To no great surprise, fans of ABC’s Life on Mars are quite upset that the network has decided to kill the series after only 17 episodes. Granted, the early ratings weren’t that great but the network didn’t help matters either. Will viewers be given closure or will they and Sam Tyler be left stranded forever in the 1970s?
Life on Mars, a remake of the popular UK series, revolves around a modern-day detective (Jason O’Mara) who is somehow transported back to 1973. He manages to acclimate himself but is stymied as to the how and why of his situation. The series also features Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol, Harvey Keitel, Jonathan Murphy, Dominick Mancino, John Cenatiempo, Chris Miskiewicz, Tom Stratford, Matthew Cowles, and Tanya Fischer.
The drama debuted on October 9, 2008 to a solid 11.33 million viewers and a 3.8/10 rating/share in the 18-49 demographic. Unfortunately, those numbers didn’t last and Mars fell significantly in its second week, to 8.22 million and a 2.5/7 — a loss of 25% of the total audience. The ratings for the next five episodes averaged just eight million, sinking to a low of 7.77 million and a 2.5/7 rating/share on November 20th.
Though the series was struggling, there was still a chance that things could turn things around. But then, the network put Mars on a two month hiatus. For a serial drama, particularly one with an ongoing mystery, a hiatus like that is essentially a kiss of death. As expected, when the series finally returned in January, lots of viewers didn’t come back. For the first four showings in 2009, Mars averaged a disastrous 5.5 million viewers and hit a low of 4.63 million and a 1.6/4 rating/share.
This decline caused ABC to pull the plug but, as executive producer Andre Nemec told the LA Times, it didn’t come as a big surprise. He said, “We were struggling a bit with our numbers… It didn’t seem like we were getting that slow, steady climb every week.” Thankfully, the network execs made their decision early enough for the producers to be able to craft an ending for the series.
Nemec noted, “We’ve felt from the beginning that if the show wasn’t going to get its legs for a second season, nothing would have been more of a gift from the network and the studio than to give us the opportunity to find the creative closure a lot of shows don’t get.”
When ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson called with the bad news, the crew was prepping to shoot episode 17, the final installment of the season. Josh Appelbaum, Scott Rosenberg, and Nemec immediately got busy reworking the script. Nemec reflected, “It was heartbreaking to have to write it and simultaneously cathartic to be able to do it.” Production on the episode wrapped last week and it’s scheduled to air on April 1st.
Though the details are a closely guarded secret, we do know that the last episode of Mars begins with Sam searching for his younger self who’s been kidnapped. The story ends in another time.
For those who have looked to the UK version for clues about the show’s final resolution, they should know that it will be significantly different. In the British version, Sam awoke from a coma at the end of the program’s two season, 16 episode run. Applebaum assures, “This could not be further from that.”
He tells TV Guide that the show’s secrets will indeed be revealed — including those about Hyde Park, the precinct he supposedly came from. Appelbaum said, “We will go to Hyde. We will learn what it is and what it looks like.” He continued, “Everything we did is completely justified. It’s one of those endings I believe will make you want to watch the series again, because you’ll see that we’ve given you very distinct clues that will come together.”
Nemec isn’t sure if viewers will be surprised by the resolution but hopes that they will be pleased. He said, “If you’ve been watching the show and paying attention, I think in the last frame you’ll find yourself saying that we didn’t cheat you.”
Image courtesy ABC.