Jason Katims interview in Starlog

By • Aug 30th, 2002 • Category: Authors & Directors, Jason Katims, Roswell

Thanks to MyrnaLynne for this :)

“Starlog” magazine, Sept 2002 #302
Jason Katims talks about the end of Roswell

page 13 “Sci-Fi TV” section
Roswell
SciFi will begin running “Roswell” this fall or in 2003. Series guru Jason
Katims reviews the show’s last days on page 74.

p. 74-77 “Roswell Farewell” by Joe Nazzaro (8 photos from various episodes –
ARCC, the Bewitched episode, and Graduation – accompany the article)

“Series guru Jason Katims bids adieu to Earth’s favorite alienated teens.

So that’s the end: our life in Roswell. What a long strange trip it has been.
Will we ever go back? I don’t know. Even I can’t see everything in the
future…”

And so ended “Roswell,” the story of Liz Parker, a high school student and
part-time waitress, who got caught up in mysterious adventures with a trio of
teenage aliens stranded on Earth. Based on the popular ‘Roswell High’ books by
Melinda Metz, the weekly TV series was developed by writer-executive producer
Jason Katims, who saw his pet project go through a number of trials and
tribulations (as he discussed in STARLOG #292). Originally developed for Fox,
“Roswell” eventually landed at the WB, which cancelled it after two seasons. At
the 11th hour, UPN stepped in to pick up the series, but that network’s
enthusiasm was short-lived: After pulling it from their mid-season schedule,
UPN first cut “Roswell’s season episode order, then cancelled it entirely.

For Katims, watching “Roswell” go from the brink of extinction to unexpected
life and back into oblivion again has been a difficult process, but not without
some rewards. Gaining an extra 20 episodes allowed the show’s writers to tell
some interesting stories, and spend some additional time with the characters
they had grown to love. When the end finally came, it wasn’t entirely shocking.
“I would say when they reduced our order and pulled back two episodes,” notes
Katims, “that was the time when the writing was on the wall. For me, the
message was that the show was not going to be coming back.”

SUMMER DAZE
But that end was still many months off. Meanwhile, Katims and his writing staff
needed to continue their series for a new network, but in a way that would allow
unfamiliar viewers to jump on without feeling they had already missed out on too
much. The answer was to let some time pass between seasons and being new
storylines that would eventually dovetail with previous events.

“It was the same precedent that we has set up between Seasons One and Two,” says
Katims. “For instance, when we went from Season One into Two, we said several
months had passed, so what happened over those three months? The same thing
happened between Seasons Two and Three. The only big off-screen thing we did
was have Jesse [Adam Rodriguez] and Isabel [Katherine Heigl] meet over the
summer, but other than that, everything we set up happened [on-screen]. Max
[Jason Behr] was looking for his child and Liz [Shiri Appleby] had joined him on
that search. And Michael [Brendan Fehr] had decided that he was going to stay
in Roswell and get a job. So we tried to imagine what would have happened over
those months during the summer and tried to pick up from there, as opposed to
coming in the next day. We could have done it the other way, but that’s just
the way we chose to do it.”

The writers also tried to avoid some of the mistakes that they had made in the
previous season, including too much time spent on alien mythology and red
herrings such as the Skins and Dupes, and not enough character- and
relationship-driven stories. “I think what happened in the second season was
that we started going in so many different directions with the show’s mythology
that the backstory got very complicated, and even people who new the show got
confused,” Katims confesses. “It was too complicated, and by doing that, I felt
we were losing the emotional value that the series had always had. We were
losing the observation of character and relationship. I’ve always felt that
“Roswell” is very strong in an almost unusual way, because it’s a SF show with a
very quirky idea: teenagers as aliens. There’s something that could be
considered almost silly about that, but it wasn’t, and that’s what I always
loved about “Roswell.”

“I remember when we were shooting the pilot, and I was on the set watching
Jason’s interpretation of Max Evans, how real he chose to make this character,
and how serious all this was to him. I thought, ‘Wow, this is really great,’
because if you told the idea of this show to somebody, they would think it was a
sitcom, because it’s kind of flawed in its nature. And yet the way Jason chose
to portray that character, and what we – the director, David Nutter, everybody
and I – were trying to do was use that conceit as a jumping-off point
dramatically, but otherwise make it very real, to treat it as if it was actually
happening.”

As the clock began ticking toward the end of “Roswell’s” final season, there
was still plenty of ground to cover and not much time to do it. With several
different storylines to resolve, and UPN trimming two episodes from the season,
some ideas simply never made it to the screen. “What we had to do in four
episodes, we ended up doing in just two, so for the final two episodes, we threw
out one story and then made what was going to occur in three episodes happen in
two,” Katims explains. “Unfortunately, we had to throw out a story that we were
very excited about, so that was frustrating. The idea was to do a ‘What if?’
episode, a time-travel idea, where we would go back to different moments in the
show’s history – including the pilot – and say, “What if Max hadn’t saved Liz?
What if Michael ended up saving her instead? What if Maria [Majandra Delfino] told Liz to duck before she got hit with a bullet?’ I thought the notion of it
was a very fun and novel way to look back at what we had done.

“What we wound up doing as the finale, we had originally hoped to do as a
two-hour wrap-up, but it ended up just one hour. So that was disappointing too,
but at the end of the day, as I said, I’m very happy with how the final episode
turned out. We were able to make the best of it, and the truth is, it’s always
frustrating, but that’s TV. Things happen and schedules change, so you have to
roll with the punches. You thought you were going to air an episode in
February, and it ends up in May, or you get a couple more or a couple less
episodes than you expected. You just have to go with it. Often, challenges like
that make things better.”

SPRING HAZE
One plot thread the writers had always intended to resolve was the return of
Tess [Emilie de Ravin], the fourth alien hybrid, who had taken her son (fathered
by Max) back to their home planet last season. In the penultimate episode “Four
Aliens and a Baby,” Tess manages to make amends for her past misdeeds, and
leaves the infant in Max’s care, albeit briefly. “I had always wanted to bring
Tess back later in the season,” Katims insists. “Among the things I was really
adamant about doing this year, whether or not the show was coming back, was to
resolve the issue of Max’s son, and also to have Tess return. So we were able
to combine those two things into one story.”

With just one episode left, there was still loads of material to pack into the
finale. Katims teamed up with co-executive producer Ron Moore to write
“Graduation,” in which they attempted to tie up most of the show’s continuity,
as well as send the characters off in new and different directions. “I’m very
happy with the final episode, and I was glad the network really got behind
getting people to watch it. We were off the schedule for a while, so it was nice
to know that people were aware that “Roswell” had come back.”

In many ways, ‘Graduation’ brought “Roswell’s” story full circle, notably with
the use of Liz’s diary – which started off the series in episode one, and ends
it as her diary is finally turned over to her parents. “Liz was the
point-of-view character at the beginning, and we actually returned to that in
the final episode,” says Katims. “We framed the episode with voiceover by her,
and gave the show back to that idea – that we’re putting it in Liz’s
point-of-view. We thought it would make a really nice bookend to the pilot. At
the series’ beginning, it was all told through her writing in her journal. That
was the frame for the whole show, and we returned to that, where she actually
finished her journal. And I think because of that, the finale is very much
connected to the first episode: it almost has a nostalgic feeling for people
who know the roots of the show and how it got started.”

If the series had lasted beyond a third seasons, Katims indicates that there was
a definite direction in which they would have headed. “When you watch the
finale, you can actually see some of those things being laid out,” he remarks.
“When we were writing the shows, I always found myself particularly drawn to
episodes where they wound up helping people. For example, there was the
Christmas episode, where Max heals the children with cancer at the possible risk
of exposure. There was something about that idea that was very powerful to me,
so that was where [we wanted] to go. And when you watch the final episode,
that’s what we were setting up.

“There’s one scene where Max says to Liz that that’s what he wants to do, and in
the final episode, Liz begins to have premonitions and flashes. You see the
beginning of her becoming clairvoyant, and you realize that’s ultimately the
effect that Max’s healing is having on her. So if the show had gone on, she
would have become the catalyst to get the stories going. Liz would have some
kind of vision, they would follow it up, and it would take them to different
places.”

Looking back over “Roswell’s” three-year run, Katims has no difficulty putting
together a quick list of his own personal highlights. “I have a bunch of
episodes that to me are what I like best about the show,” he reflects, “but it
doesn’t mean that’s what is best about the show: they’re things that I like.
Of course, the pilot is a favorite of mine, and then the second season Christmas
episode [“A Roswell Christmas Carol”]. ‘The End of the World’ where Max comes
back from the future, is another favorite. The first season’s final handful of
episodes were very strong, including ‘The White Room’ – which was especially
strong – and the first season finale, another good show. And honestly, I think
the series’ final episode is one of my favorites.”

GRADUATION DAYS
For the time being, that appears to be it for “Roswell.” Although there’s every
chance that the characters could continue to appear in the “Roswell High” books
by author (and former series writer) Metz, those adventures won’t carry on from
the TV show. “The books have always lived in a parallel universe that’s
different from the show,” Katims states. “What Melinda has done with the books
and what we’ve gone on to do with the show – we’ve both used the first book as
the jumping-off point, but we’ve gone in different directions, so the
characters, their experiences and what happens to them is different. I honestly
don’t know what the story is in terms of more books being written, but I think
they’ll continue to follow the path that Melinda has already been exploring in
them.”

If there’s one aspect that the books and the TV series have always shared,
though, it’s a devoted fan following which continues to be intrigued by the
adventures of Max, Michael, Isabel and Liz. “For me, that has really been the
most surprising thing about the show: The continued support we’ve gotten from
the fans and their passion for the show. First of all, I hold them responsible
for keeping “Roswell” on the air as long as they have, and I think that’s rare,
that the fans can actually have an effect like that. They’ve also raised a
tremendous amount of money for charities, for no reason other than that they
wanted to.

“Over the years,” Katims adds, “I’ve had a chance to meet and talk to some of
the fans and get a sense of how much they care about the show and the
characters, and that has been an amazing experience for me. It’s something that
I don’t know will ever happen again, and I think that’s something I’ll always
remember about “Roswell.”

By the time “Graduation” finally aired in mid-May, the production team had
mostly moved on to new frontiers. “We finished mixing the last episode and it
was in the can,” Katims recalls, “and at that point we were pretty much done
with the show other than a few people running around the office doing things.
Once it was essentially, completed, I was in a position to take a breath and see
what happened next. Even before the show was officially cancelled, the writers
knew that there was a great probability that it wasn’t coming back, but what was
very nice was that they all said if “Roswell” did return, they would be back.
If that wasn’t a possibility, they were going to go out looking. So Ron Moore
is working on a new project [a Battlestar Galactica revival], and some of the
others are on to other things.”

As for Katims, “I’m having a little time off right now. For the last few years,
I’ve only had a week off between seasons, so it has been a pretty grueling
schedule. I’m taking some time off, but I’m also starting to think about what’s
next.”

It may be far too early to look back at “Roswell” with any degree of
objectivity, but there are lessons that Katims has taken from the experience.
“As a writer, I’ve learned to be more imaginative, and to be bolder with story
than I had been before. This show lent itself to doing a lot of story, and I
had always done stuff with little story. It has always been about nuance, but
“Roswell” combined the two: We were able to do a lot of story, but also keep
the characters’ nuances, and that was one of the show’s trademarks.

“As to what I’ve learned as a producer,” Katims offers, “it has been a very
useful experience, because as a creator and writer-producer, you’re constantly
struggling in terms of knowing when to listen to people who are telling you
things, and when to stick to your own guns. It’s a very difficult line to walk,
because you have blind spots as a writer. Sometimes you really need help, and
sometimes people lead you down paths that aren’t the best ways to go. So what
I’ve gotten better at is distinguishing between the two and being able to stay
the course and stick to the vision of the show – but I’m also able to get help
from the many talented people around me. So that’s what I came out of “Roswell”
with.

“It’s interesting” Jason Katims notes, “because “Roswell” was a show where we
were always on the verge of being cancelled, literally from the time we turned
in the pilot. So it’s a little bit easier for me to be philosophical about it
because I feel like we’ve had several lives, and in a weird way, we’ve all been
prepared for this to happen.”

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