These days writer and producer Liz Tigelaar
is a very busy lady. In fact, with episodes of the new Melrose Place
airing this fall, and a show of her own creation, Life Unexpected
(but more on that in a minute), premiering on January 18th on The CW, she may be one of the most sought-after behind-the-scenes talents in Hollywood! Starpulse.com had a chance to steal a few minutes with Tigelaar to chat about the show, her stars, and how finally getting a (mid-season) air date has changed her show's arc and her own life, and why it might actually be better for her show that it didn't premiere in September!
"Life Unexpected" tells the story of 15-year-old Lux (Britt Robertson), who, after spending her life bouncing from one foster family to another, has decided it's time to become an emancipated minor. Her journey through the legal maze leads Lux to her biological parents, Nate "Baze" Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha
) and Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby
). When a judge unexpectedly grants temporary joint custody to Baze and Cate, they agree to make a belated attempt to give Lux the family she deserves.
Danielle Turchiano: So, I think the burning question on everyone's minds right now-- after finally being told your baby has been accepted in school, so to speak-- is: Is this everything you've ever dreamt of?
This project has been so long in the making-- it's been about two and a half years-- and so I think even though the writers had started, and we had offices, and we were shooting...until we got the airdate, we just still didn't necessarily believe we were going to air. So getting the air date made it feel much more real, and it's funny because I worked on Melrose a little, and one of my best friends co-created Vampire Diaries
, and I've been watching all of the other shows premiere. It's been so weird working in this vaccuum where no one sees our show really. So it just hadn't felt as real until we got the airdate and all of our actors and crew could be really excited about it. It kind of gives us something to work towards.
Can you walk me through the process a little bit of how you created this world and the characters in it? Did you draw from people you've known in your own life to create Lux and Baze?
I feel like it's drawn from my own life in that there are just those themes and ideas that run through my life as an adopted kid, searching for those people who seem just like you, and think like you, and act like you. And then the truth of the matter is, of course, that just because someone's related to you doesn't necessarily mean that at all. So I think I drew on that part of my life, and then on a lighter side, I used to work for Winnie Holzman (30 Something
, My So-Called Life
), and I was thinking about the idea of "30 Something now" and how being in your thirties now is not being like when our parents were in their thirties with 401K plans and kids and mortgages and that time of things-- minivans! It's more like a bunch of guys living together, playing videogames, and women who have prioritized their careers over relationships and babies and feel really driven to be successful but have personal lives that are maybe in disarray. It's just a different kind of thirty now, and we've always kind of played around with the idea that 32 is the new 16...I've also always been really into coming of age stories, so this was a twist on it in that the two people who need to grow up are the actual supposed grown-ups, and it's their kid-- who's supposed to be a kid-- who's going to kind of "raise" them.
Have you had to make any adjustments with your original plans for the characters or the overall arc of the first season because you found out you were picked up for mid-season instead of getting a full order in September?
Actually, it's worked out well. Although on one hand we haven't been part of the excitement of the fall, but on the other hand, we haven't gotten lost in the shuffle either. There were so many big shows coming out this fall, and our show is small. It doesn't have a "hook" in a lot of the same ways; it's a character show, so it's nice that we get to come out on our own and don't have to compare with things that we aren't.
And I think that is one of the draws of the show: these characters are different, but they're unique, and they're still relatable so that viewers will want to tune in every week. Have the characters evolved differently than maybe you originally intended based on who was cast in the roles?
Definitely! Oh, definitely! Ryan (Cate's boyfriend and co-disc jockey) became a much bigger part because of Kerr Smith and because of what he brings to the role in terms of his name and the caliber of actor he is. It was always going to be a show about the three: Cate, Baze, and Lux. But because Kerr is Kerr, it became much more a foursome. When Cate says "We're going to do something as a family," she includes Ryan in that, and that has everything to do with Kerr. He's sooo good. Everything he does is just amazing, so that's been really fun-- to expand that part because of him-- and it actually does change the dynamic because I really root for Cate and Ryan in a way I think when I first created the show I wasn't expecting to.
And then Baze! Baze is much less of kind of a douchebag than I intended. Kris Polaha is so paternal that it's hard-- you know, he's a great actor, but it's too hard to ask him to not act that because it's such a part of who he is. He is so warm, and he is such a dad; he has two little ones [with actress Julianne Morris], and so that's really changed Baze from the start. Even from the pilot-- even from the way he just looks at Lux-- that's something that Kris just brought to the part that we didn't want to write away from...We felt like that was something...that made the character different. It's now a guy who wants to do the right thing-- he wants to be a parent-- he's just not capable of it. That definitely changed the character, but in a good way!
Earlier you referenced the grown-ups who need to grow up and the kid who is really acting like a parent. Which do you think is more fun to write?
[Laughs] I would say Lux is really easy to write. I find Lux really, I don't know...it's the most fun with adults who are acting like kids. And Shiri (Appleby) makes a choice when she's playing her scenes with Kris to really revert back to her sixteen year old self. It's always fun to write them kind of going at it, but then at the same time, I love writing more of those meatier scenes where Lux has to kind of parent her parents. Like, I love writing the scenes where Lux has to yell at them or be hard or harsh or honest. Nobody's really hard to write on the show; I just think the characters kind of spill out of me, and as the other writers write, I notice that, too. It's easy to get into their skin pretty fast.
Image © The CW Network, LLC.
With the network moving your time slot around [The CW will first air Life UneXpected in Gossip Girl
's old time slot but after six weeks switch it to One Tree Hill
's time slot-- an experiment which could go either way, depending on what previous CW show you reference when looking at the history of such experimentation!], are you hoping to tap into different demographics? Or are you pretty focused with who you're targeting in your scripts, and if others come, great?
You know, I think of it as somewhere in between a family drama and a romantic comedy, and you know, we have more men in the show than women, and while I know the CW isn't necessarily targeting men, I hope that guys will enjoy watching it because I think there is a kind of sweet guy part that it taps into. The thing about the show is I hope people of all ages can watch it. Everybody can relate to Lux; you don't have to be a foster kid who's never been adopted to relate to feelings of rejection and abandonment and wanting to fit in and being scared to let your guard down.
And in this town especially, you just have to be in show business to relate to Lux' internal struggles, so there most definitely is an audience for Life UneXpected!
Life UneXpected airs on The CW on Monday, January 18 2010. Yes, it's still aways a way, so put it on your calendar now! And check back here later this month for my interview with some very special members of the LUX cast!!
Story by Danielle Turchiano
Starpulse contributing writer