October Road may have been cancelled last spring, but the ABC series appears to be enjoying something of a second life…on Mars.
Despite a promising midseason start in 2007, the primetime soap didn’t make it to a third season, and its creators went on to become the showrunners on ABC’s Life on Mars. But the producers have been sprinkling the cop drama with sly call-backs to their dearly departed show.
In the Life on Mars pilot, moments before a car accident mysteriously catapults the main character, a modern-day police detective, back to 1973, a sign on a row of tenement houses is clearly visible through his window: "Welcome to Cataldo Houses."
October Road fans no doubt caught the reference: Ray "Big Cat" Cataldo was the name of October Road’s arch villain, who owns a successful construction business.
"We had to come up with a name for these tenements," executive producer Josh Appelbaum told B&C last month, "Why not use the name of our favorite evil contractor?"
"In our minds, we are living in one creative universe where Knights Bridge, Mass., does live in the same workd as Life On Mars," he added. "The Cataldo thing is a perfect example."
Appelbaum also mentioned plans to reincarnate several denizens of October’s fictional Knights Ridge, Mass., in Mars, albeit as the names of crime suspects or victims.
"Somehow in 1973 New York, the members of 2008 Knights Ridge are dying in bulk," he joked. "We’re doing a loving burial for October Road by killing off some of these people in Life on Mars."
Appelbaum said the call-backs have been therapeutic for him and his partners, who are "still mourning October Road." They even worked one into Samurai Girl, a summer show they produced for ABC Family in which a character is shown in a T-shirt that reads "I’m Sam’s Father," a reference to a key October plot point. (The team decided against putting the T-shirt in Mars, since the lead character’s name is Sam.)
Of course, Appelbaum said, there’s a limit to the grieving: "The generosity of ABC in letting us do [Life on Mars] wasn’t so we could purge all our demons from October Road."
Plus, he added, "Life On Mars does deserve its own reality. We would never do something that is too overt, that would jump out as a fan of Life On Mars. But it is always fun to put in stuff that fans of October Road could notice and say, ‘That’s cool.’"
So are these references akin to Alfred Hitchcock making cameos in his own movies?
"Unfortunately, nothing that we have done this far, or at least October Road doesn’t have the iconic status of Alfred Hitchcock," Appelbaum said. "So for us at the moment it is more like an Easter egg. Down the road, if October Road takes on a huge afterlife on the Interent and DVD, maybe it will seem more like Alfred Hitchcock."