Yes. Yes.

TV.com: Did you have much more planned out in case you were picked up?

Scott Rosenburg: Well, the order was always going to be 17, right, Josh?

Josh Applebaum: Yeah, for this season, for sure.

There were obviously ideas kicking around the writers room and stuff in our heads, but we were just, as with every TV season, we were just thinking about getting to the finish line for season one, and then we'd worry about season two when we got there.

TV.com: What can you tell us exactly about the finale?

Josh Applebaum: I think the starting point has great velocity--essentially in very short order Sam's mother, who we'd met before, comes into the squad room and basically says that her husband has returned and he's taken little Sammy. So the thrust of the finale from that point on is Sam Tyler. It's Jason O'Mara having to save his younger self. See, he's having to save himself both literally and figuratively, and that's kind of the drive and the finale and that keeps us going up until our conclusion.

TV.com: I enjoy the show a lot. It was one of my favorite new shows of this season. But I was wondering with the scheduling conflict--you changed time periods and ultimately ended up behind Lost--do you think that may have had something to do with the show not succeeding, or do you think it's something that American audiences just weren't ready for?

Scott Rosenburg: I think ultimately what really hurt the show was that it was just so wholly original, and there was nothing like it on television yet. I also just don't think it was necessarily the right fit with that network. I think if it was on HBO, we'd be running for 20 years, and we'd all be rich. And I'm not even joking. I really do believe that. I give [ABC] all the credit in the world for putting it on, but it was a very strange show for network television. I don't watch a ton of television, but in the last couple of weeks, just because I was so curious as to what people are watching, I checked out a few of these "hit" shows, and I was like, "Of course, they cancelled us." [Bizarre], nobody talks this way. Nobody jokes this way. Nobody--it's the music and the whole--I mean, I couldn't be prouder of Life on Mars. I'm so proud to be associated with it, but at the same time I get why it didn't play in, you know, Toledo.

TV.com: The original UK series ran, what was it, like 8 episodes?

Scott Rosenburg: It was 16 all in all. Two seasons of 8.

TV.com: They like to do things shorter over there with seasons whereas the U.S. likes to stretch them out to 22, 24 episodes. Do you have an opinion as producers as what the right way to do it in television is?

Josh Applebaum: I think each show is different. I think obviously you want to--as the producer, and the writers--you want to be able to continue to live with these characters and tell these stories and be on for years, but in the case of Life on Mars now that we know these 17 episodes are going to be what it is--there's something kind of cool about that ... [And you] look at this DVD set that will be relatively effort free to watch. It's 17 hours. It's not like you're getting that big nine-season box set and it was something else. It's like, "Boom. Here's Life on Mars," and you can experience the whole thing in a weekend as opposed to over the course of a year.

TV.com: My favorite part of the show is anything that comes out of Detective Ray Carling's mouth. I think he has some of the most original and fun dialogue I've seen on network television in years. What went into creating his character and how did you pull the writers aside and say, "You know, Carling would say it this way," or what.

Scott Rosenburg: It was so amazing writing for him, because he could plot anything. I actually found myself towards the end trying to challenge him, by literally coming up with the most f***ed-up s*** in the world. Once you really start to know their voices and know what they're capable of, it was great fun to write for them. We gave [Carling] a huge monologue at the end of Wednesday night's episode. [I] couldn't wait to write it, couldn't wait to hear him, and everybody was looking forward to it, everybody and the crew and the cast. I just remember when he did the first take everyone applauded because it was--[Michael Imperioli] is a virtuoso. I think I'm going to miss it so much, writing for that guy. And I know Michael really, really loved playing him. He really did, and I know he's going to miss him too.

TV.com: My other favorite aspect of the show was the gratuitous, almost vaudevillian violence. Was there any concern about--for example, Harvey Keitel coming in and slamming a guy's head on a table. Or did you know that everyone would take it as just fun?

Scott Rosenburg: We got a little bit of a hall pass because it was 1973. So, they really didn't come down too hard on us with that stuff, Josh, did they?

Josh Applebaum: No, they were pretty [lackadaisical]. By the way, on Wednesday night's episode, not just from Harvey but in general, I think we upped the violence. Amongst other things, the violence quotient in that episode--we might outdo ourselves, whether or not that's something to be proud of.

TV.com: What are you going to miss most about the show?

Scott Rosenburg: I keep saying it every time, I mean, it was a really, really hard show to make, but I never ever walked on to the set or into the office and felt anything less than inspired, because I feel like we were doing something that was so wholly unique with these amazing actors. And it's that world, being able to spin those tales in that world. I miss it. I said the other day to somebody, "I can't believe I'm never going to type the words, 'Gene Hunt turns to Sam,' ever again. I mean, I may, like, The Shining, like Jack Nicholson, just type it over and over again. As producers, it's one thing, but as writers, it's like missing a limb right now when you really, really love writing for characters and actors and you don't get to do it any more.

TV.com: Well, I, too, am going to miss this show dearly. Thanks a lot for talking to us.

The series finale of Life on Mars airs tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Comments (40)
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Apr 15, 2009
I really enjoyed this show, i was sad to see it taken off the air but i was so happy that you actually gave it an ending unlike all the other canceled shows that have left us hanging.
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Apr 12, 2009
There is a site totally dedicated to saving LOM, please come join and help us in our efforts. An online petition has over 16,000 signatures and there is strength in numbers. The link to the site is http://z3.invisionfree.com/Life_On_Mars/index.php? We are attempting through the Inner Circle at ABC (where the board is actually monitored by someone at ABC and they interact with the posters) to do something. The link and instructions for joining the Inner Circle to voice your opinion regarding the cancellation are all at the site above under the topic save life on mars; it's a fun group with a lot of good ideas.
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Apr 09, 2009
Only CBS and NBC, respectively seems to have a knack with making very successful Detective Shows....ABC is only good for quirky and comedic Shows!!!!
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Apr 07, 2009
I don't always agree with producers who say their show was cancelled because it "wasn't right" for the network or whatever. It's awfully difficult to match a network with a proposed series. Take AMC --that network has Breaking Bad and Mad Men, two shows that couldn't be more different, except they both happen to be great. "Life on Mars" suffered more from a premise that didn't work for most people -- the network didn't have anything to do with that.
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Apr 07, 2009
What a stunning show! I am amazed it is gone. I feel like I have been mourning the show, I can't seem to get it out of my head. I am not happy and I think the ending blew chunks...
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Apr 06, 2009
I've started watching this show from the very beginning (here in New Zealand) and I got too attached to this show as if it was a family member. Anyway, It's so sad to hear that it got canceled. I've seen most of the British version (on the net) and honestly it's totally different to this version. I'm going to miss this show so much when the series finale comes to NZ. :(
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Apr 06, 2009
ABC blows it again A great si fi / cop show fresh new and different for american tv. and it being replaced with a comedy/cop joke. Why doesn,t ABC just put on another reality show it seems that all they know how to do. "Reality shows are for people who don,t have a life".Go get one.
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Apr 06, 2009
The biggest difference between the American version of "Life on Mars" and British is really displayed in the final episodes of each. In BBC land he wakes up from his coma, finds reality so depressing and uninvolving that he jumps off a building...depressing and cynical American..sense of optimism and the story continues on Mars in 2035...and tacking on that one line about President Oboma going to Chicago to see her father
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Apr 06, 2009
"Life On Mars" started out to be one of my favorite programs, and I was hoping it would be on for a long time. The story was great, the music terrific, and the cast exceptional. As time went on however, I never really liked it when the plot line seemed to become weighted in the sci-fi realm and move away from the original story. And then there was the last show WITH THE LARGEST BUNCH OF NONSENSICAL CRAP I HAVE EVER SEEN ON TV. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BELIEVE THAT ANY PROFESSIONAL PAID WRITERS COULD POSSIBLY SIT AROUND A CONFERENCE TABLE AND APPROVE THAT GARBAGE. THE ONLY POSSIBLE EXPLANATION FOR THAT ENDING IS THAT THEY MUST HAVE INVITED A KINDERGARTEN CLASS TO COME IN AND ASKED THE KIDS TO TAKE THEIR CRAYONS AND DRAW SOMETHING REALLY STUPID TO END THE SHOW.
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Apr 05, 2009
I personally would have rather left if off like the Sopranos. What was that end of the show? That was really a big letdown -- those final 10 minutes or so.
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Apr 05, 2009
The ending was so awful! Shame on the writers.
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Apr 04, 2009
Why did they have to remake it anyway?
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Apr 04, 2009
I think they would have been better served by having the show just situated in 1973 instead of all this weird crap, which still doesn't make sense (IMO) even with the finale which was a cop out (IMO). I loved the cast and the stories were good as long as they stayed away from the weird stuff.
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Apr 04, 2009
This show, while generally pretty damn good up until the WTF ending in the finale, was doomed from the start if what the producers said up there ^ was for real. The line about if they were on HBO the show would have run for 20 years etc. The way they were speaking makes it seem like they would want to drag it out as long as possible when with this type of show, short and sweet is the way to do it. Also, calling a US remake/reimagining of a BBC show "wholly original" is a completely ballsy (and moronic) thing to do. It is not original because of the UK version. *sigh*
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Apr 04, 2009
now this is sad :(
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Apr 04, 2009
Wow I posted in the 70s. I rock.
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Apr 04, 2009
Life on Mars did not fail because it was on network TV. It failed because the writers tried to stay faithful to the original by copying it except for a few US/UK cultural differences. The writing staff didn't commit. It was a lazy attempt. Doing it right would require a willingness to take real chances. The original was a brilliant masterwork. This was a stumbling shadow play. (No fault to the actors. Some to the writers but mostly to the coward who produced.)
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Apr 04, 2009
I don't think it's fair to say LoM was not right for network TV. The US series was only one episode shorter than it's original BBC counterpart. The story was really best with a predetermined wrap point. I have watched both the BBC and ABC versions and enjoyed both. This story could not go long because there are only so many curve-balls they could throw at the viewers before it got stale.
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Apr 04, 2009
I am so sorry that Life on Mars was cancelled. It was a very good show and I looked forward to it each week. Thank you ABC for taking a chance on it and giving us almost two seasons. It deserved more.
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Apr 03, 2009
i just don't understand why they would keep a show like LOST (another show I watch) and cut a even greater show like LIFE ON MARS I guess you would have to be in the TV biz but come on they could have changed the time slot or something to get the ratings back up. I am sooo disapointed at ABC. I hope they put it out on DVD soon so I can atleast buy it
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Apr 03, 2009
I will miss this show but I give kudos to ABC for taking a chance on it.
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Apr 03, 2009
Well having seen the original bristish version (living in the UK myself) im only 19 and i enjoyed it quite alot, so i actually happen to disagree quite alot with tvdvdaddict. I think you guys would have enjoyed the original alot more tbh, it just had. a quality to it. Sad that they cancelled it for you tho :(
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Apr 03, 2009
There's no excuse for this pals im not gonna read this article just pass and i post it there's no excuse no excuse no no no no XO XO



:):):):):)
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Apr 03, 2009
TV in general is geared for younger viewers. The fact that the show was set in 1973 was a bit too long ago. You have to be in your 50's to actually remember 1973. Being 50 by tv standards is like being 80. I wasn't born until 1976. I tried watching the show and just didn't enjoy it because i wasn't at all familiar with the stuff they were talking about.
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Apr 03, 2009
It is very dissapointing to see such an excellent show taken of the air.

Jose Hammond Indiana
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Apr 03, 2009
It was really well done, and I enjoyed the show. This was good television... and watching Jason O'Mara for an hour wasn't exactly a hardship either . I'm glad they were able to end it properly; it's a lesson to the networks-- there's been several series over recent years that could have been treated this way (e.g. The Nine, Day Break, Reunion). Hopefully, this will set a precedent for taking a risk, doing something with a mystery, but not dragging it out annoyingly and also not leaving us all hanging.
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Apr 03, 2009
I am upset that this show was cancelled, but I do give ABC credit for letting it play out and giving show time to write and ending insted of just stop showing eps.
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Apr 02, 2009
this was my favorite show. i'm sorry that it's gone!
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Apr 02, 2009
It was a great show. I love Lost but I always found myself wishing it would get over so that I could watch Life on Mars. I was already acquainted with the series on BBC and I actually liked the U.S. version better. So what if it had over-the-top violence, or that they cut out all the smoking and it didn't have the Ford Cortina (or whatever it was). The music was great. The dialog was terrific and the stories were interesting. Hearing all those old tunes again brought back my childhood. And the stunning Gretchen Moll was great! I would've liked to have seen the sequel Ashes To Ashes too. Maybe there is still hope? I doubt it. Oh, well....
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Apr 02, 2009
Good show, sad to see it go. I wish there was another way to measure raitings cause im sure more people watch some shows and not only in the USA but outside of it too but companies just got the narrow vision of Nielsen. Hopefully we keep getting quality shows from time to time like Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone and Life on Mars, von voyage.
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Apr 02, 2009
Very Sad.
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Apr 02, 2009
This was my fave tv show, I was looking at the tv guide a few weeks ago and found out tonite was the last show. I'm very upset, you are just replacing with another out there detective show. At least Life on Mars had a great plot. I hope it comes back on air, the year 2035 tonite for the finale ending was a super job. Its too bad some of the lulls in a few of the programs did not have all the buildup the last few episodes did, maybe more people would have watched. i think moving time slot after Lost was a huge mistake. Bring Jason O'Mara back with his co-star Annie, they were great together, and excellent actors. Too bad the real kiss didn't show up till the finale. Leaves me thinking there is more to come again, and soon, one can only hope.
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Apr 02, 2009
Its a sad commentary on our society. Brilliant writers create something unique and memorable and told the majority of the public just doesn't get it. To the suits at ABC, We LIVE IN A HERD MENTALITY. It takes sometime for the followers to catch up to the early adopters. Have some courage and dare to be different.

To the writers thanks for your hard work and creativity. Do not give in and dumb down your work. Remember the Sopranos was turned down by all of the networks also.
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Apr 02, 2009
It's such a pity. Why don't people appreciate originality more? Sucks that these unique shows are all getting cancelled one by one while we're getting triplicates of Law & Order and Desperate Housewives.
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Apr 02, 2009
Jedi_Shearstone i'm a massive fan of the british one and this show was good it was life on mars from an american view its like they both happened at the same time, but with slightly different plots i think the government conspiracy spin they put on it allowed them to make gene a different guy aswell not the whimsicle gene genie that the british one had, well i'm rabbiting i thought this was good, and thats coming from a UK persons mouth
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Apr 02, 2009
Ray is a fantastic character and I'm very sorry I'll not get to hear him spot anything again. :(
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Apr 01, 2009
I've never seen the American version but have heard that it's better than fans of the original expected. Except for tv.com interviewers ignorance at the number of UK episodes this was a very good interview and it's nice to know that ABC had such an affection for the show to hint hint that to them like that. I look forward to it hopefully getting an airing in the UK at some point.
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Staff
Apr 01, 2009
Great show - sad to see it go but very happy they're at least giving it a proper send off...
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Apr 01, 2009
Good riddance hopefully this will put off american networks having to remake succesful British TV Shows.
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Apr 01, 2009
I am going to miss this show tremendously. I am looking forward to tonight's finale, but I know I will be missing the hell out of new episodes.
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