Diane Ruggiero (Co-Executive Producer)
We may lust for the cast members. We may exclaim at the skill of the directors. We may want the wardrobe people as our personal shoppers and offer to have the babies of the lighting guys and gals. But, and not a word of this is a lie, none of it would be possible without the ones we most revere - the writers. And notwithstanding the burden she bears on her back or her near-pornographic choices in screen savers, Diane Ruggiero, author of "An Echolls Family Christmas" and "A Trip to the Dentist," amongst others, is so, so very worthy. She's smart, she's sexy, she's funny, and she's here.
MI.net: I guess the first question would be, how do you pronounce your name?
Diane: It's rouge-gee-air-oh. Ruggiero.
MI.net: How did you hook up with Veronica Mars and Rob Thomas and all that?
Diane: Well, Rob had read a feature of mine a few years ago, when he was doing a different pilot, and he liked it. I was doing a different show at the time. When Veronica Mars came about, and he was doing staffing, they sent him that same script and he remembered it. He remembered liking it and he wanted to meet with me. So it's just your basic kind of staffing, but he seemed to be pretty responsive to my writing. He seemed to like it a lot. So it was kind of cool to go on, essentially, an interview where you're a little bit nervous, and you get there, and the person is kind of just saying wonderful things about your writing. It's like, "Okay, [chuckles] I guess I’d like this job please."
MI.net: What script was that?
Diane: It's a feature that's called Pretty the Beast. So that's what it was. It was the first one that I sold.
MI.net: Is it still in option?
Diane: Yeah, hopefully it's going to be made. There's actually something, a little bit happening with it right now. But I won't know for the next month or so. Hopefully something will be happening over the course of the next six months.
[Editor's note: So in other words, the movie Dukes of Hazzard got greenlit, but Diane's script has been in option purgatory for the past five years. What the hell is the matter with those Hollywood execs?!?!]
MI.net: So what made you want to be on the show?
Diane: I kind of didn't think I would staff ever. I mean my only experience was doing my own show. And so I was kind of jaded and thinking that, [whiny voice] "I just want my own show." But it was really more out of fear that I wouldn't be able to do it. I didn't think I would be able to write someone else's show. Then when it came time for staffing season, and you read all these scripts, and Veronica Mars was just head and shoulders above all the other scripts that I read. I mean, her voice was...I just was in love with her voice and the characters that Rob created. I just felt a kind of connection to it. It was not a difficult decision. [chuckles]
MI.net: Your previous show was That's Life, right?
MI.net: That was a really good show.
Diane: Thank you. [chuckles] But that was very kind of semi-autobiographical. It was a neighborhood girl from Jersey, which is kind of me-ish. So I'm like, "Gosh, what do I know about writing about a high school girl?" I was pretty nervous about it, but...as soon as I got into it, I saw that it was going to be...not easy, but I definitely felt an affinity for it.
MI.net: You said you were nervous about it. Was this based on previous experience?
Diane: Well, I was nervous because I had never written anything that was someone else's before. In all of my other experiences, I'd only written my own features or my own TV show, and I wrote another pilot, so I never had to serve someone else's vision. I mean, I had to service the network or studio's vision of what something was, but I never had to give another writer what they need. It was very daunting because I want Rob to be happy. It's different making someone happy in a creative way. Because I respect him so much, so I wanted to do right by him, his characters, his show.
I remember when I did my first episode of last year...episode three "The Wrath of Con," I was just a wreck. [chuckles] I just thought, "Oh God, everything I'm writing isn't funny." It just so happened that the way the scripts worked was that my story kind of got thrown out, and Rob wound up doing the episode that I was going to do as episode one, so we had a very short period of time to do a story for episode three. I was a nervous wreck. But then people really liked it. It worked out.
[Editor's note: Diane didn't make a mistake; "The Wrath of Con" is indeed episode three. In TV land, they don't count the pilot as episode one. So while fans and our site refer to "Wrath of Con" as episode four, the writing staff refers to it as episode three.]
MI.net: So are you the executive producer and writer?
Diane: I'm the co-executive producer.
MI.net: What exactly does that mean?
Diane: It means that I am, uh...not Rob. [both chuckle] It's interesting; on this show I'm the only other writing producer on the show. There’re other producers, but they’re not writing producers. In kind of writerdom in TV, there’re different levels, I'm sure you know. There's staff writers, story level editors, executive story level editors. It's just the levels that you go up to, executive producer being the highest level. So basically it just means I'm Rob's kind of, umm...I guess you would say that I'm Rob's right hand. It's different on other shows. On other shows, there are several executive producers. But the kind of the way we have it here, I'm kind of Rob's, umm...we like to say I'm his work wife.
MI.net: [chuckles] As opposed to his real wife.
Diane: As opposed to his real wife Katie, who I wish I was because she is so fantastic.
MI.net: So how does the writing process start? Does Rob come up with all the ideas because it seemed he had pretty defined ideas about the show?
Diane: Oh yeah, he most definitely does. You know at the beginning of last year, he had the A-story, like the murder, the mystery of the year, he had that pretty well figured out, to where he wanted to go with it. So basically the writers last year worked towards helping him flesh that out and space it out over the course of the season. But he pretty much knew what he wanted with that. So this season is a little different because we all worked on the mystery of the season together so we were kind of all more hands-on with it. Which is pretty interesting to me. The idea was still Rob's but it was interesting to come up with a solution for it, how it was going to go. And we kind of all added things to the mix. So that's how the main story goes.
But then as far as the weekly A-stories, he gave us assignments over break to come in with...yeah, he gives us assignments. "Come in with three A-stories, three B-stories, and pitch an arc for such-and-such character." And all the writers go off and do that. And they come in, the first week we had to pitch to him. And he says, "I like that, I don't like that, I like that but you have to put it with...I like Phil's idea at the beginning, but I'd like the end to be John's idea." It's kind of like a mishmash and we all put it together. That's how we come up with the ideas.
MI.net: So who writes the episodes if it's a mishmash?
Diane: Well it's a mishmash of...I mean sometimes it's one person's idea, but sometimes it's a collective almost. And Rob assigns who is going to write what episode. If you have an affinity for a specific story or you pitched a certain story, he'll definitely give you...he's very good at wanting you to write something that you're passionate about. We all break the stories together. I mean there's the idea, we decide what we're going to write, what episode three is going to be about...like last year episode three was going to be about a computer scam. And so we all break the story together. We break every beat of it, every scene. So what happens when you're breaking it on the board, it's a scene in a coffee shop where Veronica asks Wallace for help. Or it's just a scene where Veronica asks Wallace for help. And then whoever is writing the scene, when they go off to do the outline, they're the person who kind of fleshes it out and says, "It takes place in a coffee shop. She asks him for help by offering him this or that." So the writers all structurally map it out, and then whoever is writing that episode will go off and flesh it out. It's very much a collaboration.
MI.net: But do you guys ever disagree about stuff?
Diane: Oh yes. [chuckles] It's all we do. It's all writers do.
MI.net: So how do you settle arguments? Is it, "It's my script! It's my script!"?
Diane: Oh no. We don't really, we don't really argue...I mean, if it's your episode, and you want to go a certain way, people aren't going to....It's pretty much Rob's...basically Rob is the law. If you want to go in a certain direction, and Rob doesn't want to go in that direction, that's not a direction that you will be going down. That's just how it works out. It's his show. He's the boss. The reason that this show has, I think, the integrity that it has is because Rob maintains that integrity by protecting his vision. And he has a staff that respects him and knows that he has that vision and wants to support it. But we kind of don't argue among...well, a little. Like in a room, "We should do this or..." but not once you've written the script. Most definitely that never happens. No one will come in and say, "I think the scene will be better...." We are all very supportive of each other. But if there's any disagreement with Rob...
MI.net: Rob wins. He's the boss.
Diane: [chuckles] As well he should. Unless it's with me. He should probably listen to me.
MI.net: Should we put that in big bold letters? Rob, you should listen to Diane.
[Editor's note: As requested,
ROB, YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO DIANE!]
Diane: He's pretty good about listening to people's opinions and hearing them out. There's been a couple of times where I've disagreed with him, and I was so completely wrong. [chuckles]
MI.net: Would you like to elaborate?
Diane: That "Who's at the Door?" thing last year. I thought, I'm like, [skeptical, you-are-so-wrong voice] "No one is going to care."
MI.net: That's all anybody asks!
Diane: And everybody was like, [high-pitched fangirly voice] "Who's at the door? Who's at the door?" But I was saying, "That's not big enough." I so didn't think that was big enough. He was like, "Trust me. People are going to be talking about it, talking about it." I'm like, [whiny, eye-rolling voice] "No they're not." And I so wasn't on board with it. But I think I only mentioned it like once and admitted it to him later. He's like, "Really? I thought you were really into that." [bashful voice] "No...I really didn't think it would work." I was so completely wrong.
[Editor's note: We reserve the right to rescind the previous Editor's note.]
MI.net: Were there times when you were right and he was wrong about something?
Diane: Ah, yes. [evil cackle]
MI.net: All right, let's hear this.
Diane: Oh, no, I'll get into trouble.
Diane: Yeah, I thought that a serial killer type of episode ["Silence of the Lamb"] would be too big for our world. I think after it's all said and done, he kind of agrees with that.
MI.net: He even said that in an interview.
Diane: Yeah, but it was...it's not...what are you going to do? [chuckles] Now I'm going to get into trouble.
MI.net: We can leave that part out.
Diane: No, I mean, he knows it. He knows that's how I felt about it. And he's cool with it. He's like, [relaxed guy voice] "Yeah, you know, you're right." You have to still rethink that. You have to try, and that's what teaches you what the perimeters of the show are.