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Q&A: Rob Thomas on Giving Life to ‘iZombie’

Many comparisons have been made between “iZombie,” Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero’s new zombie crime fighter drama for CW, and “Veronica Mars,” the beloved drama about a wisecracking teenage gumshoe that Thomas created and Ruggiero also penned and produced during its three short years on air.

Thomas knew this was bound to happen given that both have female leads with a propensity for voiceover, but Thomas wants to point out one crucial distinction between the bygone Kristen Bell-starring caper and his new procedural that stars Rose McIver as Liv, the brainiac med student who becomes a brain-eating morgue employee after one wild party.

“Well, we’ve got zombies,” he joked during a phone call from his home in Austin, Texas. “There’s going to be a whole lot more brain eating in ‘iZombie’ than we ever had in ‘Veronica Mars.’”

Ahead of the series’ premiere at 9 p.m. tonight on the CW, Thomas talked to Variety about giving life to “iZombie.”

Congrats on the show! How are you feeling going into the premiere?

It’s the first time I’ve done a midseason. Before you have the show on the air and you’re still making them. This is very odd that we’re done making them and we’re still waiting to put them on the air. I’m really pretty giddy about it. I can’t wait.

Doing “Veronica Mars,” I could read all the feedback and kind of get an idea of what fans were digging and what they weren’t and who they thought they did it in the big whodunit. This time we’re sort of flying blind.

“iZombie” is based on the graphic novels created by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred. There are so many shows based on comics or graphic novels. How will this show stand out from the others?

Most of the comicbook shows are driven by a superhero at the core — someone with some pretty incredible abilities. There’s some of that in our show, but it’s really about living life as a zombie: How would you go about your day if you were just sort of reanimated flesh? There’s a lot less ass-kicking in our show. There’s certainly some of it, but I don’t think we live or die in our superhero’s ability to kick ass. It’s like a character show about how you move on once everything in your life has been taken away from you.

When we talked about big-picture ideas for this show, there’s been a lot of talk about quarter-life crisis and we feel like we have the poster child for quarter-life crisis: Someone who did everything they were supposed to for 25 years and looked up and realized they have to start from scratch.

It’s also one of the few of these adaptations that has a female lead. Do you think that will broaden the audience?

The driving force behind the show — or at least how it was pitched to me when Susan Rovner, the head of development at Warner Bros. TV, brought me the comicbook – was less about “CW really needs a zombie show. Let’s get that on the air.” The way they approached it was “CW needs the next kickass female lead on the network” and essentially the marching orders were “give us the new ‘Buffy,’ give us the new ‘Veronica Mars.’’’

Do you think you’ve delivered that?

God, I hope it’d be bigger than “Veronica” because we only lasted three seasons. If you told me today that we’d have “Buffy” status, I would jump at that. But I hope so.

I have to say, the first years of shows are really hard almost every time. This one was the only exception of my career. It has been such a great ride. The studio and network and those of us doing the show have kind of all been on the same page, which is so rare and pleasant. They’re excited, we’re excited. I just hope America digs it took.

Why do you think that is?

The cast really clicked. That’s such a big hurdle and with so much television being made, so much original scripted television being made, and the talent pool getting thinner and thinner as there’s shows competing for actors … we happen to have a cast that’s really charming in their roles.

There was a little bit of recasting though. Aly Michalka replaced Alexandra Krosney as Liv’s best friend, Peyton. Nora Dunn was originally cast as her mother, Eva, and she was replaced by Molly Hagan.

It’s awkward because the actors we lost are people I like and respect. The recasting of the mother was realizing that that role was going to become much smaller and realizing that it wasn’t in our best interest to spend money on a series regular who we didn’t need for the show. That was more of a financial decision. And the casting of the best friend; it just came down to onscreen chemistry.

But there are also some familiar faces from both “Veronica Mars” and your Starz show, “Party Down.”

Ryan Hansen [“Veronica Mars,” “Party Down”] is in episode five, Percy Daggs [“Veronica Mars”] did an episode, Daran Norris [“Veronica Mars,” “Party Down”] … Anyone who’s watched “Veronica Mars” and “Party Down” knows that I have actors I like to go back to a lot. I can promise you that, if we’re lucky enough to go beyond season one, I will be asking many people who come from that universe.

You do realize that this show means that every magazine headline about you is going to be titled “Rob Zombie,” right?

(Laughs) I got called that accidentally the other day at some press thing. It was somebody speaking too quickly and it was so off the cuff. It was the first time that clicked in. That will be funny, especially for somebody who so often gets confused with the rock star [Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas].

OK, one more thing: Is there any chance of a “Party Down” movie?

I hope so. I wish I could give you a more definitive answer. I would say that if you were to ask every producer on the show and every actor on the show, everyone would love to do it. The problem is they all became big stars and have their own shows and trying to schedule that … everyone is doing too well for us to be able to schedule a “Party Down” movie.

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