Mars, Hour Have Strong Debuts

Last night was arguably the most important night of the new TV season with three of the most high-profile new Fall series premiering and all of them having one notable thing in common – being based on overseas product.

Indeed 10pm last night would’ve given any American who’s a fan of British television a flash back to 2006 as the pilots of American remakes of both time-travel cop show “Life on Mars” and science-fact procedural thriller “Eleventh Hour” premiered.

What was surprising is that both premieres used almost the exact same script, a lot of the same shots, similar set design and costumes as the 2006 pilots of their British counterparts. The actors of course were different but in almost every case were a notable downgrade (‘Hour’ for example traded in Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart in the UK version for Dark City’s Rufus Sewell in the US)

Taking a very different tack was “Kath and Kim” which premiered earlier in the evening. The re-interpretation of the hit Australian comedy series bared little relation to its original show and re-made the premise into something altogether quite different.

None of this stopped viewers tuning in with all the shows scoring strongly in the overnight ratings despite a real mixed bag of reviews ranging from the scathing to the glorious.

Most notably receiving criticism was “Kath and Kim”. Widely panned in critical reviews, the show nevertheless scored a 4.9/7 rating. Though fourth in its timeslot, the show did grow from the 4.6/7 rating lead-in of “My Name is Earl”. This is very shaky ground however and coming weeks, not to mention the word of mouth, will determine if it will stay on the schedule.

A (slightly) more mixed reaction was received by “Eleventh Hour”. Reviews proved iffy to the latest Bruckheimer-produced procedural which many fairly called a disappointing attempt at a more realistic “Fringe”. Oddly enough the original $4 million pilot has been pushed back two weeks and the second episode, which was basically a cut down remake of the original 90-minute UK pilot, was substituted as the premiere.

Nevertheless despite competition from “ER” and “Life on Mars” it came second in its timeslot with a 7.4/12 share – equaling the rating of an episode of “Survivor: Gabon” that aired two hours earlier. The downside is, and the one everyone’s going to be attacking it for, is that it lost almost half the audience of its lead-in – the season premiere of “CSI” which won the night with a 14.1/22 share.

Faring the best was “Life on Mars”. The series had to overcome to enormous obstacles – the original widely-panned Los Angeles-set pilot which leaked online earlier this year and was discarded when new producers came onboard, and the much-loved award-winning original British series which has been one of BBC America’s biggest hits.

The reviews soon came in on the recast, New York-based pilot and the word was cautious but good – general consensus seeming to be that it’s one of the better pilots of a lackluster Fall season. Many critics were fans of the original show and while all cited the original as being generally superior, they admit that this is one of the few UK-US TV translations that may work.

The most common complaints seem to be the lack of the politically incorrect edge of the original (understandable due to stricter FCC network standards), and that no-one, not even a great Harvey Keitel, can match Philip Glenister’s now iconic take on Gene Hunt. Many wondered how long the mystery element, which was wrapped up neatly in the 16-episode stint of the original, can be drawn out successfully across a full season let alone several.

Audiences seemed to dig it though with the pilot scoring a 8.2/14 rating – winning its timeslot and coming third for the night. Better yet it managed to maintain over 80% of its lead-in audience from “Grey’s Anatomy” which scored second for the night with a 10.1/15 rating.

How much it will retain next week will be interesting to watch. The show’s producers have admitted that while the pilot is a direct copy of the UK pilot – subsequent episodes take it in a different and potentially darker direction which we glimpsed last night (the final few minutes are notably different to the UK version). Lets hope they still keep the creepy test pattern girl who comes out of the TV.