Our colleagues over at Warner Bros. recently spoke to Rob Thomas, creator of the cult hit Veronica Mars and co-creator of the upcoming series iZombie, which premieres March 17 on The CW. Thomas began his TV career in 1996, writing an episode of Cartoon Network's Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and has been writing and producing ever since.
You’ve had quite an interesting life and career to this point, playing college football, doing the rock band thing, high school teacher, novelist, television writer and producer. Was television the ultimate goal for you?
RT: Yeah, it kind of was, at least being in entertainment. I wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, since I was a small child. My two other loves were rock music and sports. I played college football [at Texas Christian University], but I was second-string tight-end, playing behind a guy who was my same eligibility at TCU, so I decided I would grow my hair long and play in a band [Editor's Note: No, not the same Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 fame]. Then somewhere in the nine years when I played in a band, I finally realized that I was a pretty mediocre musician and I should just stick to words. I was sometimes proud of the lyrics I wrote, but certainly not of my bass playing [laughs]. So I was either going to write for Rolling Stone or Sports Illustrated, that was my early goal.
Once I wrote my first novel [Satellite Down], I felt like I had finally found the thing I could do. But, even then, I realized that the things I really liked writing were plots and dialogue, which are really what screenwriters are good at. Writing long passages of prose describing a room or the night sky or the dew on the grass, like you need to do in a novel, are things that I have no patience for and very little talent in. So screenwriting really played into my strengths as a writer I think.
Let’s talk about iZombie. Were you a fan of the short comic book series or were you approached to explore the possibilities for a series?
RT: I was approached by Susan Rovner [Warner Bros. Television’s head of development] about it, but it was at a time where I just couldn’t see myself doing it because I was finishing editing the Veronica Mars movie and I was already doing two pilots. So I was telling Susan, “no,” even before I read the comic book, because I was wiped out and just didn’t see how I had the time to do it.
Well, it isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill crime procedural, what with the main character being a zombie who discovers that eating brains is not only tasty, but she also gets inside the head of the corpses and uses that knowledge to solve crimes…
RT: What Susan pitched it to me as was that we need another great female lead on The CW. We want the new Buffy, the new Veronica. It was less a pitch about a zombie series, and she kind of sold me on the look with the cover of the first iZombie comic, like this should be the girl. This is who we need as The CW’s big new female lead.
She just wouldn’t take no for an answer [laughs]. She just kept working me and I’m really glad she did, because I eventually read the comic book and I could see the show in it. She said, “If you want to write it with [producer/writer] Diane Ruggiero-Wright and if that would be more doable for you, then why don’t you do that. That’s what really pushed it over the line, because co-writing made it possible for me in that time-span. And Diane and I have worked a ton together going back to Veronica Mars, so having a partner on it made it all possible.
We'd be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the Veronica Mars movie, and the groundbreaking Kickstarter campaign you launched a few years back to get the movie made. What made you consider this innovative way to get a project made?
RT: It was really a Hail Mary, it was such a last ditch sort of thing. I had gone through all the normal channels trying to get that movie made, and hadn’t been able to. I felt like there was an impassioned audience there and I actually knew nothing about Kickstarter until a musician friend of mine successfully raised $12,000 to reissue his band’s first album. I pledged to that campaign and kind of saw how it worked, but I knew that we would have to raise millions of dollars. So I kept mulling it over, is this really possible?
I eventually thought that we could do this, but the toughest part was the long run. Warner Bros. is a big corporation, so it’s not like you can convince just one person this is a good idea and worth pursuing. There are a bunch of people in that food chain who have to be convinced. Fortunately, I got a couple of great champions for the project, but it still took the better part of a year to get the permission to do the Kickstarter campaign. I have to say they couldn’t have been better to us and it was a pretty great year.
Read the full interview with Rob Thomas.