We've given you the lowdown on the US remake of Life on Mars already, and the word is out: It's going to need a little work. But we think that the problem goes a little deeper than just casting and script - We think that it's going to take some major surgery to make this latest revamp work for an American audience. Maybe change the career of the time-lost hero... or even the identity of said hero. Broaden the scope of the show from cop drama to slice-of-dated-life human interest. It sounds extreme, I know, but picture the time-tossed cop recast as a brainy radio host, and the setting changed to an public radio station in 1970s Chicago. After all, who could resist This American Life on Mars?
There are more advantages to bringing in Showtime and PRI's Ira Glass to star in the John Simm role of the original British version than you may think at first. Not only would he make a welcome change from the overly familiar male leads of most TV dramas (either quirky and cocky or haunted and dark), but he could bring his familiar This American Life opening style to give the show its very own distinctive, Rod Sterling-esque beginning in lieu of a title sequence. Each episode would open with Glass walking onscreen from just off camera, and talking directly to the audience:
A young couple, walking along a busy Chicago street in the early evening. They're going on a date, going to see the first 'Rocky' movie, when they take a turn down a darkened side street, unaware of the dangers that lurk therein. From ABC Television Network, this is This American Life On Mars. Tonight's episode in five acts. Act one: Oh my God, he's got a knife. Act two: Ira gets involved, in which I visit the young couple in hospital after the stabbing. Act three: How does a radio host end up involved in so many murder cases anyway?, where the titular question gets asked by my character in a metatextual awareness of the weakness of the show's premise...
More importantly, going in such an unusual route in terms of casting would free up the show's creators in terms of direction: outgoing remake producer David Kelley made his name by taking dramatic concepts and slowly reducing them into uncomfortable, awkward sentimental comedies by introducing ever-more unlikely characters the longer his shows continue (See Boston Legal, The Practice, Chicago Hope and, well, almost everything he's ever done), and this format could give his successors the space to go as weird as any "He's in a coma/No, he's thirty years in the past" idea needs without smothering it with frowning and police procedural cliches (Bring in Barry Sonnenfeld to direct and play up the sentimentality as much as the humor, and it's Pushing Daisies in polyester). Also, by taking the show away from the cop genre, you not only differentiate the show from the British original (as the creators of the original show would like) while keeping the time-travel idea complete, but you also provide the high concept hook that every US detective show needs: "he's a radio host who fights crime" is gimmicky enough, even before you add in that whole time travel thing.
There is, however, one small problem with my plan. Ira Glass isn't interested.
I got in touch with him earlier this week, and pitched the whole idea eagerly. Surely, I figured, if I could go to ABC with Ira attached, they'd definitely see the potential and greenlight the whole thing there and then. Sadly, Ira didn't agree with me:
I have no interest in this project. I think I'm not skilled enough a performer to appear in any show requiring period costumes.
Luckily, I have a Plan B: Does anyone have Terry Gross' email address?
(Many thanks to Ira Glass for having a sense of humor about everything. Yes, that really was a quote from him above.)