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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Sunday (4/14/13) 10:52pm - ... wherein Peter goes to the Veronica Mars kickstarter party.

This past Friday, Rob Thomas threw a big party at the Dog and Duck to celebrate the conclusion of the Veronica Mars kickstarter.


Rob Thomas was the guy who created Veronica Mars.  He's originally from Austin.  Also, he's friends with the guy who runs the Dog and Duck, AKA "the Unofficially-Designated Bar of the Austin Improv Scene".  So they figured Mr. Thomas could come by and throw a low-key little "end of the kickstarter" party at the Dog and Duck.  He asked backers to RSVP for the event, so they could see if they had enough people (50? maybe 60?) to merit reserving the venue's back patio.

Then, 500 fans RSVP'd.  Fans were driving in from Oklahoma.  Fans were driving in from New Orleans. Mr. Thomas sent out an update with the subject line, "Do you really want to have a beer with this fat, sweaty man?" (Excerpt: "You all realize that it's just going to be me with my laptop and a documentary crew, right?")

That afternoon, I realized that the kickstarter was getting funded at 10pm -- the exact time as call for my improv show that night.  I wriggled out of being in that improv show.  (Thanks, majcher!)  A few hours later, I headed off to the Dog and Duck.

I had to park about three blocks away. 

As you might expect, the venue was kind of crazy.  The front porch and the bar itself were filled only to normal capacity, but the back patio had as many people packed into it as could sardine in there.  I made my way past the front porch, and was immediately stopped by a random improvisor I knew.  I chatted with them a bit, told them about the Improvised Play Festival[1], and then moved on to the back patio.  I signed a waiver for the documentary crew, and picked up a Veronica Mars beer koozie.  Once inside the patio, I quickly ran into several different friends from the swing-dance scene.  (Meanwhile, Jordan was avoiding the crowd and hanging out in the bar.)


I'll digress a moment for a bit of backstory.

In 2009, Ain't It Cool News reported that Mr. Thomas had a show in development called Waterloo.  It was an hourlong dramedy about a rock'n'roll band scraping by in the Austin[2] music scene.  Now, this bit of news lodged in my head like a lawn dart.  TV nerds probably know that (1) Rob Thomas is *from* Austin[3], and (2) he spent most of his twenties playing in hardscrabble punk bands in Austin.  So I was absolutely stoked to see a TV show from him in that world.

And here's the weird thing: I never heard anything about Waterloo ever again.  Even now, a google search for rob thomas waterloo only turns up a half-dozen even-vaguely-relevant results.  None of them list anything more than the concept ("a coming-of-age story about a young rock band"), the network (Starz) and the producers (one recognizes Dan Etheridge from Veronica Mars and Party Down).

Nearly every time I'd come back to Mr. Thomas's work, I'd idly wonder what happened to Waterloo.  I'd try googling it again, but the Internet wouldn't know a thing.  Sometimes I'd wonder if I imagined the whole thing, or if I mis-remembered the details, or if it was just a false alarm that percolated from a single misguided showbiz site.

Okay, so that's the backstory.  Back in the present day, I'd run into novelist, old friend, and fellow VM fan Shellie Faught.  While chatting with her, I realized we were both in a very-slow-moving line to get our photo taken with Rob Thomas.  As we inched along, we realized why the line was moving so slow: in addition to the quick photo op, Mr. Thomas was taking the time to have a conversation with every single fan.  It was kind of amazing -- as an introvert, I couldn't help thinking, "This would kill me dead in, like, ten minutes."  But there he was, eagerly and enthusiastically chatting with everybody who had shown up.

I chatted with Shellie, catching up on the last few months, and we started wondering what we could talk to this guy about.  Suddenly I realized that the only way I could ever find out what happened to Waterloo was to ask Rob Thomas in person.  And, well, here was my chance.

We got to the front of the line.  Shellie and her husband had a chat with Mr. Thomas, of which I overheard only a little bit.  (Shellie's main question was essentially "How in blazes did you complete this script in, like, a week and a half?")  What I heard was fascinating: for example, Mr. Thomas's favorite episode is "A Trip to the Dentist"[4], which was written by Diane Ruggiero... who is helping out with the film script.  (Nice!)

Then I got to the front of the line.  I shook Rob Thomas's hand.  (Squee!)  I blurted out a boilerplate "Thank you so much for both Veronica Mars and Party Down.[5]  They've brought me so much joy."

I quickly moved on: "But I wanted to ask... what was Waterloo?  Was that a real thing, or was it just a crazy fever dream I had?"

At that moment... it was like his face simultaneously lit up and took on a hint of melancholy.  "Waterloo," he said, "might be my favorite script I've ever written."

"Oh no!" I said, laughing and hearbroken.

He provided some background on the show.  He'd written the pilot script, and it was near and dear to his heart, since he'd spent so many years playing in the Austin music scene.  He joked, "I could have written the hell out of the first two seasons, when the band was just scraping by.  When the band got *successful*, eh..."  He loved Waterloo.  He was excited about Waterloo.  *Starz* was excited about Waterloo.  Rob Thomas moved back from L. A. to Austin and prepared for shooting Waterloo.

And then they shot an amazing pilot and it ran for six seasons and a movie -- or, no, wait, that's what happens in the alternate universe where all things are awesome.

No, instead what happened was Spartacus.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand premiered on Starz to tremendous numbers, and suddenly everything changed.  First, Starz no longer had any tolerance for low ratings: so, among other things, Party Down got the axe.  Second, it shifted the network's entire brand identity; suddenly they wanted a lot more shows with, as Mr. Thomas put it, "blood and tits".[6]

It was really the only moment that Rob Thomas seemed bitter about something, and who can blame him?  He'd had an amazing working relationship with Starz, and if the timing had been just a smidgen different, he could have made his dream project with them.

On top of that, Starz had a management shakeup.  The executives that had brought Rob Thomas to the network, and the ones that he'd had a working relationship with, were out, and Chris Albrecht was in.  Now, while Mr. Albrecht has done great work -- he at least had the class to say he really liked Party Down while he was cancelling it -- it just wasn't the same environment there any more, and the new guard was less excited about being in the Rob Thomas business.

So Starz dropped the project.  Rob Thomas still thinks about doing something with that old script, but as he said that, his face had that sort of "ah, well, maybe someday" look, instead of the "this might happen" look.

And with that, he said it was nice to talk to me[7], I earnestly thanked him for his time, and I circled around to take some photos of another friend as he posed with the showrunner.

(My friend asked him if there would be any references to sloths in the film.  Apparently Kristen Bell has already emailed Rob about this, mentioning that it would be fun if Veronica saw a photo of a sloth and was completely indifferent to it.)


The rest of the night was also fun.

The number of backers blew past 84,000, making it the most-backed kickstarter in history, and the attendees eagerly waited to see if it would hit 90,909.  (90909 being the ZIP code of the "09ers", the rich kids in the Veronica Mars-verse.)

Jason Dohring, who played Logan Echolls on the show, dropped by (apparently getting a bit lost and hopping a fence on the way in).  It was fun watching all the wommins go all swoony over him.  I skipped getting in line to meet him; by all reports Mr. Dohring is a great guy, but I had no idea what I'd say to him.  Besides, I'd just be taking some amount of time away from the ladeez.

I actually got stopped a few times, twice by people who recognized me from Fandom, and once by a couple who recognized me from TV Tuesdays at the Highball.  So that was neat.  I also wound up chatting with total strangers about TV production, which was pleasant and surreal.

Rob Thomas gave a thank-you speech at around 9:00pm (after announcing Mr. Dohring's arrival).  Towards the end of that speech, the "number of backers" display ticked from 90908... to 90910.  (The crowd "aw"ed and then laughed their asses off.)  He ran a crazy-difficult trivia contest, which I didn't even try to compete in.  (It's amazing how little I know, even about shows I like.)  The prizes were four hats for his old Austin band, "Slave Rats".  Apparently there are only twenty such hats in existence, which is probably related to that band never really striking it big.

As 10pm hit, Mr. Thomas led us all in counting down to the kickstarter deadline, and then gave one more "thank you" speech to the assembled fans, and that was lovely.  I left before the event was absolutely over.  Apparently I missed a quick closing speech from Mr. Dohring, but by around 11:15pm, all my friends had left, and I felt like going dancing.

Still, I'm really glad I made it out to the party.  It was a very warm and convivial place, with all these fans gleefully celebrating that, out of nowhere, suddenly they were getting a Veronica Mars movie.


P.S. More articles about the event have appeared on pajiba and on Geekiary.
P.P.S. Wait, is that Amy Averett?

[1] ... which they somehow hadn't heard about?  I suppose that's a bit of a marketing fail.
[2] Thus the name;
Austin was originally called "Waterloo".
[3] It's fun to spot all the Austin references he sneaks into Veronica Mars.
[4] At this point, any Veronica Mars fan is probably nodding to themselves and thinking, "Hell, yeah."
[5] There was a flash of happy surprise from him at the Party Down mention -- I forget that, even though the shows are held in equal esteem by the TV-critic crowd, in terms of numbers, a lot more people watched the teen detective than the down-on-their-luck cater-waiters.  The series finale of Party Down, for example, had a total of seventy-four thousand viewers.
[6] Even now, Starz is premiering shows like Da Vinci's Demons, which is very much in the "historical drama with tasteful nudity" vein.
[7] ... which I hope was actually true.  Writing this out now, I feel like I just reminded him of perhaps his most poignant disappointment in the TV biz.

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[User Picture]
Date:Sunday (4/14/13) 10:57pm
As an alternate way of looking at things, you also perhaps made Rob Thomas consider that there are people out there who are interested in Waterloo, too - so, not necessarily a bad thing, yeah?
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[User Picture]
Date:Monday (4/15/13) 2:30am
I certainly hope so.  Plus, he did seem giddy that he got to talk to somebody about it.
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