SXSWORLD February 2014


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Back By Popular Demand: Veronica Mars' Unexpected Second Act Best. Show. Ever. That's how filmmaker Joss Whedon described his love for the high school detective series Veronica Mars in 2005, a sentiment that diehard fans of the show (affectionately dubbed "marshmallows") share with equal enthusiasm. These are the fans who, when the show faced cancellation after a rocky third season, pooled their resources and hired a plane to fly over The CW offices in Los Angeles trailing a banner that read "RENEW VERONICA MARS." These are the fans who would send more than 10,000 Mars candy bars to the same corporate office, with the same message. These are the fans who, some eight years after the show was canceled, would reunite for their most improbable grassroots campaign yet. All they needed was a couple million dollars. -Before his first TV job writing for the mid-'90s staple Dawson's Creek, Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas was teaching journalism in Texas and writing young adult novels on the side. One of the books he pitched to Simon & Schuster was an untitled teen detective story following an Austinite named Pete Mars. The novel sat on the shelf as Thomas' career as a TV writer took off, but when he had a chance to pitch his own show to the fledgling UPN network, he dusted off the high school noir concept with one major change: Pete became Veronica. "I thought it would be more interesting with a girl detective," says Thomas. As written by Thomas, and as performed by Kristen Bell, Veronica was at once prickly and adorable, brusque and precocious. If Veronica had a spirit animal it would be a porcupine. Veronica Mars premiered in September of 2004 to rave reviews. The New York Times called the show "remarkably innovative" and Variety said it was "the smartest teen-oriented drama since Freaks and Geeks." But despite critical acclaim, a cult following and famous fans from Whedon to Stephen King, the show struggled to find as big an audience as it deserved, scheduled opposite both LOST and American Idol in a year when those programs were posting record ratings, combining for approximately 50 million viewers during their timeslot. Despite disappointing ratings, Veronica seemingly had the support of the network. Dawn Ostroff, then head of UPN, told the Los Angeles Times, "It's very hard to find a show that feels unique and when that show comes along, you really have to nurture it, protect it, and you need to do everything you can to support it in the right way." Just a few months later Veronica Mars was canceled. -Often, actors, writers and producers will talk about the desire to get a film adapted from one of their past TV shows, only to see those hopes and dreams fade as the years go on, as interest fades and schedules fill with other projects. Thomas, however, never wavered in the belief he had almost immediately after his show was canceled: Veronica Mars would make a great movie. "Since Veronica Mars went off the air, I haven't done one interview where a movie question hasn't been asked. And it's usually the first question," Thomas says now. 26 SXSWORLD / FEBRUARY 2014 ROBERT VOETS by Mike Sampson Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars After the show was canceled, he moved on to other projects, including a return to The CW to develop the 90210 reboot and creating another cult classic, the Starz comedy Party Down. But, like the plucky heroine herself, Veronica Mars just wouldn't go away. Thomas met with DC Comics about a Veronica Mars comic book and even edited an unofficial collection of essays on the show (a book curiously billed as "not authorized by … the creators or producers of Veronica Mars" despite being edited by Thomas). Even with those efforts to keep the franchise alive, a movie kept bubbling to the top, in part because of Bell's determination to see it through. "Kristen Bell never wavered. She always wanted to do it," recalls Thomas. "If she had ever thought, 'I'm beyond playing Veronica,' [the movie] would've died." Bell, Thomas and the legions of marshmallows (named after a line of dialogue in the show's pilot) no doubt agreed, but there was a problem. While absence of Veronica made the heart grow fonder for millions of fans, executives at Warner Bros. were still wary of the property and its crossover appeal to non-marshmallows. Thomas says the studio, which

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