'Veronica Mars' hopes for rebirth on big screen

Kristen Bell stars in the "Veronica Mars" movie,

Kristen Bell stars in the "Veronica Mars" movie, based on her hit TV show. (Credit: Robert Voets)

In an 1893 story called "The Final Solution," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sent the very popular Sherlock Holmes plummeting into Reichenbach Falls, thus ridding the world of its greatest detective, and Conan Doyle of his greatest distraction -- or so he thought. Fan outcry was so great that the author was forced to bring Holmes back from the dead. What followed was even greater fame, and a publishing career that would last until 1927.

This week, a slightly more contemporary detective gets a similar remake. What will follow is anybody's guess.

"Veronica Mars" -- the feature film -- opens Friday, based on the 2004-07 TV series about a spunky high school sleuth and her existential anxiety. Kristen Bell reprises her role as the tiny blonde gumshoe; the show's creator, Rob Thomas, makes his big-screen directing debut.

It has been talked about for years -- and years. And years. Bell wasn't exactly 15 when she played the show's 15-year-old heroine, but she's now 33 and the mother of one. That the movie has gone unseen as yet indicates a firm sense of uncertainty about a franchise whose fate was never certain.

Yes, it had cult status and an avid fan base, which, like others through the years, thought it could reverse history. It also had failing ratings and a production company (Warner Bros.) that seemed to want to forget it as quickly as possible.

Enter Kickstarter. When "Veronica Mars" the movie opens, it will mark one year since the start of a crowdfunding campaign that raised $2 million in less than a day and changed the mind of Warner (which didn't agree to spend any money, just to having the movie made). Eventually, almost $6 million was raised on Kickstarter, along with a great deal of awareness about a show that had been fading from view.

All of this bodes very well, one imagines, despite the traditional bias that audiences seem to have against female heroes, super and otherwise. Mark Pedowitz, president of The CW -- the successor to the UPN network, where "Veronica Mars" first aired -- recently announced that a digital spinoff series is also in the works for the network's online-only platform, CW Seed.

In an apparent first for a major studio, Warner is also making "Veronica Mars" available on Video on Demand at the same time it opens in theaters. It's a novel move, but logical: The Kickstarter campaign attracted 91,000 donors, and anyone who gave $35 or more was promised DVDs right after release. So the idea of limiting the film's exposure to theaters was going to be futile, anyway.

Equally important: A decade after the show first aired, how do you revamp the franchise so it makes sense? It turns out that Veronica, who became a detective based in New York, is being drawn back to her "seedy beach town" of Neptune, Calif., partly because of her 10-year high school reunion, and partly because murder charges have been brought against Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring). Veronica and Logan initially despised each other, but wound up in a lip-lock toward the end of season 1.

It was Logan's girlfriend -- and Veronica's best friend -- Lilly Kane (the then-virtually unknown Amanda Seyfried) who was murdered at the beginning of the series and propelled Veronica into the world of criminal investigation. When Veronica's father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), the Neptune sheriff, accused Lilly's father, local software billionaire Jake Kane (Kyle Secor), of the killing, it threw the family into a tailspin. Veronica's mother left; her father couldn't make the charges stick and was run out of office. He then set up shop as a private detective, and he and Veronica pursued their various cases, sometimes together, other times not.

The object of the film is to make the fans happy, obviously -- the fans being its financiers. "Rob is one of the best TV writers that's ever existed," Bell told CNN. "He plays to everyone's strengths and that includes his audience and himself. He doesn't write selfishly. He knows what people want to see, and he gives them that. He's like a really, really, really good father."

She added that "Veronica Mars" could "be my whole life."

"And by the way," she said, "what a lucky life it would be if it were. There's no formula for it, because it just has never been done before. Except -- and I'm just throwing it out there -- 'Star Trek' did it. They did a TV show and then nine movies. Who knows? Why can't we make a couple films? Or continue to produce content of 'Veronica Mars'?

"It gets tricky because television contracts legally only allow you to do one episode of a different show. They purchase you. I am now the face of 'House of Lies,' " she said, referring to her Showtime comedy, "so the only way I would be able to reprise 'Veronica Mars' is in movie form." And, maybe, by finding another 91,000 Kickstarter donors.

 

 

Series that made fans take a stand

 

Sometimes, fans get tired of being pushed around, and they force monolithic entertainment entities to cower before their unyielding power -- or, at least, to pay a little attention. While everyone's had a favorite TV show consigned to the dust heap of history, the following did not go without a struggle, or, in some cases, a certain degree of satisfaction.

STAR TREK The original TV series premiered on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966, did well in the ratings at first, but then started to slip. When the network threatened to cancel the show during the second season, a letter-writing campaign salvaged it. The show eventually was canceled after the third season -- NBC's assassination campaign involved moving it to the Friday-night death slot (something it also did with the fan-backed "Quantum Leap" years later). But "Star Trek's" popularity in syndication eventually led to the movies, Trekkie conventions and the subtext and lifestyle we know today.

FIREFLY Joss ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") Whedon's space western lasted only a season (2002-03) -- in fact, it was canceled after only 11 of the original 14 episodes were aired. While the show's avid fan base couldn't save it, Whedon was able to parlay the support into the feature-film spinoff "Serenity," which has achieved its own cult status.

JERICHO When CBS announced it would cancel the show in May 2007, "Jericho" fans, inspired by beloved character Jake Green's cry of "Nuts!," sent about 20 tons of peanuts to network execs. CBS responded by commissioning seven more episodes as a midseason replacement in 2008.

ROSWELL Another campaign that involved food: Because the aliens on the series sprinkled everything with Tabasco, fans in 2000 sent 6,000 little bottles of hot sauce to UPN execs, who had planned to kill the show after one season. The result was that "Roswell" got two more years before getting the chilly news that it would be axed permanently in 2002.

RIPPER STREET In what seems to be a harbinger of major change for imperiled programs of the future, this BBC-canceled period crime drama has been resurrected for a third season by Amazon Prime Instant Video, which also is making the first two seasons available for streaming. -- JOHN ANDERSON

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