Though October Road was cancelled last May, the show lives on in the memories of its fans, cast and crew. While devoted viewers await news of the promised conclusion to the fallen ABC TV show, the show’s writers are keeping the Road world alive — and killing some of the characters along the way — through their current ABC series, Life on Mars.
October Road follows the life of Nick Garrett (Bryan Greenberg), a young writer who left his Massachusetts life behind to author a best-selling book about his hometown. When he gets a bad case of writer’s block, he makes the difficult decision to return home to face his family and friends. The Knights Ridge residents are played by actors like Laura Prepon, Brad William Henke, Geoff Stults, Tom Berenger, Jay Paulson, Evan Jones, Warren Christie, Slade Pearce, Odette Yustman, Rebecca Field, Jonathan Murphy, Lindy Booth, Elizabeth Bogush, and Penny Johnson.
ABC’s Life on Mars tells a very different tale. In 2008, NYPD homicide detective Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara) is hit by a car and awakens in 1973. As he tries to figure out what has happened to him, Sam encounters people and places that are familiar to him and parallel his life in our time. The cast includes Tom Stratford, Michael Imperiol, Gretchen Mol, Jonathan Murphy, Harvey Keitel, John Cenatiempo, Tanya Fischer, and Lisa Bonet.
Mars is based on a British show of the same name and is executive produced by Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, and Scott Rosenberg, the producers of October Road. The trio went directly from one ABC series to another but haven’t forgotten their roots. They’ve been slyly sneaking Road references into Mars.
To start, some of the faces are certainly familiar ones. Murphy, who played Ronnie on Road, plays Detective Chris Skelton. Murphy recently told TV Guide that he enjoys working for his former bosses again, “I assume they liked what I did on October Road and they saw something in me that could be in this character. They were nice enough to give me a shot and let me come in and show them what I could do with it and I think they believed in me. We were all sad that October Road got canceled and it’s nice to be with familiar faces.”
Other familiar faces include Henke and Yustman — previously known as Owen Rowan and Aubrey from Knights Bridge.
There are also lots of visual references. In the pilot for example, you can see a group of tenements called the “Cataldo Houses,” an allusion to Road’s villainous builder, Ray “Big Cat” Cataldo (Warren Christie). Appelbaum told B&C, “In our minds, we are living in one creative universe where Knights Bridge, Mass., does live in the same world as Life on Mars.”
Appelbaum says that there are plans to use the names of many other Road characters in upcoming episodes, either as crime suspects or victims. The exec producer joked, “Somehow in 1973 New York, the members of 2008 Knights Ridge are dying in bulk… We’re doing a loving burial for October Road by killing off some of these people in Life on Mars.”
The team of producers have previously put a few nods to Road into last summer’s Samurai Girl mini-series on ABC Family. Girl stars Road guest Stacy Keibler and Christie has a smaller role. The most overt reference came when a character named Otto wore a t-shirt that read “I’m Sam’s Father” — a reference to Road’s long-running paternity mystery. The producers considered using the same joke in Mars but decided against it because the main character’s first name is Sam.
Applebaum wants to assure viewers that the allusions won’t be carried too far. “Life on Mars does deserve its own reality. We would never do something that is too overt, that would jump out as a fan of Life on Mars. But it is always fun to put in stuff that fans of October Road could notice and say, ‘That’s cool.'” Stay tuned!
Images courtesy ABC.