A LIFE ON MARS Post-mortem with Executive Producers Josh Appelbaum and Scott Rosenberg

In what is sure to go down as one of the most literal endings in television history, Sam Tyler and Co. ended their seventeen episode journey known as LIFE ON MARS last night, doing just that. And whether you loved it, loathed it, or are still scratching your head over it — this TV Addict can’t help but feel that in this era of cancel-happy-television-executives — serious kudos must be paid to executive producers Josh Appelbaum and Scott Rosenberg for providing fans with any ending at all.

Clearly, Appelbaum and Rosenberg get it. As evidence by the fact that not only did they make good on their promise to write and produce a fifteen minute ending to their prematurely canceled series OCTOBER ROAD (which will be included on the second season DVD coming out in MAY), they took the time out of their insanely busy schedule while up in Toronto shooting their new two-hour pilot HAPPY TOWN for ABC to provide a little insight as to what went wrong with LIFE ON MARS and what it’s like developing and creating shows in this increasingly challenging and constantly changing television landscape.

To start us off, I just wanted to take a moment to say how impressed I am with your level of commitment to your fans. It’s not everyday that showrunners will take the time to promote a show that has already been cancelled.
Scott Rosenberg: We are those guys who will just continue to kick a dead horse. We love our dead horses so much that we still believe.

Josh Appelbaum: We’ve also been fans of so many shows that we’ve been in that position where you’re watching something, it gets cancelled and there is no resolution and it’s so f*cking frustrating. Fans have been so great with this show, as they were with OCTOBER ROAD and to not have given them some conclusion would be ridiculous.

Scott Rosenberg: The one thing that I really truly believe with all my heart, the one thing that all of our fans have in common is that they have impeccable, impeccable f*cking taste and they need to be rewarded for that taste!

Josh Appelbaum: Yeah the show’s gone but with all these things [such as DVD, iTunes etc.] they’ll live on forever.

On the surface, LIFE ON MARS seemed the perfect show for the times. It was essentially an easy-to-follow procedural with an interesting mythology woven in. What went wrong?
Scott Rosenberg: Oh boy where do we begin? I think it’s a combination of things. I don’t necessarily know that it was best network for it. LIFE ON MARS was very very different and I think that because it was wholly original actually kind of hurt it. The whole notion of 1973 to us is wildly cool, too all of us who grew up on Sydney Lumet movies, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino films, it’s almost like a cinematic thing. But most people couldn’t give a sh*t about 1973. And also there was maybe not enough sci-fi for the sci-fi fans, too much for those that weren’t interested and not enough cops for the cop people.

And Josh [Appelbaum] has always said that he thinks the title was a problem. As cool as it is, it’s like what the hell? if you’re a casual viewers… LIFE ON MARS, what am I watching? And I think that we got a tremendous sampling, the pilot a lot of people watched and they didn’t just come back. And I think that they knew that the central question wasn’t going to be answered quickly, which was what is Sam doing in 1973. Bbut again, all these things that were different and unique, I think it needed more time. I do believe that if they [ABC executives] had given us a second season and the DVD had come out and they pumped the DVD, it’s only 17 hours so it’s not like a tremendous commitment, I think things might have been different this year.

Josh Appelbaum: I hate to invoke this, but it was invoked so many times to us, in the state of the world we’re living in I don’t think ABC was in the position to take a gamble on something that wasn’t making them money. Understandably. So if this were different times I’m sure everyone would have stuck with it even if it wasn’t profitable in the short term.

I post ratings on my web site everyday, and on a daily basis we see how quality fare such as DOLLHOUSE and TERMINATOR are getting trounced by the likes of SUPERNANNY and WIFE SWAP. Is it disheartening as a showrunner who put their heart and soul into a project to see a high-concept show like KINGS premiere to virtually nobody?
Scott Rosenberg: It’s really really tricky. We’re shooting one now [a two-hour pilot called HAPPY TOWN for ABC] and it’s the same thing. Already we’re asking, is our fate decided? I actually have this fear when they figure out exactly what goes on with DVR and everything else that OCTOBER ROAD will have been bigger than MASH, and nobody knew it at the time because they hadn’t figured out a way to measure. Do you remember Josh? We did a panel at like UCLA or USC with the cast [of OCTOBER ROAD] and there were 300 kids in the audience, fans of the show and we asked, how many watched live on broadcast — nobody raised their hand. How many watched on ABC.com — half the room raised there hand. How many watched on iTunes — a third of the room raised their hand. It was crazy. Nobody was watching it live. They [the networks] need to find a way to track that and monetize that and if we don’t, we’re all finished.

Does that thought keep you up at night?
Scott Rosenberg:The most frightening thing of all is that we’re living in a climate right now were literally there would not be HILL STREET BLUES, SEINFELD, CHEERS of even MASH. These shows that didn’t come out of the gate fully loaded but because they were allowed a couple of seasons to spread their wings, they endured. Who knows, I haven’t watched it yet, but KINGS may have become HILL STREET. It may become this wildly influence piece of television if it was twenty years ago. And now, I’m assuming it will get cancelled. But we’ll never know. It’s really scary that we’re living in a world where these shows are no longer allowed to flower.

Have you ever thought of taking a page from Joss Whedon’s playbook, cutting out the network and creating a show and putting it online?
Scott Rosenberg: We’re faaarrrr too lazy!

Josh Appelbaum: [Laughs] we don’t have as much energy as Joss Whedon!

Scott Rosenberg: We don’t even know how the internet works! Can you imagine. No, our thing is we really love doing it and we want to hit a home run so we’ll just keep trying as long as they let us. But I think at a certain point they’ll stop letting us.

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  • Michelle

    I love Life on Mars. Having grown up in the 70’s the acting was spot on with what really happened. I can honestly say this was the first show that had an ending that completely satisfied the story line. As much as I hate to see the show end at least you gave it a complete story line. Thanks for the entertainment, I look forward to your next show.

  • ChewChew

    As quirky as it was… the ending was great.

    I have one question. What’s up with that Lisa Bonet character? She didn’t stick by Sam too long after his accident.

  • Becky

    My Hubby and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I totally didn’t think they would be astronauts, nor that Harvey would be the dad, but you guys really know how to wrap things up! I was doing my thing in 1973 and appreciated all the authenticity. Sorry to see you go, but I will look for the next show you have coming up.

  • Naf

    Um, why didn’t you ask them about the episode?

  • Naf,

    I talked to them before the episode aired. Obviously if it had been after I’d have asked them about one of the most unexpected final eight minutes of television to come around in recent memory.

  • Naf

    Oh right, fair enough. I thought you were one of the few people to talk to them after the episodes had aired. I thought the last few minutes was a load of crap. They just about got away with it because it was only a 17 episode run, but can you imagine a show lasting 2 or 3 seasons, and then ending with the “it was all the dream” that the lead characters just kind of shrugs off? If Jack wakes up at the end of Lost after really having been a spaceman from the future, with the whole survivors being people he knew, and Ben being his father, I’m going be so angry.

  • Naf

    Also, isn’t it amazing that cliqueclack.com managed to guess the ending weeks ago?


    I thought they were insane when I read that.

  • Marcia

    I haven’t loved a show as much as Life on Mars in forever. The acting was superb. The story lines were amazing. Having grown up and gone to college around this time, it was so crazy accurate and it was such a thrill to experience that time period again. I kept saying every week, “That’s just how it was!!” Please try and work out a deal with Sci Fi or another cable channel!

  • I loved the show from the beginning, boos to the people who conceled it and did not give it a fair chance, ho rahs to the producers and writers who gave us a wrap up. I have seen too many series I liked canceled with no wrap up, ie Curuso this year. When will the networks learn.

  • Grams

    Having lived through the 70’s made the characters truly real. My 16 year old granddaughter watched with me and was amazed that attitudes and such were truly like that at the time. We were extremely disappointed to learn that the series was cancelled. Watching the finale, and experiencing the ending, as my granddaughter said last night – “I hate that it’s over, the ending was nothing what I expected, but I really liked the way they wrapped it all up, especially tying in the series title – Life On Mars!”

  • Connie A

    Thank you for the ending. I regretted hearing it was cancelled (just like another show that needed more time; Eli Stone) but at least it had a conclusion. So I decided rather than be ticked about it’s demise, I choose to look at it as a 17 hour mini-series. I truly enjoyed this show – I was in high school in ’73 and it was quite the flashback. A fun flashback! Loved the music. Loved the story – I too though, wondered about the Lisa Bonet character. She seemed to be left hanging.

  • Brenda647

    I’m just watched the last episode…online and was very sad it was over, but happy there was a wrap up. I’m sure the if the network had kept it going there would have been a different kind of ending.

    This was an excellent show. I love shows that have unexpected aspects to them.The characters were wonderful. As the show went on, it was great to see the depth in each of the main characters.

    Thanks Josh and Scott for this little gem.

  • carol

    I loved the show. and I was super disappointed to hear that it was cancelled. You were right though, too bad it wasn’t on a different channel, the outcome might be a 2nd season.

    and I didn’t like that it was moved from Thursday, because I liked it following Greys’ Anatomy.

    Oh well, life goes on, I guess. Hey, maybe Jason O’Mara can join Grey’s Anantomy and add to the Mc-men collection, he could be Mc-Spaceman.

    Seriously, I loved the show, and was glad that at least the show was given the dignity to have an ending.

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  • tw111

    Thank you, Josh and Scott, for giving us some closure to a series that ended far too soon. I loved Life on Mars… looked forward to each episode and dvr’d them all. The ending was not something I saw coming, which was great. This cast had so much chemistry… hope they can end up together in some other venue. Looking forward to seeing more from you, because this was truly quality television.
    Now I’m afraid that Life and Sarah Connor Chronicles will get the axe, and I’ll be left with not a lot to like. With Eli Stone, DSM, and Pushing Daisies cancelled, I keep thinking what the heck do they want?
    Ugh, then I remember: The Bachelor.

  • Dottie S

    A great show gets cancelled, but all those stupid realility shows keep popping up. Why not give some of us 40 somethings to escape by. We all need to take a look at how great these actors were and wonder what happened to television. To the actors ,thank you for reminding me about such a turbulant time in All our lives and for the memories that were so great!

  • Kelli

    I am proof of your problem. It is April 12, and I just finally watched the last Mars episode on my DVR. I loved the show, and appreciate the closure you provided. I was also a huge “DVR” fan of October Road. I only wish I were smart enough to figure out how to measure viewership.

  • Briana A.

    This had become a favorite of mine and I am so upset that it has ended.

    I will be extremely happy if a DVD is released of its one and only brilliant season.

    Thank you, Mr. Appelbaum and Mr. Rosenberg, for your insane talent.