Veronica Mars makes its triumphant return to the CW tonight, airing its first brand-new episode since November. In honor of Veronica’s return, Rob Thomas took time out of his busy day to sit down and talk with us here at BuddyTV about all things Veronica. Rob Thomas has written for Dawson’s Creek, created the short-lived (but well-received) show Cupid, and wrote the the teen film Drive Me Crazy. He created Veronica Mars in 2005 and the show has been a cult success ever since. We talked about the show’s origins, how it is working for a big network, and what the future holds for Veronica Mars. I saw that you started at ChannelOne, which I thought was pretty cool. What did you do there?
I had one of the more boring administrative bureaucratic jobs that one could have there. I’d been teaching high school journalism in Texas and they wanted someone to serve as liaison between the editorial end of the show and the 10,000 subscriber schools. And they hired me because I had taught at a ChannelOne school and my kids had won a number of their contests, so essentially I ran ChannelOne student produced week and any of the actual contact we had with our schools I dealt with though I wasn’t writing for the show or producing for the show or anything terribly interesting. So from there you began your career as an author. From that point, how did you break into the television industry? Very odd story…I sent a script that I had written to Jeff Sagansky who at that time was the President of CBS television and I sent him a letter and a copy of my first book and said I wanted to write for television. And the only reason I had any kind of hope that it would make it to his desk is because when I was working at ChannelOne, his niece for whom he’d written a letter of recommendation to me, became one of our student reporters. So I had sent him a copy of my manuscript saying “Hey, we sure loved your niece. I was wondering if you could forward my manuscript on to any shows that you have going on with teen characters and I hardly expected his assistant to look at it, let alone Jeff Sagansky. After sending it, I’d long since given up on hearing back…I mean, I thought it was a one in a hundred shot anyway and then almost a year later I got a call from him saying he read this screenplay of mine and thought I should be writing for television and wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing for “My So-Called Life.” Apparently, he had just done “Legends of the Fall” with Ed Zwick, who was one of the executive producer’s of “My So-Called Life”, but “My So-Called Life” did not get picked back up and, so, he said, “Well, if you ever right a screenplay let me see it.” The first thing I sent to him was a copy of “Rats Saw God,” my first novel. So the next thing I sent to him was probably another year later I had finished a screenplay for a romantic comedy called “Fortune Cookie.” And I sent him that and he actually called me a couple days later and said, “Come to New York and pitch me ideas for a romantic comedy for television.” And that eventually became “Cupid.” How did being an author, being a novel writer, help you with writing for TV? Um, it probably hurt me in a lot of ways. I mean it helped me in that it got me my break and I was happy when I was first trying to become a professional writer and I was living in LA, that I wasn’t one of the millions writing screenplays. That I was doing something in a different market, because every coffee shop you go into in LA, there are 18 people with laptops open doing that. Being a novelist teaches you a lot of things that are antithetical to being a television writer. Being a novelist, you don’t have to cooperate with anyone, it’s not a team effort. It’s just you and there’s so many elements I love about that. When you get into television, suddenly you have input from other writers and studio and network and actors and production. And you go through endless rewrites and rewrites that you don’t believe in. So, it certainly probably made me more confrontational in trying to write television and it certainly was not good for me as a staff writer or writing on other people’s shows. It didn’t help me with my experience on Dawson’s Creek because I really was not good at being re-written which is just part of the territory for any staff writer in town, something you should normally accept. Can you tell us how Veronica Mars got its start and how it started production, where the idea came from? Sure. It was originally, in the broadest sense, going to…it was an idea that I had pitched to Simon and Schuster for one of my next two novels. In fact, that contract existed for many, many years until I bought it back from them for the Rob Thomas Untitled Teen Detective novel. And originally it was going to be a male, a teenage male, who was the teen detective, and I sold those ideas to Simon and Schuster before I came out here to write television, and suddenly, I don’t know, I got seduced by the money of television and that idea was still floating around in my head. And, so looking around I saw that there weren’t a lot of straight character pieces getting made. It was shows like Freaks and Geeks. It seemed like everyone wanted a franchise show, the sort of show where a case walks in in the first act and gets solved by the last act – lawyer shows, doctor shows, private detective shows, cop shows. And because I knew I wanted to write a character teen piece, this teen detective idea seemed to be the perfect marriage of a teen character piece and a sell-able franchise show. So I sort of was tinkering around with that idea and somewhere along the line, and I can’t remember the specific day, it occurred to me that it would be a better project if the lead character were a female. But somewhere in that development I switched that around. And then I knew it was going to be a difficult sale in that the way I wanted to write it, I felt like it was going to be too edgy and dark for network television and that selling a teen show to FX, HBO, Showtime, would be nearly impossible. And, so rather then try to take it in and sell it on the pitch, I decided to actually spec the script and just write it and see if anyone would buy the finished product rather than go through the nightmare of actually developing it as an idea. How difficult was it to find the right Veronica? When you found Kristen Bell, was it kind of obvious, did everyone agree on her? Well, the tricky part was that she was the second person we saw. And when we saw her, we thought, “Wow, that’s it,” but then you see another hundred actresses come through and by the end, it all becomes a fog and you start wondering, “That girl we saw second, she was as good as we thought she was, right?” And you begin to doubt your memory because you’ve seen so many people read the same lines over and over and over again. And, fortunately, when we brought Kristen back in, having seen the other 98 other actresses, she was as good as we remembered. Now it’s pretty hard for me to imagine anyone else doing that role. Did she bring anything new or different, or was she pretty much the Veronica that you had envisioned? Honestly, the character in my head was a brunette. And probably physically bigger than Kristen is. So she was more petite and blonder than I had imagined. But, in terms of attitude and brains, she was pretty dead on. She came in and sort of had the character fully realized immediately. Part 1 / Part 2 This interview is the ninth in a series of BuddyTV interviews with the creators, writers, and producers behind many of TV’s hit shows. Thus far, we’ve featured an interview with Jon Robin Baitz (creator of Brothers and Sisters) interview with Josh Schwartz (creator of The OC)an interview with Alfred Gough (creator of Smallville), an interview with John Shiban (executive producer of Supernatural), an interview with Mark Schwahn (creator of One Tree Hill) an interview with Hank Steinberg (creator of The Nine), an interview with David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik (the creators of The Class), and an interview with David S. Rosenthal (new Head Writer/Executive Producer of Gilmore Girls).

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