Rob Thomas, the creator of ''Veronica Mars,'' explains to EW's Jeff Jensen why he almost took another TV gig this season. Plus: plot details about season 3
Every week in Cult Corner, we usually profile a different underground cabal with a sinister agenda to transform the world into Satan-worshipping, Two and a Half Men-watching zombies. But sometimes, we don’t do that at all, especially when we can’t get good art. In those rare instances, we instead take a more figurative approach to the word ”cult” and profile a TV show, movie, novel, comic book, or record — or the artist who makes it — that happens to enjoy a loyal, obsessive, occasionally terrifying and therefore ”cult” fan base. This would be the section of EW.com devoted to such content, and hence, the delightfully alliterative ”Cult Corner.”
Last week, when we failed to secure an exclusive interview with the reclusive leader of an Argentinean cannibal monkey-god church — too bad; we hear he had some cool Lost theories — we ran an interview with Kristen Bell, star of Veronica Mars. Alas, cannibal monkey-god guy failed to pan out yet again this week, so I bring you an interview with Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars, which airs every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on The CW. My understanding is that the Oct. 24 episode will be the one where Logan from Veronica Mars (that would be Jason Dohring) meets Logan from Gilmore Girls (Matt Czuchry), and Veronica’s father (Enrico Calantoni) will get a love interest, to be played by Laura San Giacomo, formerly of Just Shoot Me. FUN FACT! This episode was originally supposed to air next week, but Thomas decided his original episode 4 worked better as a Halloween-themed story. Hopefully, that golden nugget of trivia — combined with Thomas’ revelations about what lies ahead for Veronica and the new season’s intriguing link to Steven Soderbergh’s acclaimed cult flick Bubble — will make up for our inability to bring you the hard-hitting coverage of real-life monkey-god cannibal cults that has made Entertainment Weekly the premiere pop culture media thing in the history of pop culture media things. But if we fall down on the job again in the upcoming weeks, look for Cult Corner to bring you coverage of Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, The Prestige, and of course, Lost.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we dive into talking about season 3, let’s talk about season 2. What did you like about it, and what do you wish you had done better?
ROB THOMAS: You know, you guys did a review of us last year that I actually thought was pretty on the mark. I think our plotting got too labyrinthine because we were doing two season-long mysteries: ”Who caused the bus crash?” and ”What happened the night Felix was murdered on the bridge?” There were just too many suspects, too many clues to service, and it loses an audience, particularly when we’re off the air for two months between November and January. This year, the plan is to play all of our big mysteries in uninterrupted arcs. We’re going to play our first mystery this year in nine episodes. There’ll be no preemptions, no repeats, so you’ll get all nine in a row before we’re off until January. Then we’ll do a seven-episode mystery, all in a row, uninterrupted. And then our final one will be a six-episode mystery. It’s interesting to be doing it this way.
Why do you think the second season became too complex?
It was a result of us saying, ”Let’s get Kristen Bell some time off because we’re going to kill her.” Honest to God. Because that second season-long mystery was largely a Logan-Weevil (Francis Capra) story, I could play a ton of scenes without Veronica. In year one, we almost worked that girl to death. Between being in every scene of the show and having mountains of press to do, she was just exhausted. Exhausted. And so we sort of made her a promise: ”We’re going to get you a day off of work every once in a while.”
Last spring, what was going on with you and the VM crew behind the scenes as your ratings began to dip? Were you concerned about getting renewed? What was the feedback from UPN (which was soon to be The CW)?
There was a lot of silence. I actually went out and interviewed for other jobs.
Friday Night Lights. I played high school football in Texas. I played college football in Texas. It films in my hometown of Austin, which is my favorite city in the world. It was on NBC. [Laughs] At the time, it was a bird in hand, and it became a choice: I could take that job and have a show I know I could do, or I can wait and see if they pick up Veronica Mars. It was risky because I could’ve ended up not having a job this TV season. And as far as working on a show that you didn’t create, that was the one job I would’ve wanted. Still, it was a drag. It was absolutely a drag going out and interviewing for jobs because what I really wanted was to be doing Veronica Mars.
How happy are you to be on Tuesday nights, paired with Gilmore Girls, instead of Wednesday nights, where you were up against Lost?
Well, that’s interesting you bring that up. Going up against Lost was a real learning experience. One of the things we talked about a lot in past seasons is, What is our demographic? We would argue about that a lot with the network, especially in regards to our guest stars on the show, who they would help pay for. And certainly when UPN put us on, they thought, ”Well, the Lost audience will be older than our audience.” But in my mind, it’s almost identical. Both shows attract people who like an ongoing mystery. Both shows attract people who really get involved in television. They’re not shows for people who watch very passively. And like Lost, we have the fans who, you know, watch an episode, and then go on the Internet and chat about it and blog about it. Of course, Lost has 20 times more of those fans than we do, but we have a very similar type of fan, I think.
Entering the season, you had an order for 13 episodes instead of a full season of 22 episodes. What kind of assurance have you gotten from The CW in terms of letting you at least finish your first mystery storyline, even if the ratings aren’t doing well?
None. Not that I even really expect one. I think this is a do-or-die year for us. I think this is a year when favorable reviews aren’t going to keep us on the air. As television producers, you usually have your excuses for low ratings. ”We’re on UPN, and the young audience isn’t finding us here.” Or last year, it was, ”We’re up against Lost, and we’re getting crushed.” This year, The CW has given us a very, very plum time slot, so I think we’re going to have to make it the old-fashioned way: by actually getting viewers to watch us. One of the reasons for the smaller arcs is that, with shows that do season-long arcs, like a 24, if you aren’t watching by episode 5, it’s too difficult to join the party. And so we’re trying to give more entry points for the audience.
Would you rather be still doing a season-long mystery?
If we had huge ratings, I’d probably still be doing a 22-episode mystery. But one of the elements that I love about doing three separate mysteries is that we have nine episodes in a row uninterrupted, no preemptions. I think that’ll really help the storytelling.
Burning question about season 3: How did you come up with the name ”Piz” (Chris Lowell) for Veronica’s geeky new pal (and potential new love interest)?
We named him after our pilot director, Mark Piznarski. Veronica needs to have some boys around her who aren’t brooding upper-class kids, you know? So Piz is very much in the Lloyd Dobler mold. A middle-class kid from a Portland suburb who has too many words coming out of his mouth most of the time. In the third episode, he gets a college radio show on the air. Now, we’re not doing like the old 90210 thing. where it’s a kid spinning the hits on the show. He’s going to have a program inspired largely by the comic strip Doonesbury — you know, by the Mark Slackmeyer character. It’ll be like a campus issues call-in show. It’ll be an interesting narrative device when we’re trying to capture the mood of the university.
One of the things I really enjoyed about season 2 was how the show explored class differences (racial, economic) in Neptune. Will season 3 continue to reveal the sociopolitical layers of the town? Will Hearst be a very politically charged campus?
It will. It’s going to be politically charged, but it’s going to have much less of the ”kids with money versus the kids without” thing. In fact, what I want to play are a lot of interesting political factions on campus. I want Hearst to feel different from high school. Our first big mystery is the ongoing campus serial-rapist storyline, which we introduced in episode 16 last year; clearly, there will be some parallels between this and the Duke lacrosse story. There will be people up in arms about what’s going on on campus. You know, it’s the sort of thing where I want to see the dean burned in effigy, demonstrations on campus, one of the hot topics on Piz’s radio show. So yeah, I really do want to invest it with a spirit of college life.
Logan and Veronica — what lies ahead for them?
They’re going strong. I want to see them together for a while. But this is one of those relationships that started in high school, and very few of those survive college. It’s a tough transition, and they are two very headstrong, independent characters. The road will not be easy for them. I want it to be a rollercoaster. Playing three more seasons of them happily united would bore the fans. It would certainly bore me. I have as much or more fun writing them when they’re at odds with each other as I do when they’re snuggly.
When Aaron Echolls (Harry Hamlin) — who murdered Veronica’s best friend Lilly in season 1 but was acquitted in season 2 — got his brains blown out in the finale, did that effectively put a bullet in that storyline?
It did. It was one of the things that we wanted to do in conjunction with the shorter mysteries of season 3. We didn’t want to make the show so self-referential that a new fan starting in season 3 might think they’re behind the eight ball. Episode 1 of season 2 kept so many balls in play from year 1 that I don’t think it was very inviting to new viewers. I don’t want to rely much on the Veronica Mars mythology.
You start the season with the Hearst serial-rapist storyline. What’s your second mystery about?
Here’s my tease. I’ll tell you what has inspired the second mystery, which was this little indie film that Steven Soderbergh did this past year, Bubble. I was mesmerized by it. Now, most mysteries are shaped so that there’s a crime a few pages into the story, and then the whole thing is about solving it. That’s certainly how we’ve done most of our mysteries. What I’ll tell you about how Bubble inspired us is this: As we’re doing the first mystery, we’re going to start laying in motives for the second mystery. I’m hoping that they’re so subtle, you don’t even see them coming. And then when the second mystery is around, everybody who’s been watching Veronica Mars should have a theory on whodunit.
Let’s press my luck. What do you have on tap for the third mystery?
We know what it’s going to be. It’ll be a mystery unlike any of the others we’ve done before. I’ve wanted to get a mystery in which our nice characters like Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino) could be fully involved. You know, Wallace has always been sort of absent from the big mystery because no one’s going to believe him as a suspect, you know? I can tie up Logan and Weevil into a mystery, because they have that moral ambiguity. But no one’s going to believe in Wallace as a suspect. No one will believe if, like, the big clue was in Wallace’s locker. And so, in choosing a third mystery, I wanted a mystery in which Wallace and Mac could be key players, where they have really interesting stuff to do. So that’s all I’ll say about that.