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On a ‘Roswell’ High
Fri, Aug 24, 2001 07:07 PM PDT
by Kate O’Hare
Dedicated fans of former WB and now UPN show “Roswell,” which makes its season premiere on Oct. 9 (after fellow WB expatriate “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), know that the TV show was originally based on a young-adult book series called “Roswell High,” published by Pocket Pulse.
The books were written by Melinda Metz, who worked on them with Laura J. Burns, the editor who helped develop the book series and brought in Metz as the writer. Now the two — who are friends and writing partners — have realized their dream. This season, they joined the staff of “Roswell,” which follows the saga of teen aliens (Jason Behr, Brendan Fehr, Katherine Heigl) stranded on Earth, and the humans (Shiri Appleby, Majandra Delfino and, now, Adam Rodriguez) who love them.
“We share a brain anyway,” says Metz.
“We always think and say the same things,” says Burns. “It’s embarrassing.”
“It’s good when you’re writing partners, though,” says Metz.
While the pilot and first episode for the series closely followed the plots of the first two books, beyond that point, the stories went their own separate ways.
“It becomes like alternate-universe ‘Roswell,'” says Metz.
“With a lot of the characters,” says Burns, “the relationships are frequently the same. It’s interesting because the way they’ve gotten to them is very different than the way we got to them in the book. It’s been fun. It really is an alternate universe.”
After careers as editors and writers in the New York publishing industry, Metz and Burns decided to take the plunge and try to realize their dream to work as television writers. “We had written a couple of pilots for Regency Pictures and 20th Century Fox over the last couple of years,” says Burns. “We were out here [in Los Angeles] in staffing season interviewing with a lot of different shows, trying to get ourselves on staff this year. It was just serendipity that we ended up on ‘Roswell.'”
“We met [executive producer Jason Katims] informally for breakfast,” says Metz, “because we had the ‘Roswell’ connection. It was in that time when The WB had let the show go and UPN hadn’t picked it up, so we were just meeting him.”
“None of us were even sure that ‘Roswell’ would have a future,” says Burns, “so all of us were very excited when ‘Roswell’ was picked up. When Jason wanted to bring us on board, we were over the moon.”
“We love the show,” says Metz.
Metz and Burns first met while working for Parachute Press, which put out R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series. Later, when Burns was developing “Roswell High,” she brought in Metz, who had moved from editor to full-time writer.
“It became pretty clear to us,” says Burns, “that the stuff we were doing would translate very well into writing for television, because we were doing a lot of plotting …”
“And a lot of series books,” Metz continues, “where you have a lot of story arcs for a 10-book series.”
“Some of the characters were continual,” says Burns, “where you’d have the same setting. It’s very much using the same muscles that television writing would use. And we’re both complete TV junkies and movie junkies. So it was just a natural progression.”
“It was a pipe dream — if only we could write for television.”
“We kept saying,” says Metz, “‘OK, we’re going to do spec scripts.’ So even before ‘Roswell,’ we had talks about how the two of us would like to do something together for that. It’s just moved along slowly.”
“But here we are,” says Burns, “and we’re thrilled. It’s just what we’ve always wanted.”
Now relocated to L.A. — and suffering from excessive driving and the lack of decent pizza — the former Manhattanites face the strange situation of seeing how their baby has grown in other people’s hands. The partners are also hearing from the fans of “Roswell,” a dedicated bunch who have supported the show with letters, e-mails and bottles of Tabasco sauce (the aliens’ favorite condiment).
“It’s a wonderful thing to behold,” says Burns. “The funny thing for us is, they’re saying, ‘Oh, it’s going to be great for the show that Melinda’s there,’ and Melinda and I mostly feel like …”
“It’s great for us to be on the show,” says Metz, picking up the thought.
“It’s great for us to have this chance to learn the field,” Burns continues. “We’re just so new at television writing, and it’s what we want to do.”
One bonus, particularly for Metz, is the experience of being part of a writing team. “It’s so collaborative,” she says, “which is fun. I’ve spent the last bunch of years in my apartment in New York, by myself. It’s really great to be in a community of other writers.”
“The life of a freelance writer is very lonely,” says Burns.
And you are now, officially, what? “Staff writers,” says Burns. “This is our first job in TV.”
“Even though we had a career in publishing …” says Metz.
“We’re entry-level,” continues Burns. “We’re learning.”
“We don’t know anything,” says Metz, “so that’s where we should be.”
“Teach us,” says Burns. “We are a sponge.”
FROM THE CONN: Production makes strange bedfellows, as Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount Pictures team up with horror-meister Clive Barker on his comic-book property “Ecto-Kid.” The companies are planning to develop the tale as both a feature film and a TV property. Co-written by Larry Wachowski (“The Matrix” ), the story follows Dex Mungo, the love child of a psychic woman and the ghost of a murdered man, who can see the living with one eye and the ghostly dead with another.
CYBERSPATIAL ANOMALIES: Pretty and well-designed (despite annoying pop-up advertiser windows) Roswell-High.com offers a complete menu of Crashdown Café goodies, along with lots of news. Equally big fun is Crashdown.com. With competition like The WB’s “Smallville” and FOX’s “24,” UPN’s “Roswell” is going to need all the help it can get.