The tobasco was mailed. The e-mails were sent. TheWB.com posting boards were inundated with desperate pleas to keep Roswell alive for another year. Varying internet critics engaged in a battle of gossip: “The show is being canceled,” “No, it’s not, TheWB will pick it up,” “No, it’s dead in the water. Give up now and find a new cause.” Fans praised the ones that gave them hope and avoided the naysayers. But when Tuesday, May 15th rolled around, Roswell‘s fate was sealed – there would be no final reprieve.
Or would there? The rumblings of a UPN pick-up grew louder in the two days between the channel’s new season presentations. The Wednesday between was filled with much trepidation and came with a satisfying payoff: An eleventh-hour agreement by UPN saved Roswell from the brink of cancellation – the second time the series was saved at the last minute. Ushered into a cushy post-Buffy spot, Roswell has yet another chance to tell its story to a potentially larger audience.
For the fans, this has been a bit of a mixed blessing. To say that this last season has been a little unfocused is putting it mildly. Undeveloped plot arcs, inconsistent character development and questionable writing have put a damper on even the brighter episodes this season. The characters that many fell in love with last season are now little more than a shell of what they once were – and the entire premise of the show has been shot full of so many holes that it’s surprising that it has still managed to appear coherent. (Appear being the operative word.)
But then something very interesting happened on the evening of May 21st. It was as if someone had taken a good, hard look at the series and realized that it had gone terribly awry. They swept out the hazy fog which had apparently taken up residence in the production office for the past year and wrote a finale that not only attempted to clear up some of the really fractured plotlines but also reminded the viewers why we loved the show in the first place – the delicate and powerful relationships of the few who vowed to keep a secret to the very end.
The morning after the UPN upfronts, Executive Producer Kevin Kelly Brown graciously indulged PopGurls with an interview. A fellow Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, we chatted about the upcoming netlet jump, the struggles of the show – past and present – and the, uh, passionate fans. As any good fangurl would do, I tried to get Kevin to dish on the upcoming season. Somehow he managed to resist my charms.
Congratulations on the pick-up. Yesterday, Dean Valentine said they realize “it’s a terrific show with a fanatical audience.” Do you think that had anything to do with the decision to pick up Roswell?
Yes, in fact, I think that was even more critical than at TheWB. Because UPN is taking a risk that Buffy and Roswell do have a large female audience that UPN has not courted. I think a critical factor in their decision to pick up the show was the loyalty of the audience, knowing that the audience will come with the show, that they won’t need to find an audience for the show.
Also, it was very important to [UPN] to build a night. Buffy would be this oasis of female viewers that didn’t pay off for them in any other time period. So they couldn’t follow Buffy with a show that didn’t have an equally broad appeal. I do not believe that anything they had in development would have gone well with Buffy, which is why they were willing to buy the show.
UPN has such a male audience, while TheWB has pretty much stayed with the female audience. How do you think that demo-specific targeting will play into their respective successes?
Here’s what happened. UPN and TheWB started at the same time. It was predicted that UPN would be successful and TheWB would fail because UPN was launching with a new Star Trek show that would not be syndicated. From the get-go, UPN seemed to have the momentum. Their next show that hit just happened to be wrestling. So, probably not planned – but nevertheless somehow preordained – they ended up with this young male audience. Meanwhile, TheWB was finding itself pretty unsuccessful until Buffy, and Buffy delivered this huge female audience which Fox had abdicated.
In Fox’s efforts to become a broader-base channel, they abandoned these young audiences to TheWB and UPN. [The availability of these audiences] was instrumental in the creation of these two networks. Eventually, but I don’t think intentionally, TheWB and UPN ended up splitting the audience. As a result, I don’t think either network has been able to get much past the other in terms of ratings or total viewers. In demos, one network will do better [with the demo they’re targeting]. But in terms of total audience, they have been about equal in the past two years.
So, in my opinion, the network that manages to snatch more of the other guy’s viewers will be the network that will be successful. I believe that UPN has a better chance of doing that because of [their] buying of Buffy and Roswell. Think about this, in a month, the netlet world [will] be completely transformed. Suddenly, UPN not only has the momentum but a huge chunk of that female teen audience. I think [TheWB] runs the risk of being left behind unless something like Smallville turns into a monster hit.
UPN is owned by Paramount which is owned by Viacom. And Viacom also owns MTV which last year shared Celebrity Deathmatch with UPN. Personally, I think it would be perfect to use the same plan to promote Roswell which is ideal for the MTV audience.
The music is really great. Everybody forgets that Dido was nothing when we picked that song – nobody had even heard of her. And a couple of episodes we used that Fisher song, which was just perfect. I think that they should have added runs of “Roswell” on MTV on the weekend.
Twice, this year and last year, the show has been brought back from the brink of death.
I would say that’s an understatement. (laughs)
Have there been any last-minute plot changes and about-faces that you’ve done because you thought you were going to be canceled?
This is one of the most intriguing, yet odd, questions I get from the fans. (laughs) Somehow you people are under the impression that we have the time or the money to just arbitrarily go out and shoot new endings or change scenes, or “Hey, this person didn’t work out so let’s recast them and re-shoot the whole episode.” We barely make every show in eight days, let alone have time to re-shoot.
If there was some kind of disaster, like an actor dies before you finish, that’s different. But we don’t have any time or money to do that. Every once in a while, you may need to re-shoot something because the sound was off. In series television, you may have stuff left over from a previous episode, so you just jam it into the next episode. But, in terms of changing stuff – no.
Besides, by the time [whether or not we’re going to be canceled] becomes an issue – we’re done. We’re in post.
Alright, spoilers. What is the general take on spoilers and do you take precautions to get fake spoilers out there?
Yes, we do it all the time. We constantly throw fake spoilers out there – and by the way, 90% of what’s on the spoiler board is wrong.
Fans will put out spoilers that are not really spoilers at all – but are their wishful thinking, their fantasizing, their speculating. But they put it on as if it’s a spoiler. That stuff, we just look at and go, “Huh? There’s no way that came from our camp.”
Have there been any plot lines that you’ve dropped due to budget constraints?
It doesn’t work that way. You don’t write them if you know you can’t afford them. What will happen is this: Early on, before anything is written, when you are just breaking stories, you’ll float an idea. Perfect example – “Summer of ’47.” Everybody was like, “Are we going to be able to actually do that?” So, you send the line producer out there to see if it’s actually possible to shoot a big chunk of an episode that’s going to require period costumes and cars, make-up and hair… It’s possible that story ideas are killed – but you don’t go out and just write a whole episode [then kill it].
So, the Maria intros. Is this something that is going to be continuous?
Ah, the now-infamous blackboards. No, it was done for two reasons. First, we lost six weeks and we felt that we absolutely had to bring the fans up-to-date, so to speak. Not only them, but anyone tuning in for the first time.
More importantly, it was predicated on the fact that we had switched the order of the episodes, and we had to set up a device by which we could explain why “Off The Menu” was showing up when it was showing up. So, we could have done it as a one-shot thing but that seemed rather risky.
There seem to be a few people on Fanforum that seemed to be obsessed (my commentary) about taking every.little.thing. and blowing it up to some insane degree of symbolism. Like, there is this Liz-and-a-horse theory–
Wait, wait. Liz, and a horse?
I’m not too up on it, to be honest. But apparently there’s a sect of them that believes that Liz is represented by a horse throughout the episodes. Like, sometimes she has horse stickers on her mirror.
I don’t know – the horse thing, that’s a new one on me.
I’ve never really gotten it. But is there any sort of underlying symbolism that you try to keep in consideration?
Some of the stuff, of course. The alien symbol and all that kind of stuff. Maybe sometimes the production department is having a little fun without telling us about it. For the most part, I think that the fans pick up on [things] that means something to them. [For example], the whole strawberry applesauce thing – because of the teaser in “Sexual Healing.”
It’s not just our fans – there’s entire religions built around the movie Blade Runner, for God’s sake. But some of it, of course, can be quite humorous to us because we didn’t intend it that way. My personal favorite is the “infamous nod” at the end of “Max in the City,” where [Max] asks [Liz] if she slept with Kyle. She didn’t answer, but they said: “Is that a nod – or did she shake her head?” For weeks, they went on. They still ask me about it.
What direction would you like to see the show to take?
I think the show’s great. I think we need to be more consistent in our storytelling, in particular with the emotional lives with the characters. I think that’s the biggest issue that I have – but that’s also a function of the fact that it’s virtually impossible to do 22 episodes of a series. It’s an insane regimen to begin with. You’re just lucky to find enough storylines.
I think one of the things that Joss Whedon does so well on his shows is that the emotional lives of the characters are often very consistent. If something affects a character in one episode, it’s not just dropped. We should be better [at that]: I think the actors in particular would like that. I think sometimes they begin to feel like pawns who are just being moved around a board. “Go to spot A and cry this week.” For them, it’s very important that if their character is being affected in an emotional way, that should be reflected in subsequent episodes.
One nice thing is that you don’t have the “Buffy crying” scene every week.
I think you’ve mixed in the humour quite well. Definitely with capitalizing on Kyle.
I personally think we have much more humour we can do. Now that we’re on UPN, I think it would be hilarious to see aliens watching Star Trek. I want to know what these characters are thinking – it’ll either be “This is silly,” or “That could be my father.” (laughs)
There are so many implications. It’s funny – but it could also be “What are they/the world going to think of me?”
When you talk about consistency – the one thing about Isabel is her need to be “normal.” I was talking to someone and they explained that this whole season has been about them reacting to their “destiny.” That they’ve all tried to do a complete 180 from what they had been doing all through their lives because they didn’t want to be told what to do. And I think that part of Isabel’s reaction was to seek out that “normality” even more – and that tied in really nicely.
Something that actually got dropped [from the book] that I was disappointed about, was that the Isabel character was obsessed with order. When she’d get upset, she’d go up to her room and dump all of her lipsticks onto her bed and rearrange them. Because they are all in perfect order all of the time. I thought that was a really interesting character trait, and I’m sorry we lost that.
Another big thing that got dropped that was really cool was that Liz had a sister who had died of a drug overdose, which is why her parents were so protective of her. I always thought that we should at least tease [that idea], so we could bring it in at some point.
How closely did you want to tie in with the book?
It’s not a question of how closely. The book is a template and you turn the book over to somebody like Jason [Katims] and he [adapts] it and makes it filmable for this medium. By design, 60 or 70 percent of what’s in the book isn’t going to make it in the one-hour pilot.
As most people know, Jason completely changed the ending of the pilot. At first, I definitely resisted that, but then we never came up with anything that was as good until we came up with the festival idea. I thought that was absolutely the most brilliant choice that was made about the pilot.
Back to my pet project, “Isabel the Lesbian.”
Yeah, what’s up with that?
Like I’ve said before, they’ve yet to create a strong male counterpart for Isabel. But more than that – there is no wrong. Guys would love it, and I have yet to find a woman – straight or otherwise – who is opposed to the idea. And I’ve expounded this to many a-folk.
And! And! The underlying tension in “Four Square” between Isabel and Tess.
Oh yeah, even I was sitting back and looking at those dailies [and thinking], “Well, this is interesting. This could get very, very cool.” Especially when they hugged at the end.
(Much conspiratorial, agreeing laughter ensued)
I think the problem has been that Katherine is so stunning and she is such a powerful actor Ü you can’t simply throw up her up against somebody. Even when we started pairing her up with Colin, it was never supposed to go beyond a flirtation. But they just had so much chemistry together. I think a lot of people, including myself, are disappointed that it did not continue. That would have been a great relationship, but it would not have been an equal relationship. Alex would have always been at a disadvantage – we could have played that for laughs or we could have played it for sympathy, but we could have never played it for real.
So, in order to hook her up with somebody they’ve really got to be a strong character.
What have been a couple of your favorite episodes?
I love every episode – some worked better than others. I would say that my favorites other than the pilot… the episodes that worked best for me are the episodes that worked best for the show: the relationships astride with sci-fi: Like, “End of the World” or “Summer of ’47.” “Toy House” is one of my favorites – it’s amazing. “A Roswell Christmas Carol.” The final six from last year.
Those episodes, to me, are the ones where the show works best and frankly, if we can go there on a regular basis, then the show would be one of the great shows of all time.
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