Taking to the air over ‘Veronica Mars’
Fans today will fly an airplane over Hollywood
May 8, 2006
Tonight will mark either the season or series finale of Veronica Mars, the UPN show about a scrappy teen detective who attends high school by day and solves mysteries by night, and sometimes does them both together. While Mars has a devoted cult following, with loads of messageboards dedicated to her, and lots of critical kudos, she has pretty tiny ratings. Mars is on the bubble for a fall renewal on the new CW, which will combine the strongest shows from the WB and UPN, and so the show’s biggest fans wanted to grab the attention of the network’s executives by doing something beyond the usual online petition. That something they call “Look to the Skies.” Today an airplane visible from the 405 freeway between Wilshire Boulevard and the 101 will fly over Los Angeles during peak commuter hours towing a banner that reads: Renew Veronica Mars! CW 2006! Atlanta’s Anna Smith, Boston’s Kelley Spada and Chicago’s Mark Israel, fans of the show who post on the TV fansite Television Without Pity, helped organize the stunt. They talk with Media Life about Mars’ chances for renewal, how they raised $7,000 to hire the plane, and why they decided against a skywriting campaign.
Most fans trying to save a show do something simpler, like take out an ad in a magazine. What made you decide to do this?
Smith: That is just it. Most fans send flowers, send postcards, write letters — all things that, even if organized, seem to have very little impact. You have no sense of whether or not the powers that be are even aware of your efforts. You have to assume that the flowers ended up in the trash and the letters were recycled without being read.
Not to say we didn’t try those methods too. We hope that we put a new spin on an old tactic and we hope our postcards are not in a recycling bin in someone’s office and that Les Moonves is wearing his Hearst College T-shirt [a reference to a college in Veronica's town] as we speak, but what we wanted to do here was collectively come together as a united front and do something that would require the executives to take notice.
The plane is just a jumping off point for us. Nobody thinks [CW president] Dawn Ostroff is going to say, Oh, well if they hired a plane, we have to renew the show now. For us, the plane is just a way to kick off the more practical campaigns like the DVD drive.
How are you funding it? How much did it cost?
Smith: Everything has been funded through donations from members of the Veronica Mars fan community. We’ve had over a hundred people donate cash and countless others donate DVD sets to their hometown libraries [to encourage new viewers to watch the show].
Our initial budget to cover the major efforts (the plane, care packages and DVD donations to libraries in the top 10 Nielsen markets) was around $3,000. At this point we’ve collected over $7,000 in donations. That is in just one week.
“Look to the Skies” seems like a complex plan for a group spread out across the country. How did you pull it all together?
Spada: The discussion started on the Television Without Pity web site. As plans got more complicated and more people got involved, someone suggested we start a LiveJournal community to keep track of who was doing what and what still needed to be done. Threaded discussion boards like TWoP move quickly, but this one was almost impossible to keep up with. A little over a week ago, when the idea was first posed, the ˜Guarantee a Season 3′ topic was 20 pages long. We crossed the 100 mark this morning.
Were there other more outrageous plans that you considered instead of this?
Smith: We did have this one plan about kidnapping Nielsen members and forcing them to watch the pilot.
Truthfully, this was the most outrageous thing we came up with. The plan evolved, of course, into what it is now, but this is pretty much as crazy as it got. Initially we thought about skywriting (too fleeting) or using a full-color aerial banner instead (too costly at the time and too time consuming to print).
The letter banner seemed like a happy medium between ˜eccentric and eye-catching’ and ˜total waste of dollars.’ We wanted to make sure the majority of funds were directed towards more practical efforts aimed at securing new fans for future seasons.
How many people are involved with the plane campaign?
Spade: It’s hard to say. Hundreds anyway. Over 100 people have donated money to the campaign’s PayPal account, and in addition to the efforts paid for with that money, 70 DVD sets have been donated to libraries across the country. Two hundred people have joined the LJ community, but you can only do that if you have a LJ account, so the number is certainly greater than that. We get anonymous comments from fans all the time.
Do you think that a stunt like this will really make a difference in whether the CW picks up “Mars” for a third season?
Smith: It is no secret that Mars does not have good ratings. Veronica’s success lies in her critical acclaim and her devoted following. We wanted to think of a way to demonstrate to the CW executives that the fan base is just as loyal as ever. Not only are we committed to watching the show wherever it goes, but we are committed to converting new fans and bringing them to the CW with us.
And the plane’s flight is certainly newsworthy, so we are hoping that journalists will cover it, adding to the stack of pro-Veronica press already out there. The decision will be announced on May 18 — that gives TV writers a little over a week to remind the CW what a mistake it would be to cancel Veronica Mars.
What other things have you done to try to convince them? Have you heard from any executives about your stunts? What about “Mars” producers?
Israel: We’ve done the standard stuff like writing letters to entertainment papers, magazines and web sites, voting in online polls, etc. But we’ve really tried to focus our attention on pulling together these unique events. We sent a message to the CW executives in the form of care packages: Let Veronica Mars go to college.
And then, as we went along, we started to realize the core of the campaign was the DVD drive. Because, in the end, what matters is getting people to watch the show. When we learned that many libraries have waiting lists of 50 people or more for one copy of Veronica Mars, we saw a real opportunity to supply what fans were demanding.
No one from the CW has called to thank us for the flowers yet, but we have heard through the grapevine that they are aware of what we’re planning. Warner Brothers Entertainment (which owns the rights to the show) called today to ask about the plane’s flight plan. As far as the show’s producers go, we sent creator/executive producer Rob Thomas a copy of the press release, and we got an encouraging response back.
What do you think the chances are that “Mars” is coming back? Are they better or worse than two months ago?
Israel: It all depends on what the executives are relying on to make their decision. If it is strictly a numbers game, then Veronica Mars is in the same position it has been in since returning from its last hiatus. If other factors are coming into play, then I’d like to believe the continued rave reviews over the recent episodes and the obvious efforts by the fans have increased Veronica’s chances of renewal. We’re cautiously optimistic.
Mostly we’ve avoided getting too caught up in either the positive or the negative news that we’ve read. Instead, we’ve followed Veronica’s lead by being as proactive as possible, so that whatever happens, we’ll know that we’ve done everything we can to attract attention to the show we love.
The show has been preempted in some parts of the country, including New York, by baseball in recent weeks, which may have hurt its ratings a bit. Are you at all worried that it will suffer because of that?
Israel: Clearly those preemptions have been very hard on ratings, but we have to believe that this decision is not going to be based on ratings. Moving to the CW would be a new start for Veronica, so the show’s performance on UPN is not that informative. Some markets do not even have UPN affiliates, and if they do, many viewers don’t think to check them while they are flipping through the stations.
While the leadership at UPN has proven to be pioneering, shows on the WB have had more time to establish followings. Those audiences will be coming to the CW with them. We believe that from this larger platform, Veronica Mars will finally get ratings that are representative of the show’s critical acclaim and the level of her fans’ devotion.
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