Cult Times Special #23 another Jason Katims interview

Thanks to Magic for posting this on the message board.

Not any more, for Roswell’s executive producer Jason Katims is now free to speak his mind about the ups and downs of three years telling stories of the inhabitants of the New Mexico town

Jason Katims gave it his best shot.As the writer-producer-showrunner of Roswell, Katims did everything he could to craft a show that was part teen drama, part Sci-Fi adventure and something that whould appeal to the widest possible audience. Unfortunately, the show mustered only the attention of a small but devout fan base. And even that fan base dwindled as Roswell attempted to shift gears in midstream, at times putting the Sci-Fi at the forefront and at other times focusing instead on the romance. Hopes were raised when, after The WB cancelled Roswell following the end of Season Two, UPN picked it up and gave it the coveted post- Buffy The Vampire Slayer timeslot.But it wasn’t meant to be. Roswell coulden’t capitalize on it’s lead-in, and before Season Three ended, UPN announced that Roswell wouldn’t be back for another year. That, at least, gave Katims and company time to devise a series finale, entitled Graduation that closed out the saga of Max, Liz, Maria, Michael, Isabel and Jesse, their families, friends and enemies. Cult Times caught up with Katims a few weeks after the show faded to black.

Cx: How strange is it to finally be talking about Roswell in the past tense?

Katims: I think in the middle of the third season I felt that it was likely that the show wasn’t coming back. That was the feeling I was getting from UPN, that they weren’t going to bring us back for a fourth season. It definitely wasn’t a total shock when they announced the cancellation. By the time they announced it I had known it was unofficially cancelled. The whole Roswell experience was distinct because it was a show that had several lives, dating back to the pilot. The pilot was made for FOX and it then wound up on The WB.At the end of the first season it looked like it was dead and then it got another life at The WB.And then it was literally cancelled for a few days when UPN picked it up for the third season. It was definitely a show that struggled and kept staying alive for a while. My attitude about it is I feel fortunate that we were able to do as many episodes as we did do. I felt like we were constantly getting new life that was unexpected. I like to think of it in a positive way, which is we weare able to do over 60 episodes of the show and were able to explore a lot about our main character’s lives. I’m sad that it didn’t go for a fourth year, but I’m happy that we lasted as long as we did. Not too many shows get to go three seasons.

Roswell never did find that broad audience, but you had that small, loyal group, the ones who signed ‘Save the show’ petitions and sent Tabasco sauce to network executives. How did you personally reconcile that aspect of the Roswell saga?

The fan base, at the end of the day, was the most heartening thing about the whole experience, how many of those fans stuck with Roswell all along, cared about the show, how much they followed the cast and made friendships with each other on the Internet and at parties. They also raised thousands of dollers for charities because they were motivated by the show. That was a truly unique experience that I’d never had before and I certainly have no expectation of ever having an experience like it again. The fans support was a wonderful surprise. In terms of it being a smaller audience, I never quite understood why Roswell wasn’t able to get a bigger audience. But I think there were several factors there. One of the factors was that the show was an anomaly in that it was truly a mixed genre show. In any episode you could see a very weird Sci-Fi action sequence and a three-or four-minute scene of two people talking about their feelings for each other. I think thatr was the show’s greatest blessing and greatest curse. I loved that about Roswell, but I think it also appealed to a very particular audience. Most people either like one or the other. Or they might like both, but not at the same time. It might have been difficult for an audience to embrace both things in the same hour. I’ve come to think that might be one of the things that was challenging about finding an audience for the show. Other thinga had to do with the traditional challenges you face, having a secure timeslot, having the show consistently in one place at one time, having the publicity you need to get going. All those things are added challenges, but the show itself made it hard to find an audience.

Not to dwell on the negative, but there’s a perception that The WB pressured you into the tone shifts that occurred throughtout Seasons One and Two. What actually happened?

Honestly, I dont point blame on The WB or any network for voicing their needs for the show, because it’s much better to hear their needs than not hearing their needs and having them say “Okay, you’re cancelled”. I don’t fault anybody for saying, “This is what we want”. It’s true that Roswell is a show that could have gone in different directions. Because of the genre elements, it’s true that there was a struggle to find what was the best model for the show, the best format for it. There was definitely some, “Go more in this direction, go more in that direction” along the way. For the most part it was not antagonistic between the and me, but it was definitely a struggle and it openly was a negative in terms of viewership. There was too much change. Episodes were changing, the timeslot was changing. The show was gone for six weeks, then back. All these factors add up and make what was already a challenging show more challenging. That’s life. There were a couple of things that we did with the show that I wish I hadn’t done, but find me a showrunner who doesn’t have a couple of things [they’d complain about]. If Roswell had come out of the box and was a huge hit, it whould have been perceived differently. You’re always defining and redefining a show as you go along. That’s what doing a show is about. It was a struggle with Roswell because we never met people’s expections in terms of how it performed ratings-wise. It’s not like people didn’t like the show. The WB liked the show and they wanted it to succeed. It wasn’t a situation, like you have with a lot of shows, where it goes on the air, nobody watches and the network say, “Screw this. We’re moving on.” It was not like that. The WB was interested in the show. For anything that you can say negatively affected the show, you could also look at things that were extremely positive that came from their guidance. The show was always struggling, and that translated into trying different things creatively to boost the ratings. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t. That’s natural.

Season Three has just started in the UK. Take us through what you were thinking at the outset of production

Ultimately, when you’re doing a show, and especially when you get past the first season, you’re guided a lot by the cast. By the third season you really know your cast, what they can do, what they’re interested in. My sense about this cast was that they didn’t feel like high school students to me anymore. Jason Behr was literally 26 years old going into the third season. Looking at Katie Heigl, it was harder and harder to think of this young woman as a high school student. Those were motivating factors in moving the stoylines to a place where we were dealing with a little bit more adult themes. We wanted to do fewer scenes around high school lockers. That was part of the charm at the beginning of the show, but it no longer felt believable by Season Three. And we’d played those stories.

So we had Isabel all of a sudden meet Jesse and fall in love with him and dealing with the fact that she couldn’t tell him the truth about herself. That let us explore that relationship and the consequences of lying to the person you love.

Max found out he has a son who’s out there somewhere and he basically makes it his mission to find him. That takes him on a journey that’s both physical and existential, and it affects his relationship with Liz, who is dealing with adult issues of her own.

The relationship between Michael and Maria is no longer just this sweet, funny relationship, but it’s more serious and dysfunctional and complex.

So on all fronts, we were getting into more adult territory. I was interested at this point in seeing our characters function in the world and try to create lives for themselves. I was more interested in that than what alien was coming to attack them that week, especially because we’d done so much of that in Season Two. We pulled back on the alien aspect and made Season Three more about the characters trying to build lives for themselves.

What third season episodes are you most pleased with?

I like [Four Aliens and a Baby], the one in which Emilie de Ravin returned as Tess, because I felt we owed the audience some resolution in terms of Max and Tess and their baby. I felt really good about being able to do that. We pulled it off in a way that was surprisingly emotional.

The Christmas episode [Samuel Rising] was special because it was very personal to me.

I didn’t get to write as many episodes this season as I had in the past and I was able to write that one. I also liked episode three [Significant Others] in which we were able to explore the relationship between Jesse and Isabel. Alex returns as a ghost and Isabel is finally able to let him go and move forward with Jesse.

This year Katie had a lot more colours to play than she ever had on the show and I was really impressed by her performance. I thought she came through and always found very subtle colours in the stuff she was given to play.

What was also fun about the third season was that we were able to do episodes like our Sixties episode [I Married an Alien] By the nature of being in the third season of the show, we were all confident about going out and taking some chances. Doing an episode like that was really fun. It was fun from the point of view of wardrobe, set design and being able to pull off a look that we hadn’t done before. And it was fun for the actors too, because they got to do something a little different. It was jusy enjoyable to do and, I think, to watch. It was almost like an aside. It was almost like taking a break from the show, to go do this fun episode. Ron Moore and I had talked about doing it earlier and I’m glad we got to do it before it was all over.

Bearing in mind that a good many British fans have yet to see the series finale, what were you aiming to accomplish with that?

I was personally very happy with the finale. Ron [Moore] and I wrote that episode together. Normally, as much as I care about an audience when I’m writing, I dont usually let that affect what I’m writing. If I did it whould drive me crazy because there are so many different factors and people like this character or that character, this relationship or that one.

But on this finale I was very conscious of wanting to clearly give the audience an end to the show. By the time we were in the process of writing it, we were 95 percent sure the show was not coming back. We were able to write it in such a way that it wasn’t a cliffhanger and so that it resolved all the big issues. I like the way the episode ends. You get the sense that while the show isn’t coming back, the characters are off living their lives and moving on and that they’ve still got each other. I thought it was very well acted by our cast. Jason gives a speech at the end, where he’s thanking his fellow students and family for being there for him, and I think of that as our way of thanking the audience for being there for us. It’s basically a love letter to our audience. So the intention of the finale was to close out the show and give the audience what they wanted.

Is the show once and for al dead-dead-dead?

I dont know. I thought it was dead right after UPN cancelled it and somebody called me asking about who owns the film rights. People have brought that up. But I’m the wrong person to ask about any future for the show. It’s really up to the actors. This is a very talented cast and they’re all going to go on and do different things. Roswell isn’t a show like The X-Files, that’s driven by two main characters. It’s an ensemble. Will there be a time when all of them would be available to come together and do a movie? I don’t know. Whould they want to do it? Those are all things I dont know. The other question is that because the show always had, as we’ve said, a faithful and passionate but small audience, whould there be a viable market for a reunion movie? Whould it make sense for a network or studio to do that? So while I woulden’t say it’s dead-dead-dead, I think the chances are it probably is.

But hey, it’s Roswell and I’ve been surprised before.

interview by Ian Spelling