Veronica Mars is struggling to stay alive yet again. Not the character, the show. Unfortunately, it’s a scenario that fans know all too well. Despite their allegiance and wide-ranging critical support, the series has had an uphill battle each season. The current fight may be the toughest yet.
Veronica Mars debuted on September 22, 2004 on the old UPN and then migrated to the CW network last Fall. The series centers around young and intelligent Veronica Mars as she juggles school with solving mysteries at her single Dad’s detective agency. With the tone of the series described as “a little bit Buffy and a little bit Bogart,” Mars is a wonderful blend of humor, mystery and scholastic social drama. The series stars Kristen Bell as the title character and also currently features Jason Dohring, Percy Daggs III, Ryan Hansen, Julie Gonzalo, Chris Lowell, Tina Majorino, Francis Capra, and Enrico Colantoni.
High-profile fans include Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly), director Kevin Smith and writer Stephen King. Whedon has said “Best. Show. Ever. Seriously, I’ve never gotten more wrapped up in a show I wasn’t making, and maybe even more than those. These guys know what they’re doing on a level that intimidates me. It’s the Harry Potter of shows.”
Impressive as that is, it’s the regular fans that have kept the series alive this long. Each year, this passionate group has organized inventive campaigns to get the series renewed and to widen Mars viewership. Last year, once the series had been picked up for the third season, the “Cloud Watchers” donated 500 DVD sets of season one to libraries in the top 100 Nielson markets.
Despite its quality and fan devotion, Mars has never been a widespread hit. This year, paired with Gilmore Girls, Mars has consistently lost a significant quantity of lead-in viewers. The series was initially only given a tentative 13 episode order for season three. The series was later given an order for a full season but this was scaled back from 22 to 20 episodes. Not a good sign.
The series was recently put on hiatus for the months of March and April. CW is airing reality show Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll in its place. Initial ratings for Pussycat Dolls were incredible, boasting an increase of 75% over Mars’ last airing and putting CW in a rare second place for the night. This week, viewership of Pussycat Dolls dropped 30% from the previous episode’s. Still, this was an impressive 29% increase over the Gilmore Girls lead-in. Mars usually loses more than that.
Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas had expressed that he felt optimistic for the renewal and had no intention of ending the season in an ambiguous way (making it all the more difficult for the network to end the series at the last minute). As time has gone on, particularly now in light of the Pussycat Dolls ratings, a season four of Mars has seemed less and less likely.
Many have complained that the show and storylines are but a shadow of what they once were. Some attribute this to the season three setting change — from high school to college. Well, if that’s the case, some people could be very happy –Veronica might be leaving Hearst College early.
In an attempt to save the show, Thomas and the Mars team are going to try something radical. They’re making a five to six minute trailer to try to sell the CW on a re-imagined version of the show. This creative redirection would propel us four years into the future and show Veronica as an FBI agent — a natural progression for the criminology student. As of now, Veronica is the only character that would be making the jump for sure. The cast was informed about the possible new direction yesterday. (Chris Lowell’s “Piz” is definitely out as he was recently signed for the as-yet-untitled Grey’s Anatomy spin-off for ABC.)
If the CW likes the new idea, we’ll see Agent Mars next season. If not, I suspect Thomas will be working quickly to adapt the final episode to include some sort of closure for the series and fans. A rep for CW has said the final decision won’t be made until the network upfronts on May 17th but I suspect we’ll probably hear the news before then.
As a side note, CW’s final decision may be influenced by the current Gilmore Girls situation. If Gilmore actually ends this season, it may give Mars a better chance for survival. The CW schedule isn’t exactly overflowing with existing programming and its difficult to envision them losing both shows. Stay tuned!