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.