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When Rob Thomas created Veronica Mars, his show about a sharp-elbowed girl detective, he had an ulterior motive: He wanted to kill off the reigning queen of teenaged sleuths — one who's been around for more than 80 years.
"Nancy Drew," Thomas says, his soft-spoken affect barely betrayed by a trace of a snarl. "Like, I feel like she had her run."
Thomas gently eases himself into a faux leather couch backstage at Last Call With Carson Daly, where he's just wrapped up an interview with the host. (He squeezed in an interview with NPR right afterward.)
He wears his exhaustion as lightly as his writer's getup: black jeans, black T-shirt, silver track shoes. Exhaustion, after all, has been his norm for years. Right now, for example, Thomas is rocketing between Los Angeles; Austin, Texas, where he lives with his family; and Vancouver, Canada, where he's currently filming a zombie-themed pilot for the CW.
A Tiny But Dedicated Fan Base
During its 2004 to 2007 run, Veronica Mars endeared itself to fans with its tangy love triangles and quippy dialogue. It centered on Veronica (Kristen Bell), a student at Neptune High School whose dad is a private investigator. She helps him with cases, everything from multiple homicides to adultery, while also solving crimes at school — crimes that would have given Nancy Drew the vapors.
The show had a prescient focus on privacy and surveillance, and it resonated economically too, with a beach-town setting that pitted tech billionaires and movie stars against working-class and low-income residents trying to hold things together.
Ratings were never great, and Veronica Mars was canceled after only three seasons. It's one of a number of shows — think Freaks And Geeks, Chuck or Firefly — with tiny but uncommonly dedicated fan bases. So when Thomas put up a Kickstarter page soliciting donations for a Veronica Mars movie, the money flew in at a record-setting pace. He reached his $2 million goal within hours, and by the end of the campaign, Thomas had raised nearly $6 million — a comfortable, if not lavish, budget for the film he had in mind.
'Picking The Lock' To Hollywood
Veronica Mars fan Biz Urban remembers her reaction to hearing about the movie. She says, "It was like my birthday and Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year's Eve all rolled into one."
The 35-year-old freelance photographer donated $50 to the Kickstarter campaign, and she recruited two friends to watch the entire series in advance of opening night. She was one of more than 91,000 "investors," and Thomas found pleasing them to be a bit more than he had bargained for.
"It's been the most work," he says ruefully, unconsciously rubbing his forearm. "I just finished signing 5,500 posters this week that are all going out to Kickstarter backers."
That's the kind of tendon-cramping work you don't have to do when you get your money directly from the studios. It's one reason why Washington Post pop culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg sees Kickstarter as a less-than-perfect alternative for such projects.
"It's a way of picking the lock on the Hollywood gate and getting around the gatekeepers," she says. "But that doesn't mean there [aren't] enormous advantages in working with mainstream studios."
Whether or not Veronica Mars succeeds on the big screen is almost irrelevant, since it's essentially paid for itself. What Rosenberg sees as maybe even more exciting is how Thomas, who started by writing critically acclaimed young adult novels, has transitioned from books to TV to movies — and now back to books. A Veronica Mars series of novels is scheduled to come out this spring, picking up where the movie leaves off. And the CW is interested in spinning off a web-only series about a minor character.
"He's opening up the world," Rosenberg notes. "It'll get to continue in other media now."
That is, Thomas says, until some other future writer tries to kill off his creation the way he tried with Nancy Drew.