Based on a UK show of the same name, Life on Mars was one of ABC’s most anticipated new TV series of Fall 2008. It got off to a great start in the ratings but how do things stand now? Will a Lost lead-in help or hurt?
Life on Mars follows the life of modern-day NYPD detective Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara) who’s hit by a car. When he wakes up, he goes to his police station to try to get his bearings. Things are very different than what he remembers and he finally realizes he’s somehow been transported to 1973. While trying to figure out what’s happened, he starts to help the officers solve a murder that has strange similarities to a case that he was investigating in 2008. Is he sick, mad, or a time traveler? Others in the cast include Jonathan Murphy, Dominick Mancino, Tom Stratford, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol, Harvey Keitel, Chris Miskiewicz, John Cenatiempo, and Lisa Bonet.
The series debuted on October 9th on ABC. Up against CBS’ Eleventh Hour, Mars easily won its timeslot with 11.33 million viewers and a 3.8/10 rating/share in the 18-49 demographic. ABC had a hit! Briefly.
The following week, viewership fell to 8.22 million and a 2.5/7, a loss of 25% of the total audience. While nearly 8.5 million could still be considered a healthy number, it’s terrible when you consider that Mars lost almost 40% of its Grey’s Anatomy lead-in audience.
November 20th brought both good news and bad news for Mars. In a show of support, ABC ordered four additional episodes, bringing the first season total to 17. Unfortunately, the 20th would also be the last time that Mars would air in over two months. For a serial drama, that’s close to a death sentence. If a show’s not on the air, most viewers forget about it and start watching other programming. Then, it’s all too easy for them to miss or skip a series’ return.
ABC has several problem areas in its primetime schedule and opted to move Mars to Wednesday nights. It’ll follow Lost beginning next week. On the surface, Lost seems like a natural pairing. After all, both have mysterious and offbeat storylines. In reality, it may signal the end of Mars.
ABC makes a practice of airing Lost recaps to remind existing viewers where the story left off and to try to hook new people. They’re not giving Mars any such special treatment. Does the network honestly expect to pick up new viewers midway through the season of a serial drama?
So, while ABC hasn’t given up on Mars just yet, they’re not giving it any tender loving care either. As always, the ratings will ultimately decide the show’s future and next week’s audience will be critical. Does Mars deserve to stick around?
If the numbers don’t improve, let’s hope that the producers will follow their October Road model and give both viewers and Sam Tyler the closure they deserve. What do you think?