'iZombie' Writer Bob Dearden on What It's Like to Write for the Hit Show and What We Can Expect From Season 4
I got the chance to talk with Bob about the explosive season 3 finale and what comes next for Liv and the gang.
Jason Schwartz: First things first, how did you get started writing for iZombie?
Bob Dearden: Well, if you want to go back to before the beginning, I had a very different first career as a silviculture supervisor in the Canadian forest industry. I’d had a desire to go to film school after my undergrad studies, but had back-burnered that idea more and more as I got deeper into the forestry job. Eventually, I got to a point where I knew if I didn’t give something else a shot, it was going to be forestry for life. Which would’ve been fine, but I still had that lingering dream to work in film or TV, and wanted to take a crack at it. So I went back to school, enrolling in the MFA Screenwriting program at UT Austin.
While I was there, I connected with Rob Thomas and ended up working for him as an intern, in 2012-2013. Rob was living in Austin at the time, developing pilots and commuting to LA as necessary. He launched the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter campaign in early 2013, and invited myself and another two interns (who were also classmates of mine at UT) to work on the film as production assistants that summer. From there, I ended up stringing together a few other odd jobs in the assistant world before returning to work for Rob and iZOMBIE co-creator Diane Ruggiero-Wright as an assistant while they were developing the iZOMBIE pilot. I stayed on board through the shooting of the pilot and then was hired as the writers’ room assistant for Season One.
Halfway through the season, Rob, Diane, and the producers were kind enough to give me what’s called a “freelance script,” which is a somewhat common element of any given television show or season, wherein a writer who is not on the permanent, full-time writing staff is hired to write a script. The freelance option is often used to give young, inexperienced writers their first opportunity to write a script, and that’s the lottery I won that year. I guess Rob and Diane liked my work well enough to hire me on full time for Season Two, and to everyone’s surprise, they still haven’t fired me yet.
Last season ended with Zombie D-day and the world learning about zombies. How did you guys decide to take that big step?
Ultimately all the big calls are made by Rob and Diane, and of course, the studio and network weigh in as well, so take this all with a grain of salt as I only know what I was privy to. That said... as I recall, there was a discussion somewhere early in the writing process of the third season about when to expand the story in that way—when to let the world know about zombies. The version of Seattle that you’ll see in Season 4—sort of quarantined from the rest of the country—is something I think Rob and Diane had in mind as a big picture shift from well before Season Three, but there was some debate over whether that should happen sooner or later. In the big picture, I think they’ve always had intentions to expand the scope of our story and of zombies in the world by a major step at the end of each season, so what we talked about in the room was whether this step was too much too soon—i.e. did it leave us enough story to work with going forward. The more we talked about the possibilities of D-Day and its potential implications, the more excited I think the producers got about dropping that bomb when we did. And we had a lot of talks about what the next big step(s) would be in subsequent seasons; without giving anything away, I think we feel pretty comfortable about how much story there is still left to tell.
How does this season change now that zombies are out in the open?
It’s a pretty huge paradigm shift in terms of the bigger plot movements, of the context in which our characters now operate. The core elements of the show will be familiar—murders still happen in Seattle, so Liv and Clive are still investigating cases, and Liv is still eating a different brain and inhabiting a new personality each week. But there are new conflicts and new obstacles for everyone to navigate. Fillmore Graves is now more or less running the city, and obviously, not everyone is happy about that—nor are the citizens who were turned into zombies against their will on D-Day all content to just go along to get along. The city is a bit of a powder keg that becomes increasingly unstable as the season progresses, and as various opposing factions and ideologies converge. And within all of that turmoil, our main characters have to figure out how to navigate their new world order and decide where their loyalties lie.
How will Liv's job change now that everyone knows about zombies?
The investigations now have a different tenor, because of all the zombie-human tension in Seattle. The way Clive used to always assume it was the spouse, they now have to consider zombie-related motives and hate crimes in most of their cases. In fact, Fillmore Graves has an investigator of their own that we’ll meet as the season goes on, and there’s a bit of an ongoing jurisdictional (and cultural) battle between him and our heroes.
Beyond that, everyone is trying to figure out their role in the new world order, and that leads our characters to take on responsibilities beyond their day jobs—especially Liv. Hopefully, that was as tantalizing as it was vague.
There are a few unanswered questions going into season 4, like has the vaccine worked on Ravi and who stole the cure. Will these get answered?
Both of those questions will get answered this season—one of them pretty early in the first episode.
Is there a story that the writers wish they could do but couldn't work realistically?
I can only really speak for myself, so yes, pretty much every great idea or joke I pitched that got rejected, I wish could’ve made it into the show.
Outside of that, there are always fun zombie genre beats or action sequences that we dream up in our little writers’ vacuum that would be awesome but that we just don’t have the time or money to shoot. We do a lot of fun stuff in that regard, I think, but it takes everything our production crew has to make it happen, and there’s only so far our resources can stretch. So while there are a ton of great zombie moments and action-packed sequences throughout the season, we always dream up more than is realistically possible.
If you could crossover iZombie with another CW show, which would you pick?
I’d get a kick out of having some CW guest-stars on our show. My favorites are all probably on The 100, so any of that cast would be great in my opinion, but there are so many great actors on the network and we’d be privileged to have any of them be a guest on iZOMBIE. In fact, there might be just such a guest star showing up for an amazing cameo in Season Four...
Which characters are your favorite to write for?
Depends on the episode, but our cast is all so good it’s hard to pinpoint any one over the others.
That said, it’s definitely Blaine.
What was the Liv brain you had the most fun writing?
My episode this year was my favorite brain to write, by a landslide. After years of both Diane Ruggiero-Wright and I pitching the idea, we finally got to write an episode where Liv eats the brain of a Canadian hockey goon. And Rose McIver absolutely crushes that role.
What are you most looking forward to in season 4?
Besides (and including) the above, I think this is the most fun we’ve had with the brains/personalities Liv is on—not only in terms of what Rose gets to do with these characters but in terms of how Liv's friends (and enemies) are affected by and interact with them. There’s also some brain fun with Major and a few other characters, so I’m excited for our fans to get to see all of that.
And I also think there are some really great emotional moments this season, some truly heartbreaking stuff but also some truly heartwarming storylines as well. It really hits all the taste buds. And the finale, holy shit… that’s all I’m legally authorized to say about that.