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ABC Goes Retro for ‘Life on Mars’ Promos

August 26, 2008 11:27 AM

If you’re looking for some far-out retro promos, ABC is the place to be.

Life On Mars Retro Promo

The Alphabet network is reviving the look, the feel—even the sound—of its 1973 on-air brand in order to promote its upcoming time-travel cop show “Life on Mars.” First up: A 30-second promo that uses the “Mod Squad” theme and a vintage ABC meatball logo to get viewers in the mood for some retro crime-solving.

“The premise of the show is about a guy who wakes up and thinks he’s in 1973, and as Marla (Provencio) and I were brainstorming, we thought, ‘If we were to cut a promo in 1973, what would it look like?’,” said Mike Benson, who heads ABC marketing and promotion alongside Ms. Provencio.

Check out the promo after the cut.

Added Ms. Provencio: “We wanted viewers to have a connection to 1973 so they could relate to our show’s lead character.”

Life On Mars Retro Promo

In addition to using graphics and music similar to what ABC might have used back in 1973, ABC executives also wanted to bring back a voice of someone familiar to anyone who watched the network in the 1970s or ’80s: Ernie Anderson. Unfortunately, Mr. Anderson died in 1997.

“We tried to bring Ernie back through technology, but it proved too difficult,” Mr. Benson said.

The solution: Mr. Benson and Ms. Provencio got in touch with Mr. Anderson's old agent and widow, and they found an announcer, Dude Walker, who had an uncanny ability to duplicate Mr. Anderson's distinctive voice.

The current promo utilizes the Dr. John song “Right Place Wrong Time,” but Mr. Benson said the network is close to finalizing a deal for a more contemporary song that nonetheless has a 1970s feel.

The retro campaign will evolve in coming weeks to include more elements that evoke the Me decade.

“You will see more things that ABC might have done in 1973,” Mr. Benson said. “We’re trying to work a lot out of things that we haven’t cleared yet. We want people to be watching the network and get the feeling of 1973 and ask, ‘What’s going on here?’”

Still, Mr. Benson and Ms. Provencio said the “Life on Mars” promotional campaign won’t be entirely old-school. The executives feel it’s important that viewers are clear on the concept that the show is a new series about a present-day man who happens to think he’s ended up in the past. As a result, every time ABC airs a retro “Mars” spot, the next commercial pod will feature a more contemporary advertisement.

“The show is still about a cop solving crimes,” Ms. Provencio said.

—Josef Adalian

(12:40: Added information about Dude Walker)


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Comments (5)


So who did they get to do the Ernie Anderson soundalike? It's amazingly close.

Love the concept and the spot. ABC is right about driving the delicate balance between new and old in the advertising. It's critical...particularly given the name of the show, which could take you anywhere.

It’s a good idea, also borrowed from the British original, which used 1973-style graphics for Life on Mars’ second season. And the Ernie Anderson soundalike does a good job. Pity the graphics don’t look anything like what ABC used in 1973—using typefaces designed in the 1990s might have something to do with that.


They also did a video on the show and what was going on in 1973. Smart!


I have to say that I am more than a little curious about this show. ABC tends to do cop shows pretty well. I saw the preview at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEWpWM7Iyhc and it looks pretty interesting.

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