Life on Mars burst on to the BBC last year and put fresh life into the familiar tropes of TV crime drama. The series was classic example of the 'old wine in new bottles' dictum favoured by some, offering a fresh take on the nice 'n' sleazy policing style seen in such 1970s hits as The Sweeney. A second series is now screening in the UK [with David E. Kelley creating the pilot for a US version], but it's been widely reported the British version ends at the end of this series.
Life on Mars revolves around a simple central question: 21st Century detective Sam Tyler wakes up in 1973. Is it in a coma and imagining everything that happens to him? Has he actually travelled back in time? Or is he insane? The answer to this question will be resolved at the end of this series, though it wouldn't surprise me if the writers came up with a fourth solution to their enigma.
On the website for UK TV industry weekly Broadcast, it was confirmed today a spin-off show set in the 1980s is being prepared. Named after another David Bowie hit single, Ashes To Ashes will revolve around Life on Mars' other central character, 70s detective Gene Hunt. He'll be solving cases and sneering at New Romantics, while feeling the collar of rude boys and skinheads - and I can't wait. He's become the star of Life on Mars in its second series, cracking wise and breaking heads, an evolving character that's evolving as the show progresses. Of course, this poses a brainteaser - if Gene Hunt is real within the fictional world of Life on Mars, what does this mean for Sam Tyler? I guess he'll find out in the final episode.
Meanwhile Life on Mars co-creators Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah have set up their own independent production, Monastic. It's first two projects are also announced on the Broadcast website today. Bonekickers for BBC1 is 'an adventurous and exciting drama about the world of archaeology' - I'm guessing more like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft than the crusty characters seen on Time Team - while Eternal Law is a legal drama for ITV1. Neither has been formally commissioned yet.
Another indie has a hand in at least one of these. Mammoth Screen was set up by Damien Timmer, former head of drama at ITV Productions. He expected to be joined soon by the departing drama controller at ITV Productions, Michele Buck. Both of them have been involved with previous shows by Pharoah and Graham. [Timmer and Buck are also executive producers on the first series of Inspector Morse spin-off Lewis, currently showing Sunday nights on ITV.] It'll be interesting to see what else Mammoth Screen has up its sleeve...