Welcome once again to "On the Futon With...," a semi-weekly feature where I sit down and talk TV with some of my favorite people in the industry, all the while trying to give the impression I'm not some overgrown fanboy.
THIS WEEK'S GUEST (in a special two-part interview): "Life on Mars" Executive Producer Josh Appelbaum
Brian Ford Sullivan: Before we get to "Life on Mars," I have to ask - is your "October Road" 15-minute wrap-up still happening?
Josh Appelbaum: We wrote [it] the day that the show got canceled - as therapy to stave off suicide from the abandonment issues we had from the 15 million people that watched us in season one that decided to bail on us. [Laughs.] No, we wrote literally that day a finale, a 15 page finale and it was called "Episode 22: Don't Look Back - An Epilogue for Epic Love" and it basically... and to jump ahead, we have every intention of producing it and it's just been a question of finding the financing for it. We could do the down and dirty version - all the cast has agreed to be in it, [Gary] Fleder's agreed to direct it, we wrote it, crew members have offered their services to come back and work for free - but just to pull off the look of the original show, it's still going to cost money. And we're looking to find that money and if we can't, we'll just do a more down and dirty version. It was great, it is great - it starts out at Hannah's wedding to Big Cat and basically she says, she's with Janet and she says, "I can't get married until the truth comes out. I can't marry him without the real truth coming out. I can't get married until Sam knows who his father is." And she runs, wipes frame [and] we fade to black and it says, "Seven years later." And then we pick up seven years later and I'll just leave it at that. It's about a ten-minute sequence where all the answers to where everybody ends up are... and ultimately we find out who Sam's father is. I think it's wonderful. Hopefully we get to shoot it.
BFS: Gotcha. So how did "Life on Mars" come about then? It sounded like there was lots of behind-the-scenes drama with the network, the studios and David E. Kelley over what was going to happen with the show.
JA: Truly, the full extent of the behind-the-scenes I'm not even privy to. All I know is... basically on the day before the upfronts, [Steve MacPherson] said - "'ORoad's' not happening but what do you guys think about 'Life on Mars?'" - which, we were huge fans of the original, we were aware there had been another version but hadn't seen it. We said the one thing - if Kelley were to be leaving it - we'd really want to do, first and foremost, is move the show to New York because the other incarnation took place in L.A. and to us, it was like - we're from the East Coast but when I think of the early '70s cop genre, I really think of New York City, Serpico, The French Connection and all those things just spoke to that era in such a way. And the whole thing with the tax incentive in New York had just kind of come through, this great one, two thing we're they're like, you guys can take it over, anything you want to change you can change, move to New York, change the cast around, the only thing that was immovable was Jason O'Mara - which we were happy about.
Actually I take that back, not that we weren't happy, because we hadn't seen the original pilot, we weren't that familiar with him. I had just seen him on "Grey's" and he was just such fucking pleasant surprise. I know he wasn't as thrilled about his performance in the other. But wait 'til you see him in this dude. He's like early Mel Gibson. He's fucking funny, he's badass, he's cool, he's like a guy in the best possible way. So yeah, we came on board and it was a crazy race to the finish line because there was no pilot script, we had to rewrite the pilot, we had to set up an operation, we had a 13-episode order without having anything to hang our hat on. It was a very unusual situation so it's been bedlam. Literally, we're screening the pilot for the president of the network tomorrow - the thing premieres in three weeks. [EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview took place on September 17.] And we've already written episode seven and they haven't even seen the pilot yet! [Laughs.] It's fucking out of control. It's just flying at us at a million miles an hour. But, you know, with this cast behind us and with the source material behind us, again the BBC thing, there's such a strong foundation there. Even though we're changing, we're certainly doing our own riff on it all but it's crazy, to actually physically pull this off has been an insane challenge.
BFS: What was the process like for you in adapting the show? Did you just marathon your way through the original show on DVD?
JA: Scott [Rosenberg], 'Dre [Nemec] and I, there was about a two week process after the upfronts where the deal hadn't made yet, truly. And we were working on this other thing, "Samurai Girl" for ABC Family, we were doing that. And so we went up to Vancouver and around that time we just all - because I had seen, some of us had seen more than the others, we had all seen at least the first season - we marathoned and sat there with the episode guide. And by the way, we've been very close... the original creators are part of this with us, and we really embraced them and they've been amazing to us. We wanted to be very true to the first movement of the "Life on Mars" saga, it's so good, the foundation of it is so strong. We know that eventually we're going to have to move in our own direction. There are also things in the first seven or eight that we wanted to be different from theirs, because it's set in New York. This is why I was so excited about Manhattan - it's like, frankly Manchester in 1973, it was genius, I mean the whole concept is genius but New York in 1973 there's so many more cultural nerve centers - frankly there were so many more things happening culturally in the States - Watergate was in '73, Roe v. Wade was in '73, the end of offensive action in 'Nam was '73. It was really a watershed year. I think our version is going to infuse in some ways more of the cultural [aspects], more of like what goes on in actual society - Sam being in New York, all of these stories are going to be played amidst some of that.
But we went through the BBC episodes, me, Scott and 'Dre and kind of figured out, again, there were just some that were so fucking good that we couldn't not adapt. Remember the whole thing about 2 o'clock - where they're going to pull the plug on him at 2 and there's a hostage crisis where they're going to kill someone at 2 and that's our episode six. It's like how are you not doing that one? It's the best teaser of all time. So there are some like that we said we're taking on. By the way, I will say as a start-up show it's an amazing advantage to have - I said to ["Fringe's" Jeff] Pinkner, because we've worked together forever, I said to start up we're going to have a much easier time because we have this sort of source material backbone to fall back on, we have a foundation to get us launched and they are kind of creating a universe whole hog. Just as they're getting their footing, we're going to be flying off the rails. [Laughs.] No, I'm kidding. Just as they're getting their footing, we're suddenly going to have to say, "Oh, we don't have a safety net anymore, we're going to have to actually come up with this shit on our own completely!"
BFS: Can you talk specifically about the differences between the shows?
JA: I'll start with the similarities just for a second which is that, the whole conceit of like, the central characters are all the same. It's Sam, it's Gene Hunt, it's Ray - who frankly has come up a lot more since we cast Michael Imperioli than he was in the British version, it's Chris, it's Annie. The only main character that we added to it is the part of this girl Windy [played by Tanya Fischer] who we kind of wanted somebody who - because it was New York in '73 - could tap Sam into the kind of cultural shit that was going on at the time, Warhol's Factory and all that stuff. So in the second episode it opens up, he's in a walk up in the East village and there's a communal bathroom and he's walking and all of a sudden this smoking hot chick, completely naked, comes out of the bathroom and she's just kind of like this Goldie Hawn in Butterflies Are Free, kind of post-hippie East Village chick. And her name's Windy and she takes Sam's hand and she's like, "Oh my God, your fate line, it's like a record skipping," you know, sort of speaking to what's happening. She's got this sort of cognizance - she's the one when he's saying, "I know I sound crazy but I feel like I'm 35 years back in the future," is saying, "Well, we're all living in different times and planes and realities." She's that girl. She's like, "Come on let's go do quaaludes, do you like to dance?" She's that energy which the other show didn't have. The big thing is, in terms of the difference...
Click here for part two of the interview.