Flashback – Interview: Rob Thomas on the Genesis of “Veronica Mars”

Before it was on its way to $5 million on Kickstarter for a feature film extension, the brainy and brilliant teen detective show was fighting for its life in...
Ryan Hansen, Kyle Gallner, Tessa Thompson, Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni, Percy Daggs, Jason Dohring, and Francis Capra in Rob Thomas' Veronica Mars

In honor of the ongoing Kickstarter campaign for a “Veronica Mars” movie, we thought we’d run this interview with the show’s creator Rob Thomas that originally ran in his alma mater’s paper The Daily Texan on March 29, 2005. At the time, on the eve of its first season finale, it was quite uncertain whether there’d even be a second season of the teen detective show.

Even for a detective as good as “Veronica Mars,” the case of the missing ratings for her eponymous critically acclaimed UPN show is a tough one to crack.

Certainly, it’s not for a lack of trying on the part of the high school sleuth, or for that matter, the crack writing team that backs her up. Since the debut of “Veronica Mars” in the fall of 2004, show creator and executive producer Rob Thomas has heard every positive adjective imaginable for the show, yet the one that would please him most now would be “renewed.”

In a year in which the UT alum will also hear “I do” and the pitter patter of little feet for the first time, a second season renewal of “Veronica” would help balance out Thomas’ professional life with his personal one, though he can’t really complain about either. Yet although Thomas has undoubtedly been a credit to the television landscape, ever since breaking onto the scene in 1998 as the creator of the well-received, but short-lived Jeremy Piven-Paula Marshall romantic dramedy “Cupid,” in recent years, television hasn’t been quite as kind to him.

“The funny thing about ‘Cupid’ is it came so easily and quickly to me that I don’t know that I appreciated how difficult it is to get a show on the air,” said Thomas. “I don’t know if I sort of savored it as much as I should’ve. This time [with “Veronica Mars”], having had four years of misery and heartbreak, I’m really digging this.”

And while a small, but devoted fanbase has watched the show’s heroine go from roofied and raped valley girl to serving the thankless position of confident caretaker of the surreal, caste-like Neptune High (a school Thomas says he modeled loosely on Austin’s own Westlake High School), the show’s creator has undergone a metamorphosis of his own. However, Thomas is no stranger to change. After graduating from UT in 1987, Thomas killed time in central Texas as a journalism adviser for San Marcos’ Reagan High and subsequently, UT’s now-defunct news magazine Utmost. At the same time, he was a bassist for the band Hey Zeus and a burgeoning young adult author.

“Once I quit the band and quit teaching and I had all this time on my hands, and suddenly, I had no creative outlet,” said Thomas. “I had moved to L.A. at that point andin a town where everyone is writing a screenplay, I was one of the few people who was writing a novel.”

That novel, “Rats Saw God” established Thomas as a sharper, more literate throwback to the high school-set drama of John Hughes and also served as the calling card he needed to break into television.

“My biggest break came in a way that you could try it a million times and it would not work,” said Thomas. “I sent a copy of my first novel to [Jeff Sagansky] the then-president of CBS and said, I’d like to write for one of your teen shows, what do you think? “

From there, as gifted as Thomas is, he probably couldn’t have written a better script for his career. Sagansky thought Thomas’ book was great, but didn’t have any work for him until he left CBS to run Sony’s television division, which afforded Thomas the opportunity to write a couple episodes for the first season of “Dawson’s Creek” and more importantly, gave wings to Thomas’ offbeat “Cupid.” Sadly, “Cupid’s” quick wit was matched by a relatively quick demise, due in no small part to its Saturday night time slot. Although it might’ve seemed like a blessing when David E. Kelley subsequently tapped Thomas to executive produce his detective show “Snoops,” it was actually the first in a series of creative disappointments for Thomas that culminated with “The Sins,” a show Thomas was set to run with the late Ted Demme (“Blow”) until Demme passed away unexpectedly.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever been not able to write, “ recalled Thomas. “I would sit in front of my computer for three months and just kind of stare at it. It was one bad spell.”

Thomas wound up writing nearly a dozen pilot scripts, two of which went in front of the camera, but it wasn’t until he teamed with “The Matrix” producer Joel Silver, one of the unlikeliest of partners, on a noirish teen detective series that Thomas was able to get back on the air, on his own terms. As he says, slightly tongue in cheek, “’Veronica Mars’ really was is a way to combine my desire to do a high school show with my desire to get a show on the air.”

Armed with the crafty and cute as a button Kristen Bell as Veronica, in addition to a pitch perfect supporting cast, Thomas has pulled off a show with “Veronica Mars” that is an anomaly for any network, let alone UPN, with its unique blend of pop culture ephemera and originality. It’s no surprise that Thomas’s favorite description of the show is a film analogy from The Village Voice’s Joy Press, who called “Veronica Mars” “a fusion of ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Heathers’” and with its blonde heroine and flair for genre reinvention, a certain “Vampire Slayer” has also been ripe for comparison. However, “Veronica Mars” is the type of show that defies classification, something that could also be said for the show’s creator.

Like Veronica, it’s been a season of discoveries for Thomas and now, it’s up to audiences to find one of television’s most compelling shows.

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