The Power of Veronica Mars: How Rob Thomas Turned a One-Episode Character Into a Spinoff

Play It Again, Dick was designed as a promotional tool for the movie, but it almost didn't come together at all

By Chris Harnick Sep 16, 2014 4:24 PMTags
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The Veronica Mars spinoff, Play It Again, Dick, almost didn't happen. The CW Seed web series reunites the VMars cast and follows Ryan Hansen as he tries to get a spinoff of Veronica Mars following his character Dick Casablancas off the ground at the CW.

The eight-episode series, sort of a meta comedy, features all your favorites playing fictionalized versions of themselves and of their Veronica Mars characters. We'll see Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Chris Lowell, Enrico Colantoni, Percy Daggs III, Daran Norris, Francis Capra, Kyle Gallner, Christopher B. Duncan, Ryan Devlin (as Duncan Kane), Ken Marino, Amanda Noret and Lisa Thornhill. Rob Thomas even drafted his iZombie stars Robert Buckley and Rose McIver for Play It Again, Dick. Sounds fun, but it almost didn't come together for Thomas.

"I even joke that I was tricked into it," Thomas told us. When he agreed to do it, he was wrapping up the final touches on the Veronica Mars movie, writing two pilots and the studio wanted it to promote the film's March release.

"I said, ‘I don't have time, I don't have the energy. I can't do it now.' But they hired an editor I've worked with for a long time and they said, ‘He can direct it,' and I love him. I think he's talented and wanted him to get that chance, and [they hired a] young writer I was working with and they said, ‘He'll write the scripts for you,'" Thomas explained. "I honestly thought we would do it in a day and it would be like Ryan Hansen's sitting on a couch playing Xbox and you just rotate the other five or six cast members and it would just be them chatting, like three or four minutes of funny chatting on a couch. When I said yes, that's what I imagined. When I showed up at the first production meeting and they had given us so much more money and they had such higher expectations."

Thomas said when he saw the scope of the project and the desire to attach his name to it, he said, "OK, thank you for the extra money and all, but now I really have to have my hands in it. This can't happen away from me."

But then he tried to back out of it again.

"Mark Pedowitz, the president of the CW, called me the night before TCAs [in January] and said, ‘Rob, I thought you wanted to do this. We're all very excited.' I told him, I said, ‘I'm trying to finish your pilot!' [Laughs.] 'I'm in the middle of doing iZombie, I can only do so much.' He said, ‘TCAs are tomorrow, can I just announce it and you do it whenever you have time?' At that point I said, ‘OK.' I don't know if I was being naïve or what, but he announced it the next day and it was all over and suddenly the pressure was very much on to deliver on it," he said. "I did eventually sort of dive in and work with this young director and young writer and it was actually—while it occupied more of my limited vacation days than I might have liked, I'm really happy we did it because I think it's fun and I think fans will really enjoy it. I mean, I have read many comments from people saying, ‘I wish it wasn't meta comedy, I wish it was just really more Veronica Mars.' It's not that, so I hope no one is expecting like real Veronica Mars cannon in there. It will be fun and it will be the actors that they like and it's a fun romp."

Yep, Veronica Mars is getting a spinoff featuring a character who was there for one reason: to say "Logan."

Hansen's Dick first appeared in the second episode of Veronica Mars. "Where he got his name, was his character name in the show was 09er Dick. [Laughs.] And I hired him because I thought his hair looked like good, Southern California surfer hair," Thomas said. "He got that one word, he was solid with it. A couple of episodes later we need an 09er to deliver two words and this time it was a punch line. One of the teachers says to Veronica, ‘Veronica, what's your position on this?' And Dick sort of chuckles and says, ‘All fours.' And he killed with it. After that every writer on staff wanted to put 09er Dick in his episode because you knew you were going to get a laugh. He started appearing in all the episodes and by season two he was a series regular."

The first four episodes of the series feature Hansen trying to get the gang back together to do his new spinoff. As he approaches each actor, they all want something different from him, Thomas said.

"Each of the other characters sort of take a pound of flesh from Ryan. They all want something special from him and he's going to have to cater to them. For example, Jason Dohring believes that it's a two-hander, he believes it's a buddy cop show rather than all about Dick. Francis wants to not be portrayed as a criminal anymore," he said.

It's up to Hansen to convince them to come on board for no money. The other four will be the cut footage from the fictional pilot. Thomas and Bob Dearden wrote the series, Danielle Stokdyk produced and Viet Nguyen directed.

"It is without a doubt a comedy. It's not tonally like Veronica Mars," Thomas explained. "With Party Down—I keep saying it's more Party Down than Veronica Mars, which is true in it's a comedy, though Party Down is a very grounded comedy. It's unhappy, it's real world. This is a bit a silly, the Dick one is. There's a touch of Monty Python in it. It is self-referential."

Still, despite being "sort of dragged into" the project, Thomas said when he got the first cuts he was "so excited to show my wife." "Like, ‘I can't believe how well this turned out. This is really fun,'" he said.

Play It Again, Dick premieres Tuesday, Sept. 16 on CW Seed.