‘iZombie’ producer Rob Thomas: ‘We want to get to the kickass fun mythology stuff’

Earlier today, I ran the first of my two interviews with the executive producers of “iZombie,” the new CW drama (it debuts tonight at 9) starring Rose McIver as an intelligent zombie who solves the murders of the corpses whose brains she eats to stay functional. (As I said in that post, the premise sounds dumb, but is handled deftly and with a great sense of fun by the “Veronica Mars” team of Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright.)

Now it”s Thomas” turn, to discuss how he had to be talked into doing the project, how they tweaked the procedural/mythology balance from the “Veronica Mars” days, and where things stand with his other pint-sized blonde heroine at the moment.

I assume you had never read the comic before Warner came to you.

Rob Thomas: Right.

So what was your reaction when you first read it?

Rob Thomas: My reaction was I didn”t see it as a TV show there. That it was going to take some work to turn it into a TV show. At the time I was editing the “Veronica Mars” movie and I had already sold two pilots. And I kept telling Susan Rovner, the head of development at Warner Brothers, “No, I don”t have the time and I don”t see the show right away.” She kept telling me the, “The show is right there on the cover. It”s this girl. The CW needs a great single lead female powered show. It needs Veronica Mars. It needs Buffy. And look at this cover. It”s this girl.” I kind of got that. And honestly, “Veronica Mars” was like a passion project. That was an idea for a novel. I carried that with me for years before writing it. “Party Down” was the same thing. This was getting bullied by a studio executive who would not take no for an answer. I love Susan Rovner, and when she tells me, “This is the thing, you have to do it,” she eventually wore me down. I said, “Can I do it with Diane?” And she said, “Yes, do it with Diane.” And then that gave me the time and the energy. Honestly, Diane is the zombie fan. She is the comic book fan, so she was thrilled to be working in this universe. I think I was responding to – there”s a lot of passion behind getting a kickass female lead on the network, and I think Diane was going zombies. So we may have had a slightly different take on it there.

Structurally, “Veronica Mars” in the first two seasons had a case of the week, but there was also the bigger mystery that was playing out behind that. I”ve seen four of these and obviously what Blaine is up to is kind of arc-y, but is there a bigger arc going on? Or is it mainly just Liv eats brains and solves murder, lather, rinse, repeat?

Rob Thomas: Yeah, in fact I think the more the show goes on, the less important the case of the week gets. And I will say this: with “Veronica,” I think we did a better job of the sort of gumshoe solving cases. We paid a lot of attention to clues and how those unfolded. And the thing that I think we learned in a season of doing “iZombie”s was that people want to get back to the cool, fun zombie stuff, and not to spend it on the minutiae of how this clue was found. So we have a number of cases now that we get evidence and the bad guy folds because we want to get to the kickass fun mythology stuff. And so we”re placing less emphasis on the case, how the clues unfold. Particularly when she can get visions at any time time to get those murder cases solved, because as we”re watching the show, as the executives are watching the show, we want to get the audience to our mythology. We want to get to our main characters and let that be the focus.

Ten years after “Veronica,” there”s much less patience for the episodic procedural stuff in this kind of show than there used to be.

Rob Thomas: Right.

So then the mythology for the first season, the big arc he”s dealing with is who caused this?

Rob Thomas: It”s less who caused this. It”s really about Blaine (David Anders” character). You know we find out if it essentially Blaine”s business is scratching rich people, turning them into zombies and then selling them brains. And where he's getting those brains… I think there”s a big picture question of Liv trying to prevent the zombie apocalypse. I would say that more of a season 1 question is about hoping to put a stop to Blaine's business.

Because of the way my brain works, I hear the name Blaine and I hear the name Major (Liv's ex-fiance, played by Robert Buckley) and I immediately think of the line from “Pretty in Pink” about how Blaine is not a name but a major appliance. I”m assuming that is entirely a coincidence.

Rob Thomas: The major appliance is entirely a coincidence, but the fact that he”s named Blaine is a direct call back to “Pretty in Pink.” That was our prototype. We wanted a Spader-esque villain and that”s how he became Blaine. And then the name Major Lilywhite really owes to the University of Texas quarterback Major Applewhite and my affinity for that.

Because it”s you and Diane, telling the story a small blonde heroine who narrates her adventures, there”s gonna be this assumption of, “Oh, it”s Veronica Mars becomes a zombie.” Are you concerned about that at all, or do you feel like because it”s the two of you writing, those people will be satisfied when they come to it?

Rob Thomas: I think there are going to be a lot of similarities because Diane and I write how we write. We”re probably finding comedy in the same places, the same rhythms of the show will probably be existing. And yet I don”t find Liv and Veronica to be the same type of character. I feel like their personalities are much different. There”s a righteousness to Veronica. I always think of Veronica as a porcupine and I don”t think of Liv that way. I think she is a warmer human at her core than Veronica. But yes, when Susan Rovner recruited me for this she said, “We want Veronica. We want Buffy. We want a kickass female.” And so that”s what we”ve tried to deliver.

Finally, the two obligatory questions. Was Warner satisfied enough by the “Veronica” movie”s performance that there”s a chance of another one at this point?

Rob Thomas: Yes. That”s one possibility. We”d also be interested in that “True Detective” model. I would love to go sell six episodes as a miniseries. That probably gets me more excited than another five, six million dollar movie. If we kept another “Veronica Mars” movie at the budget that we kept the first one, we could do one, I believe. I think we could find people without needing to do a Kickstarter campaign, because the movie did well. The “Veronica Mars” movie is the first thing where I think I”m getting my back end participation – and getting it on the movie. I saw a couple of comments that because we made it for six and it did three and a half million in the theaters that it had failed. And that”s so far from the truth. It has done very well on electronic sell through and rental and airplanes and pay cable. It did very well.

And the “Party Down” movie. Is there anything with that at the moment?

Rob Thomas: There is no new news and with each series regular of that show who makes it bigger, it becomes harder. It”s one of those things everyone would like to do, but getting everyone”s schedule to align would be tough

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com