Life on Mars is an American science fiction crime drama television series aired by ABC. Co-produced by Kudos Film & Television, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC Studios, it is about a New York City homicide detective who suddenly finds himself inexplicably transported from 2008 to 1973. The series was adapted from the BAFTA-winning British series of the same name, shown by the BBC.
Like its British counterpart, Life on Mars is set in 1973, telling the story of detective Sam Tyler (played by Jason O'Mara), who believes himself to be from 35 years in the future. Covering multiple genres, including thriller, science fiction, and police procedural, the series remains ambiguous regarding its central plot, with the character himself unsure about his situation. It has garnered critical praise for its premise, acting, and depiction of the 1970s, but suffered a declining viewership after its premiere. Life on Mars stars Harvey Keitel, Jonathan Murphy, Michael Imperioli, and Gretchen Mol.
The series premiered in North America on October 9, 2008 on ABC, following Grey's Anatomy. Internationally, it also aired on Global in Canada and on Network Ten in Australia. On November 20, 2008, ABC ordered four additional episodes to the show's original thirteen episode order. After its winter hiatus, the series was shifted to a Wednesday night timeslot on January 28, 2009, following Lost.
On March 2, 2009, it was announced that ABC would not be ordering a second season, cancelling the series. The decision was made early in order to give the producers enough time to wrap up the show's storyline, but the network aired all of the 17 episodes it had ordered. The final episode was broadcast on April 1, 2009.
After reviewing the pilot episode, ABC ordered the series be overhauled with a new format. As a result, there were significant changes in cast and crew, and the location was chamged to New York "to allow producers to take advantage of recently enacted local and state tax credits for shows filmed in that state."
The reshoot, in addition to location change, included a rewrite of the script and an overhaul of casting. In accordance with the script changes, and with permission of the original creators, the "unsatisfying" ambiguity of Sam's story was removed in favor of a "mythological element" and "deeper mystery".
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After being struck by a car in 2008, Det. Sam Tyler of Precinct 125 of the NYPD awakens to discover that it is 1973. At first overcome with disbelief, Tyler eventually settles into the 70's life, taking every opportunity to explore the possible explanations for what he's experiencing and, more importantly, why. Strangely, Tyler seems to have a life in 1973 already, albeit one he can't remember: he awoke near a car that belonged to him, he was expected as a transfer from Hyde (a town along the Hudson River) when he arrived at the 1-2-5, and the precinct had arranged for his living arrangements.
Life at the 1973 Precinct 125 is full of tension and mystery for Tyler. He is entirely unaccustomed to the procedures which are standard there, causing clashes with his co-workers and his superior, Lieutenant Gene Hunt. His cases have appeared to him at times to be interrelated, related to events and people in 2008, or directly related to him. In addition, the detective has experienced several bizarre phenomena which may relate to how and why he is in 1973.
According to a report by The Hollywood Reporter, Rachelle Lefèvre had been cast as Annie Cartwright (the female lead of "the lone female detective in the department" who "forges a mystic bond with the mysterious detective and teams with him to track a serial killer"), and the BBC reported that Colm Meaney would star as Gene Hunt in the original ABC pilot. However, in June 2008, the two roles (Cartwright and Hunt) began recasting in accordance with an overhaul of the series. After revisions by the producers, Irish actor Jason O'Mara, being the only actor kept on from the original ABC pilot, still played the lead role of Detective Sam Tyler. He was joined by Michael Imperioli, the Emmy Award-winning actor from The Sopranos who will play Detective Ray Carling, and it was announced in July 2008 that Harvey Keitel had been cast in the role of Lieutenant Gene Hunt. Gretchen Mol would play Tyler's 1973 girlfriend, Annie Norris, (renamed from Cartwright). Lisa Bonet, formerly of The Cosby Show, was been cast as Tyler's present-day love interest, Maya Daniels. Detective Chris Skelton would be played by Jonathan Murphy.
In an interview with the Radio Times, Philip Glenister confirmed that he and John Simm, stars of the UK version, had been approached for lead roles in the series, but had turned them down, partly due to family commitments, and partly due to fear of becoming "a nutter in The Priory".
The American series has been heavily criticised by fans of the original series as many scenes and dialogues are similar.