Tuesday, March 3, 2009

LIFE ON MARS to Be No More

According to several news sources, ABC has decided to pull the plug on the sci-fi/cop show hybrid Life On Mars- and I'm one loyal viewer who is not happy about it.

So let me get this out of the way right off the bat....a pox on your house, Oh Mighty Suits of ABC!.

OK, that was a little strong....and I apologize to anyone who might be offended, I meant no one any harm. I'm not really an Internet whack job. I just type that way on occasion.

But the decision to cancel this show just reinforces a couple of thoughts I've had about the broadcast media. First- I believe the Big Four Networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX) are running on empty as far as creativity. If a show is successful, look for it to be franchised, like CSI and Law and Order. After awhile they begin to look like retreads of the original, and after even longer they begin to even copy themselves. And some of the more recent shows that the networks are presenting (Kath and Kim, The Office, Worst Week ...and
Life On Mars) are Americanized versions of successful British or Australian shows. Its not like this trend began this year; even All In The Family and Sanford and Son were reworking of successful BBC comedies back in the 1970's. But today, the practice just seems to be more prevalent, and much more blatant.

Life On Mars, American style, is the story of New York City detective Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara) who, while pursuing the abductor of girlfriend Maya Daniels( Lisa Bonet) is struck by a car. When Tyler regains consciousness he finds himself time travelling back to 1973, where he's still a cop, and transferred to a squad room run by Neanderthal-like Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel). Others in the precinct are tough cop but sexist moron Ray Carling (Michael Imperioli), young detective Chris Skelton (Jonathan Murphy),and the lovely female uniformed officer who wants to be more, Annie Norris ( Gretchen Mol).

There are the predictable conflicts and plot devices in the Rip Van Winkle in reverse story lines; Sam tells the other guys he's from the future- they think he's a little nuts. Sam tells them about phones that people will carry in their pockets, computers in everyone's house, and GPS's..they think he's really nuts.

Along the way Sam comes across his parents in 1973...and a young version of himself. Each week another crime is solved- and additional clues are given as to what really happened to Sam- did he really time travel, is he in a coma, is this a dream, is he in heaven, hell, or purgatory?

And of course, there comes the subplot of the mutual attraction between the Sam and the beautiful Annie, so far unacted upon, kind of like the early days of Moonlighting, before it jumped the shark.

To ABC's credit, they have announced that there will be closure to the series, and the audience who did stick with the show will get an ending. That being the case, there seems to be little fans can do to start a letter writing campaign to save the show, or at least see new episodes on a basic cable network, like The SciFi Channel. But allowing a cancelled series to reach a conclusion is not the norm with the broadcast networks. All too often a struggling series is pulled with plot lines hanging in mid air....and leaving the audience feeling cheated.

If the Big Four want to know why their audience shares dwindle and basic cable and premium channels keep gaining viewers, they have only themselves to blame. Why should any potential audience member invest time in any new show and its characters if there is no assurance that it will be there for them in four, five, or six weeks? That's all the time usually given to a new program by the Big Four- show an immediate return, or your gone. Think of all the classic shows from the past that struggled early on, only to become legendary-Hill Street Blues, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Cheers, Seinfeld, All In The Family.

Those wouldn't have a chance in today's new media wasteland of instant gratification. So the suits at the networks will continue to give us more retreads, franchises, and (un)reality shows.

Because the dumbing down of America is not yet complete.

A ray of hope to fans of Life On Mars. This Saturday BBC America will premiere the sequel to the original British version of LOM, called Ashes To Ashes. And yes, it is named after another David Bowie song

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