This article fascinates us because it’s a look into the thinking of those responsible for a show that to those of us here at TVWriter™ may well have been the worst U.S. network adaptation of a UK hit ever.
The finale of the U.S. version put the final nail in the coffin, replacing the shaded, mysterious, semi-supernatural conclusion in the original with the absolutely most mundane, over-obvious explanation a show called Life on Mars could possibly have.
The fact that the guys in charge of the U.S. version, starting at the highest executive level and working down, are so proud of their take on it is proof, if any of you need it, that the pros ain’t necessarily any smarter or more talented than the rest of us. (Just richer, maybe.) Cast your jaundiced eyes here:
Behind the Scenes of TV’s Most Bonkers Series Finale
by Liz Shannon Miller
None of the 5 million people who originally watched the ABC series finale would likely disagree. Tracking the mystery behind why modern-day detective Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara) finds himself transported back to the year 1973, the cop/sci-fi hybrid based on the UK series of the same name failed to secure a second season, but thanks to the forethought of Appelbaum and his fellow showrunners, the series did manage to deliver an ending.
And oh, what a series finale it was. The episode “Life Is a Rock,” which aired on April 1, 2009, features one of modern television’s most bonkers final twists, and was actually 100 percent the ending planned by the creators from the beginning.
Yes, it came a little sooner than they would have liked, but the creators remain grateful for the chance to put that ending on screen. How that ending came to be, in all its insane glory, is a story best told by those involved: Appelbaum, fellow executive producer Scott Rosenberg, director Michael Katleman, and series star Jason O’Mara. Despite the years of distance, all of them had the deepest affection for this epic “exce-silly” episode.
“The Wrong Network at the Wrong Time”
Rosenberg: Steve McPherson at ABC was obsessed with [“Life on Mars”]. They had shot a pilot with as good an auspice as you can get in television: David E. Kelley wrote it, Tommy Schlamme directed it, and Jason O’Mara starred in it. We were vaguely aware of the BBC original. McPherson brought us in, he’s like, “You guys want to take this over?” So we looked at it and it was honestly, I can happily say this on the record, it was terrible.
So we said, “Oh, it’s full of really good actors, but just kind of not gelling in a particularly good way.” And, we said, “We’ll do it, but you have to let us re-cast everything and set it in New York City.” And, he was like, “You can re-cast everybody except Jason O’Mara.”
O’Mara: I spoke to Steve, and I said, “What’s going on, are you picking up the show?” And he said, “I’m getting rid of everything except you and the title.” I said, “What?” He said, “Yeah. I’m changing everything.” I didn’t have a choice, because I had a holding deal with the network at the time….