The Rob Thomas this profile concerns is not the rock musician, but the television writer. The reason that this should be pointed out is that if one puts the name Rob Thomas into Google, the first option you get is the rock singer. It’s known to be such a thing that in the season two finale of Rob Thomas’s adaptation of the comic book iZombie, the musician Rob Thomas shows up and promptly has his brain eaten.
Not that this is a nice way to deal with the problem of “which Rob Thomas?” but, it is a lovely slice on in-jokery that it actually sums up the work of famed television writer Rob Thomas.
Like Joss Whedon, Amy Sherman-Palladino or Aaron Sorkin, Thomas is a writer that while having a mixed commercial success rate for his shows, has amassed a high level of critical acclaim, while producing work that has ensnared a cult following. If Veronica Mars was the only project credited to him in his filmography, he would be considered one of television’s greatest story tellers, but that he has also given us iZombie, arguably one of the best (not to mention vastly underrated) shows on the air right now, as well as being one of the early voices to contribute to Dawson’s Creek, not to mention the cancelled before its time Party Down, makes him something of a cult auteur when it comes to the art of television writing and producing.
Initially beginning his writing career as a young adult author, with Rats Saw God being his first published work, he soon made the move to screenwriting, where his first stop was Space Ghost Coast to Coast, the famed satirical chat show. It was his work for the independent feature film Fortune Cookie that brought him to the attention of Sony Television who were at that moment getting ready to produce the seminal 90’s teen drama Dawson’s Creek.
Something of an incubator for future teen dramatists and comedy-drama writers, Thomas was part of a staff that also featured at various points of its run, Jon Harmon Feldman, Mike White, Greg Berlanti and Tom Kapinos among its ranks. Only delivering work for the first season, it was his work there on the episodes “Kiss” and “Roadtrip” that convinced Sony to ask him to develop ideas for a television series.
The series Thomas would deliver would be Cupid, which became a one season wonder that was sadly cancelled after fourteen of its fifteen episodes had aired. Airing on ABC in the US, the series became a cult favourite in the UK two years after its cancellation when Channel 5 aired the series during its summer daytime schedule. Starring Jeremy Piven, Paula Marshall and Jeffrey D.Sams, the series boasted superb use of The Pretenders song “Human” as its theme music and was charming, funny and boasted superb chemistry among its three leads.
After the cancellation of Cupid, Thomas was invited to be showrunner on the David E Kelley series Snoops, a private detective comedy-drama that starred Paula Marshall, again, Gina Gershon and Paula Kai Parker, but left the series due to creative differences before it aired. Ironically, in later years it would be a private detective series that would solidify Thomas’ reputation and give him his biggest cult success.
Debuting on UPN, Veronica Mars is without doubt one of the most underrated, and brilliant series to air on television. A combination of teen drama and film noir tropes, the series has one of the most assured and uncompromising pilot episodes for a network television series, one that throws in enough material to last for a season in itself. Complete with intensely visual flashbacks that fill in the gaps, and one of television’s all time great lead performances from Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars sadly was never the commercial success it really should have been.
Filling in the gap left by Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the teen drama/genre hybrid stakes, the series, unlike the Sarah Michelle Gellar-starring sensation, used the private detective genre in place of the supernatural, and combined it with the growing pains and angst of being a teenager, while throwing it a plethora of shocking plot twists and intense character drama that really took the breath away.
The second season had a lot to live up to, but it upped the ante considerably and managed to sometimes be even better than the first, throwing in a bigger mystery to solve as well as so much plot that it almost threatened to derail, but never actually doing so. The remarkable thing about the series was how it brilliantly utilised a long form story arc over the course of a season, while managing to throw in compulsive little mysteries for the character to solve over the course of each episode.
It became one of the best kept secrets on television, but unfortunately the series would derail somewhat in its third season. When UPN merged with rival network The WB to form The CW, the series was renewed by the skin of its teeth, but with it came changes requested by the network, mainly cutting down on season long arcs, which subsequently got replaced by arcs that took place over the course of several episodes as opposed to one long arc.
Worst of all, the series somewhat stalled in the last five episodes and featured no arc at all, the season subsequently ending on an unresolved note followed by a cancellation. Talk of a movie, or some sort of continuation, was suggested, but in the end Thomas moved on, working on the short-lived sitcom Big Shots, while also being offered the showrunner position on Friday Nights Lights, a position he turned down and which subsequently went to Jason Katims.
His next stop would be the cable channel Starz where he launched the comedy series Party Down, a co-creation with himself, John Enbom, Dan Etheridge and Paul Rudd. Starring Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch, Ken Marino and Ryan Hansen (the last two being links to Veronica Mars, one of many dotted throughout the series, as is the case with all of Thomas’ work), the series was critically acclaimed, but sadly low rated and would be cancelled after the end of its second year. It didn’t help either that Adam Scott and Jane Lynch got work in other shows, namely Parks and Recreation and Glee.
Several attempts at projects came and went over the next few years, but as is the case with these things, when one new Thomas project came along, it ended up coming with another. Announcing his intention to produce a movie based on Veronica Mars, Thomas launched a campaign on Kickstarter, a move that ended up working more successfully than anyone thought it would. Announcing itself in March of 2013, the project needed to amass $2 million by April. It would do so within a day of being announced.
It would only be a few months later that Thomas’ pilot for his adaptation of the Michael Allred and Chris Roberson comic book iZombie would be picked up by The CW. Released a year after it was announced, the film version of Veronica Mars became the first film released by a major Hollywood studio in theatres and home viewing at the same time, with the movie being made available to stream on the same day as its theatrical release. It made the film something of a nightmare to analyse when it came to its box office figures.
While a pitch for season four had been filmed in an attempt to convince The CW to renew the series, and which featured Veronica joining the FBI, in the end the movie would ignore that pitch and create a new direction for itself, picking up nine years after the final scene of season three and catching up with the characters lives after the events of that episode via a high school reunion and a new mystery for our heroine to solve.
Critical opinion was somewhat mixed, especially with mainstream critics who weren’t as knowledgeable of the series, but for fans the movie was a superb continuation of the series and a tremendously satisfying watch that resolved the series nicely, while giving a lovely suggestion of where to go if another movie was made. The following year, iZombie would debut on The CW for a thirteen episode run. Although never a massive ratings success, the series has achieved a sizeable cult following and has managed to make its way to a fourth season, making it the longest running Rob Thomas created series on television.
Taking inspiration from the comic book series, as opposed to directly adapting it for the screen, the series has a very Veronica Mars feel, and brilliantly utilised a long form story arc, while using the episodic television format to tell smaller stories in each episode. A zombie/police procedural, the series has one of the most winning ensemble casts currently working on television, not to mention a superb central performance from Rose McIver who basically plays a different role in each episode due to the series’ zombie/brain eating format that sees her character, Liv Moore, assume the personality of the dead person whose brain she has eaten.
Complete with guest appearances from a variety of Veronica Mars alumni, the series has seen Ryan Hansen, Jason Dohring, Ken Marino and Percy Daggs III appear, with Kristen Bell doing a voice cameo, Enrico Colantoni also showing up, and of course, a recurring role for Daran Norris.
The series is a perfect summing up of the Rob Thomas series, managing to mix comedy, emotional angst, mystery and a taste of the quietly epic, and with season three leaving on a legitimate game changing note, it will be interesting to see where the fourth year goes, not to mention what Thomas himself does next.