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ABC giving 'Life on Mars' a makeover

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Every fall there's a TV show that gets labeled as "troubled." Usually these series live up to their advance billing (last year it was ABC's Cavemen) but not always (the year before it was ABC's successful Brothers & Sisters).

Time will tell with Life on Mars (10 p.m. Thursday starting Oct. 9), ABC's remake of the BBC America series about a 2008 cop who finds himself in 1973. Producer David E. Kelley originally owned the rights to the show, but ABC managed to wrest those from Kelley and has given the show to the executive producers of the canceled October Road.

Kelley's version was set and filmed in L.A. The new version is set in New York City, where it will be filmed. Consequently, the entire first pilot was scrapped along with the cast, including Colm Meaney. The sole survivor was Jason O'Mara as Det. Sam Tyler, the series' lead character.

Michael Imperioli, formerly known as Christopher Moltisanti on The Sopranos, has joined the cast as Det. Ray Carling.

"I definitely was picky," Imperioli said of choosing his next TV show. " Something like The Sopranos that fulfills your creative drive for such a long period of time is a hard act to follow. If I'm going to commit to something that's gonna be on a long time, you want something juicy and you want something different."

And the American Life on Mars will be different from the BBC version.

"We're expanding the mythology," said executive producer Josh Appelbaum. The BBC version ran just 16 episodes. "We spoke to the creators of the BBC version and asked their permission to change the mythology. In their version, ultimately he was in a coma, and for us to do a long-running series where you know he's in this coma state, it felt unsatisfying. With their permission we are changing the mythology each week, deepening the mystery of what's going on with him. Has he traveled through time? Or lost his mind? Or he's in a coma? For us there are many more options there."

In episode two, Sam will sketch out on a blackboard 12 different scenarios of what's happened to him with a question mark on the 13th, which he hasn't thought of yet and scares him most.

Producers said the Annie character will be tweaked more than others from the original.

"It's one thing to be in the police department in Manchester, England, and another to be in the police department in New York in 1973. That requires a whole other character," Appelbaum said. "She has this strength and determination to endure the ferocity that surrounds her. She's got to be more connected to the women's liberation movement. In our version she's more outspoken than she was in the BBC version."

The prospect of another show with a large mythological component left TV critics wary.

"We know where this is all going," Appelbaum promised. "We worked on Alias, which had a real sense of where it was going but we also know the pitfalls of these extended mythological stories."

Wait, Alias knew where it was going? Seriously?

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen, the TV editor for the Post-Gazette, is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles.

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