Ten years ago today, the world met Veronica Mars. A fresh-faced newcomer named Kristen Bell made her TV debut on UPN as teenaged private eye, ostracized by her fellow students,who solves crimes on the side, including the murder of her best friend. Boiled down to it, it doesn’t sound like the makings of a hit TV show. And Veronica Mars was never a hit TV show. Yet 10 years after the show premiered and seven years after it was canceled, Veronica Mars returned to life on the big screen. A book tie-in hit the New York Times best-seller charts. Veronica Mars is now as relevant, if not more than ever before. Why are we still gaga over this snarky blonde detective?
"I always wish I could sort that out, and then figure out a way to replicate it. I think the character of Veronica is a special character," creator Rob Thomas told us. “And certainly we have some similar DNA of other shows with kick-ass female heroines, whether it’s Buffy or Alias. But in a lot of ways, I feel like Veronica, her superpower is being able to say what she feels. To speak the truth, which I think for teenage girls is an especially empowering notion..Though she has no special fighting power or super power, her ability to speak her mind, I think made her special to fans.”
The character is still mighty special to fans. The Kickstarter that got the movie made brought in close to $6 million. It beat its targeted goal within 24 hours. For Thomas, the ultimate goal for Veronica Mars was to be the go-to name when it came to pop culture references.
"When I think about Veronica Mars, and I thought about this very early on, the ultimate goal is to become the teenage girl private eye of this generation. The grand ambition is to replace Nancy Drew as the iconic young, female detective and that somehow Veronica is more representative of the age we live in,” he said. “Rather than Nancy Drew trying to find the secret jewels in the haunted cave, Veronica Mars is helping the girl whose boyfriend took dirty pictures of her.”
Veronica Mars didn’t have an exactly easy time of it when it was on the air. The show premiered on UPN on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2004 at 9 p.m. following episodes of sitcoms All of Us and Eve. Thomas said he never had any infamous battles with the network or studio, in fact he credited them both as being very supportive, but there were two notes very early on that would shape the series.
"The hardest part was getting it on the air and kind of the first five or six out of the gate, which are always very tough because everyone has a somewhat different idea of what the show should look like. Once it gets on and it starts airing and gets some response, there are fewer hands in—what’s the expression? Pie?—the pie," he said. "They came to me, not at script stage, but actually while we were editing the pilot and asked if we could lose Veronica’s rape. That would’ve ripped out the guts of the show to me. That was the motivation for why she became what she became and that would’ve killed me. I wouldn’t have understood the show, really, at that point. I thought the scenes we had in the show coming for that were some of the most powerful and beautiful scenes in the show. They were just very nervous about that."
Thomas won the battle and the rape storyline stsayed, which shaped a large part of season one and factored in to season two’s and part of season three’s stories. But Thomas’ original pilot script also had Veronica and her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni) at odds by the end of the episode. “In the final scene of the pilot, Veronica breaks into Keith’s safe and one of the things she found in there, initially, was a whole stack of letters that her mom had been writing to her and Keith had been holding them, keeping them from Veronica.”
They’d eventually make up, but Thomas wanted them on the outs. The network had another vision in mind. “The network came to me at the end and said, ‘Listen: Her best friend’s been murdered, she’s been raped. Her mom left her, her boyfriend broke up with her, please let her have her dad. Please keep that as a loving, sweet relationship. You can’t take her any further down.’ And it was a great note…I think they were right about that note and I’m glad that I did take that note because people might not have stuck around if there wasn’t a bit of light in the show.”
The show followed Veronica through her junior and senior years of high school before jumping into college when the series hopped over to The CW after UPN and The WB merged. Thomas said looking back, there are episodes he’s not proud of, but overall the one thing he questions is the jump from high school to college.
"I wonder if we should’ve gone for at least one more year of Veronica in high school. If some of the magic left the show, that part of the appeal was she is a high school aged private eye, but at that point I know why these decisions were made. At that point we were floundering. Reputation or critical response to the show probably kept us on for that second season, but I knew it was put up or shut up time. So we tried some new things in season three: shorter arc mysteries and moving her to college, and I’m proud of those episodes and that season, but I wonder if part of the joy was lost in taking her out of high school? We needed to try things; we were desperate to see if there was any tinkering that could be done that might bring in more viewers."
The tinkering didn’t work and Veronica Mars was canceled in 2007. But where there was cancellation, there was new hope. As Veronica Mars production came to a close in 2007, Thomas said the network had all but said this was it. Enter the FBI Hail Mary. The network had been looking for a young FBI show, so Thomas rallied and produced a Veronica Mars, FBI presentation. The mini episode featured a gun-toting newly minted FBI agent Veronica Mars.
"I was pretty saddened," Thomas said regarding the network’s passing of the pitch. "To understand that, you have to understand the hope and journey that I was on because by the time we did the FBI spinoff, we knew we were dead…When we screened it for The CW brass, we thought we were back on the air. They loved it. They flipped out for it and I had seen them when they kind of intimated that we were going away, and it was like a whole 180. I became completely hopeful. I thought we had done it; we had pulled the rabbit out of the hat."
But it wasn’t a done deal. Far from it. Thomas said somewhere between that pitch meeting and a new season, the pitch died. “So I actually had to go through the death of Veronica Mars twice in a space of a couple months, so yeah, it was a drag. I would have loved to have kept it on the air. You feel like you luck into someone like Kristen Bell. She is such a star. Finding her before the rest of America felt very fortunate. We liked working together. It takes so much to get a show on the air and to get a positive response from it,” he said. “Professionally those three years of having the show on the air were about as happy as I’ve been. It’s a great thing to go to work and be proud of the thing you’re doing and have people care about what you’re doing, then to be treated very well by the studio and network, it was sort of a dream situation.”
Following the cancellation of Veronica Mars in 2007, speculation about the show’s future ran rampant for years before the movie finally got Kickstarted and premiered in March. But is that the last we’ve seen of Veronica Mars?
"In a way it feels too soon [to talk about a sequel] because I’m in the middle of a TV show and I don’t know when I’ll be available again or when Kristen and I will have similar time off. But the movie did well. Warner Bros. is really happy with it, with how we did. So I think it’s an option. Veronica Mars in some other iteration…I get so nervous saying that out loud because after the movie came out, it’s sort of a sigh of relief,” he said. “I had been hoping for so long to get it and hope the fans were happy, contented and honestly, if we never got to see Veronica on screen again, I liked the final moment of the movie. I liked where it put Veronica. If you never see her again, leaving her sitting at her dad’s desk having given up sort of the better life for that, I would be totally happy with that image. That said, if somebody, if Warner Bros. says let’s make another one and Kristen is game, then I’m game too.”
Ten years later, Thomas said he never expected Veronica Mars to have such a treasured place in pop culture history, but he’s sure delighted it’s stuck around. In fact, if Veronica Mars is what he’s forever known for in Hollywood, that’s totally fine.
"I’m proud of the show. I’m prepared for that if that happens," he said. "Between Veronica Mars and Party Down, those are two shows I’m really proud of. I feel pretty fortunate to have those two. I would love to round that out with one show in which I open up the Nielsen ratings and I’m happily surprised by. I’d like one office where I can nail things to the wall and unpack. That would be nice at some point in my career. But barring that, yeah, there are worse things I could have on my tombstone than ‘Creator of Veronica Mars.’… The real test will be if there’s a 20-year retrospective. Then I’ll know we’ve really made it.”
As if you weren’t already feeling nostalgic enough, here’s Kristin Dos Santos’ first-ever visit to the set of Veronica Mars, 10 years ago. And the very first interview Kristen Bell ever did about the show, at the May 2004 upfronts.
Beloved teen detective drama Veronica Mars is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its premiere on Sept. 22.
It’s an incredible journey. For a decade, the marshmallows have proven themselves as the most loyal and dedicated fans. We have an amazing year: We got our movie, books, and a web series!
Tweet #VeronicaMars10YrsAnniversary #VeronicaMarsAnniversary
Veronica Mars has heat right now, you know? That’s what Ryan Hansen tells Kristen Bell in the new digital series Play It Again, Dick — and he has a point. It’s hard to imagine that little over a year ago, the idea of more Veronica Mars was nothing more than a pipe dream for creator Rob Thomas. For six years after the show’s cancellation, Thomas struggled to get the long-awaited movie made and only got the go-ahead from Warner Bros. if he could raise his own funds. But after the film proved profitable — if only by a small margin — not only is Thomas working on a second new Veronica Mars novel, but now executives are coming to him with projects, including The CW Seed seriesPlay It Again, Dick.
After seven years of not having much Veronica Mars to think about, it’s back in the front of my mind a lot these days. It’s great,” Thomas tells TVGuide.com. “If it had just been a show we were proud of but didn’t enjoy each other, I don’t think there’d be any more of them. But we’re in the fortuitous thing of liking each other and really being proud of the Veronica Mars franchise.”
While the original series, which celebrates its 10th anniversary Monday, was a gritty noir, Thomas and the actors saw Play It Again, Dick as an opportunity to cut loose and have fun with the world of Veronica. “I’ve never been on a more fun set,” the showrunner recalls. “On a normal set, you’re trying to make sure that everything is perfect because you want continuity. And in this show, we would actually shoot a take where Logan is wearing his navy hat and then we would intentionally take the hat off and give him chewing gum for the next take so we would build in those continuity errors.”
Thomas, however, admits that the process of making the Veronica Marsmovie wasn’t nearly as liberating as the digital series. Since the film was funded by fans through Kickstarter, Thomas struggled balancing fan desires with his own creative direction. “I was incredibly conscious of that when we were making the movie. I thought about it every day,” Thomas says.
In the end, Thomas decided to put fans first, setting the film at Veronica’s 10-year high school reunion to give credible reason for reuniting favorite characters in Neptune. But if he’s lucky to get a second shot at a Veronicafeature film, Thomas says he’s ready to do it 100 percent his way. “On the next one, I would simply say to myself write a great noir mystery, plug Veronica in and it and whatever else you see and whatever else happens is there because it’s germane to the plot,” he says. “And I wouldn’t be stretching to deliver certain iconic Veronica Mars moments.”
For fans of Veronica Mars, it’s incredible that Thomas’ hopes of making another installment of Veronica Mars is not so much a dream anymore as it is an inevitability. As the first film proved, there’s still a strong desire for moreVeronica even 10 years later. And for a barely watched show on a barely watched network, that’s a surprising show of resilience.
When Veronica Mars premiered Sept. 22, 2004, on the UPN, the premise of a teen detective solving murders in a sunny California town was a tough sell for viewers, but Thomas says it was also his only way of getting a network’s attention. “The noir thing was actually a strategy, in a way. I wanted to do a teen show and I felt like I needed a hook,” Thomas explains. “I’d love to writeFreaks and Geeks. I’d love to write small stories and these beautiful little chapters in these characters lives, but I didn’t think I could get that show on a network and so my plan was, ‘I’ll sell them a franchise show, a case-of-the-week show with a teenage detective. I’ll sell them with that hook and sneak in that teen show.’”
But even before he pitched it to networks, the concept of Veronica Mars had been brewing for a while. The genesis of it all started when Thomas, who got his start writing young adult novels, conceived of a book starring a male detective, Keith Mars. But once he decided to pursue it as a television series, Thomas wanted to use the project as a way to comment on “this prematurely jaded generation” and strength in the wake of innocence lost. “It suddenly became a much more powerful idea to me when I started to think of my protagonist as a girl,” Thomas explains.
He was then faced with the challenge of finding a way to make this dogged teenage girl private eye believable. “I didn’t want it to be because she’s puckish or curious. I wanted there to be some driving thing. Some motivation that was raw and that would make you believe that someone would be that sort of righteous and driven to find the answers for both herself when she’s wrong and for others,” Thomas says. He made Veronica a survivor of sexual assault who, in addition to investigating her best friend’s murder, is also out to find her own rapist.
The network fought hard against including Veronica’s sexual assault in the pilot and Thomas admits the footage of Veronica’s morning after was a bit “too powerful for the network,” but the showrunner didn’t back down. “I’m happy to say that we won that battle,” Thomas says, adding that if UPN had forced him to eliminate Veronica’s rape, it “would have killed me.”
Veronica’s rape and her boundless quest to find justice for herself and the disenfranchised were key in Veronica becoming a feminist icon on par with Buffy Summers. But unlike Buffy, Veronica wasn’t reliant on any powers, weapons training or a Scooby Gang. All Veronica had was herself. And she was OK with that. “I think teen girls are particularly self-conscious and worry about what they say and how it will be taken and what people will think about them. And I think the great thing about Veronica is because she’s been laid so low that she just doesn’t care anymore what people think. And that, as much as anything, feels to me like her superpower,” Thomas says.
But as her soon-to-be best friend Wallace points out in the pilot, underneath Veronica’s harsh exterior, she’s nothing more than a big ol’ marshmallow. And as the series progressed, Veronica’s love life began to become as important — if not more — than whatever crime she was solving, dividing the fandom into strict teams: Duncan vs. Logan, Logan vs. Leo, Logan vs. Piz, etc.
Of course, crafting melodramatic love triangles wasn’t exactly Thomas’ intention when he created the series.When Veronica premiered, Veronica was intended to have only one main love interest: troubled rich boy (and possibly her half-brother) Duncan Kane (Teddy Dunn). But as the chemistry between Veronica and the “obligatory psychotic jackass” Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) became indisputable, Thomas began to consider other options.
"In casting the show, you’re looking for two people who spark together," Thomas says. "But in the case of Veronica and Logan, they never read together. We never saw them being together. He was going to be the bad guy. He was organizing bum fights, tormenting Veronica. So it was a surprise to us."
After reading the forums on the now-defunct Television Without Pity, Thomas realized that he wasn’t the only one noticing the pull between those characters and decided to officially bring Logan and Veronica together in Episode 18. “It was such an interesting thing to be able to go in after your show aired and see the reaction to it and see what fans were responding to and see how it either matched or didn’t match what you were doing. … So we had a good idea of what they were responding too and Logan and Veronica was certainly it,” Thomas says.
But despite bringing LoVe together in the first season, Thomas didn’t give fans everything they wanted. He continued, right up through the film, to think up new ways to tear the couple apart: making Logan a suspect in Lilly’s murder, involving a war with a biker gang, an ill-advised one-night stand with Madison Sinclair and then, of course, Piz. But the pair seemingly got together for good by the end of the Veronica Mars movie. Could this be Veronica’s happily ever after?
"There’s nothing more boring than a couple just being happy together," Thomas says, dashing everyone’s dreams. "I don’t think we want to spend the next three books with them cuddling up and being romantic together. Though there is some of that. I did make it a point to get to see Veronica and Logan happy together, but there need to be troubles in that for it to remain interesting I think."
If Thomas gets his way, there will be plenty of time for more breakup and make-up shenanigans between Logan and Veronica. “I know what I want,” Thomas declares. “I really want Veronica to replace Nancy Drew. I want her to be the young female detective that people for the next couple generations think of. … And even if there isn’t another film version, the opportunity for more Veronica Mars detective novels is really OK to me.”
But whenever Thomas does decide it’s time for Veronica to pack up her camera, don’t expect her to finally get that fabled pony. “I am really drawn to bittersweet endings. And it is noir,” Thomas says. “It’s hard for me to imagine that we get the big happy ending at the end of the Veronica Mars journey. But it could happen. I suppose it sort of depends on what turns and ends and how long Kristen will do this with me. And what she’s been through when that moment comes, you know?”
In the meantime, Thomas will keep producing more Veronica Mars novels, and possibly even another film if the stars align, all the while waiting for his one big hit. “It would be nice to have one that has more mass appeal. Just one,” he says. “And then I’ll do all pulp shows after that. But one hit show would be nice.”
iZombie is based on a comic, but it seems like such a crazy idea. What was the appeal of that show for you, and what made you want to play that character?
McIVER: Mainly, I was super attracted to the project because the writers and producers are people that I really look up to. I think Veronica Mars and Party Down are both fantastic shows. And I was excited to do something that has a lot of comedy in it. I haven’t really had a chance to do a ton of it before, and the idea of working on a project for six months, where you get to go to work and laugh every day, was definitely appealing. I’ve done a lot of drama. I’ve always wanted to be an actor that explores different genres and different characters, and this really couldn’t be much further from my past collection of work. For me, it was a no-brainer. I’m having a lot of fun on it. It is a completely surreal show, in some ways, but at the same time, she is a girl who’s 25 or 26, and she’s going through big existential questions that I feel like me and my friends, in our own lives, are going through. It just so happens that she’s a zombie.
One of the trappings of a show like this, where the main character has a secret, is that you always have to hide everything. So, is it nice that Liv’s boss knows her secret and can help her out, and that she has someone to be open with?
McIVER: Absolutely! It’s nice to have that confidante. Those scenes definitely serve as the release, where she’s able to be completely herself and completely unfiltered with somebody. But at the same time, as an actor, I was taught, from an early age, that secrets are the most powerful thing that you can have on screen, and that what you withhold is as important as what you share. With a lot of the key relationships in Liv’s life, she’s withholding this massive secret, which makes for an interesting dynamic and it makes for a lot of great conflict, especially with her love life and her family. To have to hide that from them, it creates opportunity for a lot of conflict, but also a lot of comedy. We’re having a lot of fun exploring that, so far. It’s gone in both directions already, and it should be very interesting to watch that unfold.
Knowing how successful Rob Thomas is at writing great female character with memorable dialogue, how does your character fall into line with someone like Veronica Mars?
McIVER: There are definitely strong similarities, but also some big differences, as well. She’s a strong female. Both Rob and Diane Ruggiero created this character that is a great combination of being sarcastic and wry, at times, but she’s also the lead protagonist and you want to be able to be on her side. In the first episode, you’ll see that things aren’t easy and she’s pretty down on her luck, initially, about her circumstances, but she’s able to find this new purpose when she gets these visions and is able to create justice for people who have been murdered.
And you also ended up appearing in the Veronica Mars web series, Play It Again, Dick. What was that like?
McIVER: It’s amazing! I love how much cross-over they have between their different projects. It’s a real testament to the environment they create to work in and the quality of the material that everybody wants to keep coming back. They have people that enjoy each other’s company, and enjoy the project and the work. So, I was able to do a very brief role in the Ryan Hansen web series. And Ryan Hansen happens to be a great personal friend of mine, so we had a really, really fun time working on that. It’s been a good year, so far.
How meta do you like your entertainment? That’s a good question to ask yourself going into Play It Again, Dick, the new web series from the Veronica Mars team airing on CW Seed. If you are fine with a show being as self-referential as they come, then Play It Again, Dick is for you. If you grow weary of fan service, you should perhaps refrain.
Play It Again, Dick really works best if you’re not obsessed just with Veronica Mars, but obsessed with the people who are in Veronica Mars. The series follows actor Ryan Hansen, playing a version of himself, attempting to get a spin-off about his Veronica Mars character, Dick Casablancas, off the ground. The first episode finds Hansen pitching the show to Kristen Bell, Veronica herself, and to CW executives, who give him the go ahead for a micro-budget pilot.
Later we will see Hansen bro-ing out with Jason Dohring, who latches onto the idea of a Dick-Logan buddy show, and who plays an even more deluded version of himself than Hansen does. Hansen plays himself as sweetly doofy; Dohring plays himself as, well, a dick. (There are a bunch of “Dick” jokes in the show.) Dohring spends most of his time on screen shirtless, doing pull ups, and ordering around the crew working on the “making of doc.” When Hansen goes to Chris Lowell—who played Veronica’s other love interest, Piz—to get him on board, he gets a less enthusiastic answer. Their acrimonious video chat also reveals that Lowell doesn’t necessarily feel the need to wear pants when video chatting. Yes, there’s a butt shot. (Not complaining…)
The entire enterprise feels like the Veronica Mars gang letting us in on their inside jokes, and surely there’s an audience for that. Fans, after all, are a reason the series has a life in any form, contributing to the Kickstarter campaign that got the movie made. Hansen even called the effort “fan porn” in an interview with BuzzFeed. But whereas the Veronica Mars movie at least tried to expand the fan base, by creating a story that could stand alone even if knowing the series certainly helped, Play It Again, Dick is really for the people who care about Bell and Hansen and Dohring as much as they care about Veronica and Dick and Logan. One recurring joke in the first episode revolves around a real-life video of Hansen dancing; there’s a reference to Bell’s recent stint in Hair at the Hollywood Bowl. Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, who is also behind Play It Again, Dick, appears at the beginning of the second episode doing a junket for his new show iZombie. For a show that’s attempting to skewer Hollywood egos, there’s something just a tad egomaniacal about the whole enterprise. Whereas Thomas has said that the show is “tonally” like his other cult favorite Party Down, it lacks the bite of that show, which was realistic in its depiction of the inherent disappointment involved in pursuing a career in Hollywood. In Play It Again, Dick‘s world an actor can waltz into a meeting with CW execs and leave with a go-ahead.
That’s not to say the show won’t grow. In future episodes some actors play themselves playing Hansen’s conception of their Veronica Mars characters, a convoluted concept, but one that has the potential to be engaging. After all, this part of the Veronica Mars saga just makes us actually want to return to Neptune.
The Veronica Mars spinoff, Play It Again, Dick, almost didn’t happen. The CW Seed web series reunites the VMars cast and follows Ryan Hansen as he tries to get a spinoff of Veronica Mars following his character Dick Casablancas off the ground at the CW.
The eight-episode series, sort of a meta comedy, features all your favorites playing fictionalized versions of themselves and of their Veronica Mars characters. We’ll see Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Chris Lowell, Enrico Colantoni, Percy Daggs III, Daran Norris, Francis Capra, Kyle Gallner, Christopher B. Duncan, Ryan Devlin (as Duncan Kane), Ken Marino, Amanda Noret and Lisa Thornhill. Rob Thomas even drafted his iZombie stars Robert Buckley and Rose McIver for Play It Again, Dick. Sounds fun, but it almost didn’t come together for Thomas.
"I even joke that I was tricked into it," Thomas told us. When he agreed to do it, he was wrapping up the final touches on the Veronica Mars movie, writing two pilots and the studio wanted it to promote the film’s March release.
"I said, ‘I don’t have time, I don’t have the energy. I can’t do it now.’ But they hired an editor I’ve worked with for a long time and they said, ‘He can direct it,’ and I love him. I think he’s talented and wanted him to get that chance, and [they hired a] young writer I was working with and they said, ‘He’ll write the scripts for you,’" Thomas explained. "I honestly thought we would do it in a day and it would be like Ryan Hansen’s sitting on a couch playing Xbox and you just rotate the other five or six cast members and it would just be them chatting, like three or four minutes of funny chatting on a couch. When I said yes, that’s what I imagined. When I showed up at the first production meeting and they had given us so much more money and they had such higher expectations."
Thomas said when he saw the scope of the project and the desire to attach his name to it, he said, “OK, thank you for the extra money and all, but now I really have to have my hands in it. This can’t happen away from me.”
But then he tried to back out of it again.
“Mark Pedowitz, the president of the CW, called me the night before TCAs [in January] and said, ‘Rob, I thought you wanted to do this. We’re all very excited.’ I told him, I said, ‘I’m trying to finish your pilot!’ [Laughs.] ‘I’m in the middle of doing iZombie, I can only do so much.’ He said, ‘TCAs are tomorrow, can I just announce it and you do it whenever you have time?’ At that point I said, ‘OK.’ I don’t know if I was being naïve or what, but he announced it the next day and it was all over and suddenly the pressure was very much on to deliver on it,” he said. “I did eventually sort of dive in and work with this young director and young writer and it was actually—while it occupied more of my limited vacation days than I might have liked, I’m really happy we did it because I think it’s fun and I think fans will really enjoy it. I mean, I have read many comments from people saying, ‘I wish it wasn’t meta comedy, I wish it was just really more Veronica Mars.’ It’s not that, so I hope no one is expecting like real Veronica Mars cannon in there. It will be fun and it will be the actors that they like and it’s a fun romp.”
Yep, Veronica Mars is getting a spinoff featuring a character who was there for one reason: to say “Logan.”
Hansen’s Dick first appeared in the second episode of Veronica Mars. “Where he got his name, was his character name in the show was 09er Dick. [Laughs.] And I hired him because I thought his hair looked like good, Southern California surfer hair,” Thomas said. “He got that one word, he was solid with it. A couple of episodes later we need an 09er to deliver two words and this time it was a punch line. One of the teachers says to Veronica, ‘Veronica, what’s your position on this?’ And Dick sort of chuckles and says, ‘All fours.’ And he killed with it. After that every writer on staff wanted to put 09er Dick in his episode because you knew you were going to get a laugh. He started appearing in all the episodes and by season two he was a series regular.”
The first four episodes of the series feature Hansen trying to get the gang back together to do his new spinoff. As he approaches each actor, they all want something different from him, Thomas said.
"Each of the other characters sort of take a pound of flesh from Ryan. They all want something special from him and he’s going to have to cater to them. For example, Jason Dohring believes that it’s a two-hander, he believes it’s a buddy cop show rather than all about Dick. Francis wants to not be portrayed as a criminal anymore," he said.
It’s up to Hansen to convince them to come on board for no money. The other four will be the cut footage from the fictional pilot. Thomas and Bob Dearden wrote the series, Danielle Stokdyk produced and Viet Nguyen directed.
"It is without a doubt a comedy. It’s not tonally like Veronica Mars,” Thomas explained. “With Party Down—I keep saying it’s more Party Down than Veronica Mars, which is true in it’s a comedy, though Party Down is a very grounded comedy. It’s unhappy, it’s real world. This is a bit a silly, the Dick one is. There’s a touch of Monty Python in it. It is self-referential.”
Still, despite being “sort of dragged into” the project, Thomas said when he got the first cuts he was “so excited to show my wife.” “Like, ‘I can’t believe how well this turned out. This is really fun,’” he said.
- Chris Harnick
The movies, TV shows, books, and musicians that helped to shape the Veronica Mars creator’s work.
I spent five years teaching high school journalism, as kids were putting out the school paper and the yearbook. So I got five years of hearing teenagers talk, particularly on the yearbook staff where it’s always 95 percent female. I got the crash course in what teenage girls are interested in. While I don’t try to sort of mimic the dialogue, I do feel like I am somehow in tune — I know what concerns them. And I try to put it on the page in a way that I suppose feels interesting to hear and would seem interesting to an adult audience. It’s why I like those Pixar movies. They’re very conscious of the kids, but there’s always something thematically working for adults at the same time. So it just helped to define a philosophy for me on how I was going to approach teen characters, and those movies and that book are pretty good examples of things that I think have done that well.
Youth in Revolt
Again, this is an example of something that knocked me out. I was writing young adult novels, and this sort of made me want to throw away everything I’d done, because I loved it so much. Reading Youth in Revolt might have ruined my career, because suddenly I wanted to abandon all the emotional truth of something and just go out far on a literary limb with completely implausible things that relied completely on voice and humor. And what saved me is realizing that I couldn’t do that very well. After toying with that for a while, I returned to what I do well, or better.
Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks was my favorite show when it was on, by a wide measure. And that’s the show I wanted to do. I noodled with the idea of doing a show about teenagers that told small stories, small moments of personal growth. Freaks and Geeks came on and did that, and then got canceled in a year. So the lesson I learned was that if you’re going to try to get a teen show on television, give them something high-concept, something that they can market. So I tried approaching my teen character piece through a high-concept idea. Like, I can get a teen show on the air if I sell it as a teenage private eye, and then I can still somehow get some of these small story show ideas in there.
I loved that show, but I feel like it taught me one of the most important lessons, when they didn’t solve anything. When you realized they were jerking you around, that’s when it fell off. That’s a very valuable lesson — solve the case! Give the audience the satisfaction. Let them know you are going somewhere and that their investment in the show will be rewarded.
Thematically, there is a pretty direct correlation between The Cowboys and Veronica Mars — kids robbed of their innocence too soon, you know? In that movie, all these young boys, from 10 to 19, go on a cattle drive led by John Wayne, and at the midpoint of the movie, Bruce Dern shoots and kills John Wayne, and these kids become in charge. That’s where I started with Veronica the character. Originally she was supposed to be my next young adult novel for Simon & Schuster, the main character was a teenage boy named Keith Mars. What interested me was the sort of idea of loss of innocence, the idea that kids today, as opposed to kids of my generation, are exposed to so much more information. When I was teaching high school, I felt like they were prematurely jaded, they know too much — whether that’s a copy of a Playboy, which in my day was hidden out in the woods and was a small miracle. Now kids have access to hardcore pornography if they get their hands on a computer. And so the idea of making this teenage character at the heart of my detective show was an example of this loss of innocence, it became more interesting to me, more powerful to me, when I changed that male character to a female one. Somehow that was more poignant to do a series about a girl who had her childhood ripped away from her too young.
Whenever we’re thinking of noir plots, it’s like trying to put Heathers on a noir plot. And the great plotting of Double Indemnity — the reveals, the twists — is what we’re trying to do in the writers’ room. In noir movies, it’s usually, the core of it is usually murder. And on Veronica Mars, in the weekly episodes, we tried to limit that to what are the high stakes issues for a teenager? So it’s like, “My boyfriend took dirty pictures of me. Veronica, can you get them back?” Like that feels like the high school version of Chinatown.
Heathers was the first screenplay I ever bought. I’ve had people tell me over the years that, for Veronica Mars, we write like teenagers talk, and I think, That’s crazy! No, we don’t. We write this stylized sort of dialogue. Friday Night Lights writes like teenagers talk, you know? It’s so naturalistic, and they do it beautifully. But we let teenagers say what they would have said if they got to think about it for 45 minutes. Like, we always give them the quip, the sharp line.
In Cold Blood
Before Veronica Mars, I was not, and probably am still not, much of a crime reader. My mom left out a copy of Helter Skelter when I was 10 and I secretly read it, and then I spent all my teenage years afraid of hippies. I kept away from crime books for like ten years. On Veronica Mars, I hired all these writers who could do snarky, funny, vibrant Heathers-like dialogue, and then we all kind of looked at each other when we were breaking detective cases in season one and realizing that none of us knew how to do it. We had all these snarky, funny writers who would take two weeks to break crime stories, and I had so little crime reading in my background, In Cold Blood was one of the only things that I could call back on, so I felt like I was referencing back to it all the time.
Encyclopedia Brown books
I still don’t think I’ve ever read a Nancy Drew book; I probably read three or four Hardy Boys books, when I was 10, 11, 12, and I didn’t love them at the time. Even then, they felt dated to me, like the word chum — “my chum and I.” However, the Encyclopedia Brown books, I read all of them. Those were like crack to me, as a 10-year-old. I don’t remember a lot of the stories, but I can still even remember the occasional reveal — there was ice under his feet, and the ice melted! I remember those, but not the actual stories. It’s like knowing the punch line to the joke, but not knowing the joke.
The Big Lebowski
Hardcore Veronica Mars fans might know that we were trying to sneak all of The Big Lebowski into Veronica Mars. Our favorites lines all eventually made their way in. I remember in the graduation, the principal says, à la Maude Lebowski, “and proud we are of all of them.” We were just going line by line. Like, blank “is the preferred nomenclature.”
I think the Coens may actually sue us. There’s an action sequence in the climax of the Veronica Mars movie that takes a couple Coen brothers staples. So we may not have stolen from The Big Lebowski, but we did steal from the Coen brothers in this movie, without a doubt. We were looking at it like, what did those guys do when they didn’t have any money? What was the action sequence they could afford to shoot? Blood Simple you’re going to see in the movie in a big way.
Chrissie Hynde was my definition of badass chick. And there’s a lot of that in Veronica. If Veronica has a defining characteristic, it’s “I don’t give a fuck what you think.” And I think every bit of Chrissie Hynde screams that.
Because it resembles Party Down, Twin Peaks, Buffy, True Detective, and more.
Taken on synopsis alone, Veronica Mars — the cultish mid-aughts teen detective series starring Kristen Bell — can sound a little, well … girly. Any show about a plucky teenage heroine is a tough sell to male viewers, especially one entirely devoid of science fiction. Yet anybody still thinking that Veronica Mars is just for women is seriously underestimating its appeal. A few months back, we made the case for men watching Scandal, arguing that the ABC drama shares some DNA with certain guy-friendly shows, but that’s even more true of Veronica Mars.
1. Its creator is Party Down’sRob Thomas.
Just as Veronica Mars should be required viewing, so should Rob Thomas’ follow-up co-creation: Party Down, a legitimately brilliant short-lived Starz comedy about a catering crew in Los Angeles. Those who have seen all twenty Party Down episodes will notice a lot of similarities in style and humor, as well as many familiar faces (besides Kristen Bell, obviously): Not only do Ken Marino and Ryan Hansen have majorly funny recurring roles on Veronica Mars, but Adam “Are we having fun yet?” Scott and Jane Lynch pop up in episodes, and many other actors cross between the two series as well. (Plus, Martin Starr has a big role in the film.) If nothing else, three seasons of Veronica Mars should be a nice tonic to tide fans over until they finally give Party Down the Kickstarter movie it deserves. It’s time.
. It’s basically Buffy without the vampires.
Buffy Summers, the definitive kickass TV heroine with crossover appeal, is the spiritual godmother of Veronica Mars, who is just as witty, determined and charismatic as the Slayer. A similar comparison can be made of Joss Whedon and Rob Thomas, whose signature shows both began on the WB did hard time on UPN, crammed in pop-cultural references and allusions galore, and embraced goofiness along some heavy drama. While Veronica Mars forgoes Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s supernatural villains for real-world baddies, the heroines’ respective quests are structured similarly, with season-long mysteries being juggled along with episodic cases. As is often the case with Veronica Mars, the proof is in the guest stars: Buffy alums who turn up on the show include Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter, and even Joss Whedon himself.
3. It has guest stars to rival Arrested Development.
Looking back at the roster of now famous actors who guest-starred on Veronica Mars over the course of the show’s run, it’s surprising how many turned up before they became household names. Not counting the Party Down and Buffy folks mentioned above, the show has memorable scenes and episodes featuring, among many others, a young Leighton Meester, a pre–Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain, and a pre-“yeah, bitch!”-catchphrase Aaron Paul. Other notable cameos and appearances include Kevin Smith as a convenience store clerk, Paris Hilton as a particularly irksome classmate, and Paul Rudd as a disillusioned ’90s alt-rocker. All this, plus Arrested Development’s own Alia Shawkat and Michael Cera appear in a season-two episode that aired a mere month after AD’s cancellation. Underdogs gotta stick together.
4. It’s an addictive murder noir, like Twin Peaks.
Like the iconic David Lynch series, Veronica Mars initially centers on the murder of a high-school girl — in this case, Veronica’s best friend, played by Big Love’s Amanda Seyfried — and explores a world in which everyone is a potential suspect. The show lacks the mystical elements and outright quirkiness that made Twin Peaks so unique, but as Veronica’s quest to solve the mystery sends her further down the rabbit hole, its puzzlelike narrative slowly unfolds in a way that Agent Cooper would approve of.
5. It’s a high-school show that deals with real issues, à la Freaks and Geeks.
Like the great ’90s teen show created by Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, Veronica Mars features high-school-age characters who are relatable and fully-formed, with conversations and concerns that extend far beyond which lunch table they’re doomed to sit at. Like Freaks and Geeks a few years before it, Veronica Mars’ dialogue is grounded in sarcasm and off-beat humor, but doesn’t shy away from or sugarcoat serious issues that young people can face, such as parental abuse, date rape, drug use, and inequality. Did we mention that the second season starts with, like, tons of kids dying in a school bus crash? As we said: dark.
6. Like The Wire, it actively addresses class politics.
Okay, so Veronica Mars isn’t really that much like The Wire (sorry to get your hopes up). That said, unlike shows like Gossip Girl and The O.C., which focus largely on the lives of the rich and glamorous, with a token Dan or Ryan thrown in for contrast, Veronica Mars is a show that actively calls attention to class difference and the divide between the haves and have nots. (As our heroine says in the pilot: “This is my school. If you go here, your parents are either millionaires or your parents work for millionaires. Neptune, California, a town without a middle class.”) Mars herself is a lower middle-class daughter of a disgraced private investigator father, and the world of the show is ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, paying just as much attention to characters like Weevil, the head of a Latino biker gang, as it does the rich, popular set that Veronica used to run with.
7. It’s way better to geek out about than True Detective.
Veronica Mars seasons are built around a sprawling, season-long mystery, and with 20-plus 40-minute episodes per season, it gives viewers a lot to work with. This is a show that rewards attention to detail and lends itself to obsessive dissection, and the number of fake-outs, cliff-hangers, callbacks, and red herrings built into each season are enough to overflow a subreddit. Plus, unlike True Detective, the clues actually lead somewhere and the mystery is actually mysterious. Sorry but not sorry, green-eared spaghetti monster.
As the school season begins, we’ll be counting down a variety of back-to-school movies and TV shows. This week: Veronica Mars.
It’s hard enough to tell a clever, honest story about what it’s really like to be a teenager — but doing it within the context of a twisty mystery is a real challenge. Somehow, the WB’s Veronica Mars manages to pull it off, blending a dense, well-crafted mystery with a knowing look at the complexities of life in high school.
Veronica Mars begins with a noir-influenced monologue that doubles as a statement of purpose:
The first season begins in Veronica’s junior year of high school, just a year after the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane. Veronica’s father, the town sheriff, accused Lilly’s parents — and when another man came forward to claim responsibility for the killing, an outraged public ran him out of office and turned the Mars family into outcasts. Veronica, however, remains convinced that the real killer is still at large — and vows that she’ll solve the mystery.
Unfortunately, Veronica Mars is a series of diminishing returns. Series creator Rob Thomas originally plotted the first season as a novel, and it shows; the central mystery is tight, satisfying, and expertly conceived — the rare TV season with virtually no missteps. Season two is looser and messier, though it ends with some of the best episodes in the show’s run; the third and final season, which sends Veronica off to college, is plagued with missteps, introducing a bunch of dull new characters and turning the older ones into unconvincing shells of themselves.
Earlier this year, series creator Rob Thomas wrote and directed a Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie that picked up the story nearly a decade after the series left off. It was exciting to see the band get back together, but for all the flaws of the third season, I actually prefer its conclusion — a bitter pill of an ending perfectly suited toVeronica Mars' darker noir sensibilities.
There’s a reason, of course, that Veronica Mars donated a staggering $5.7 million to get the movie funded. Some TV shows are just too accomplished and original to let go without a fight, and it’s hard to imagine anyone turning down the chance to spend a little more time in Veronica’s quippy, whip-smart world.
It’s a noir teen drama about a teenage private detective and the seedy underbelly in her hometown of Totally Not San Diego, California. How could it go wrong?
Readers, it didn’t. (Mostly.)
Veronica Mars might not have had a long tenure on the airwaves, but it packed a punch while it graced us with its presence. It had a female protagonist who was smart and strong, yet who was not without her flaws, making her all the more human. It had a wonderful cast full of TV veterans and newbies alike, who perfectly blended to bring Neptune, California to life. It wasn’t afraid to be gritty, on a network best known for love triangles and homework woes. (Not that Veronica Mars didn’t have its share of those, too.) Simply put, it was unlike anything else on television at the time, and I’d argue there hasn’t been anything like it since.
A long time ago, we used to be friends, but then you got canceled and we didn’t hear from you for a decade.
I’ve missed you. With iZombie in full swing, another Veronica Mars book in the hopper, AND the start of the college and pro football seasons, I haven’t been able to update you in awhile. You are, however, always close to my heart – and that’s why I’m so happy to share with you our next Veronica Mars-related project: Play It Again, Dick.
As you may have already heard, Play It Again, Dick is a digital series that follows Ryan Hansen as he tries to get a Dick Casablancas show off the ground. As Ryan says in his pitch to the CW network:
“It’s like a Veronica Mars that isn’t afraid of sex. Rob always called me the dessert of the show. Why not a show that’s all dessert? We drop all the who-gives-a-damn high school-is-a-metaphor-for-something-or-other and just give the people what they want: Dick!”
And while you’ll see several familiar faces from the Veronica Mars universe, the web series isn’t what you’d call “canon.” We know how much you would love to see Veronica and friends back in another movie or a new TV series – believe me, we’d love nothing more ourselves – but in the meantime, we had an opportunity to present a different, skewed, slightly absurd take on these characters, and on the actors who play them. So we ran with it, and had a blast. We think you will too.
The series will debut on Tuesday, September 16, on the CW Seed:
Click HERE to read full updates from Rob Thomas