Life Unexpected creator, Liz Tigelaar, comes back to IC
By Jocelyn Codner
But Tigelaar’s life has taken many lucky and unexpected turns (life… unexpected, I think I’m clever). In fact, Tigelaar’s original reason for coming to Ithaca College was to act in an ICTV soap called Semesters.
“I really wanted to be a soap opera actress,” she said. “I wasn’t really ever involved with Park at all.” Hilariously enough, by the time she got here she had totally forgotten about it and went about her business as a TV-R scriptwriting major.
After graduating in 1998, Tigelaar, who had already completed the ICLA program, decided to repeat it for the summer.
“The [ICLA] program was really just starting out compared to now,” Tigelaar said. “Just seeing how the program has grown—[students] are really ahead of the game comparatively. They’re doing like grad work!”
The decision to pass up backpacking across Europe with her friends for ICLA made the difference between Tigelaar having a successful career and maybe not having a career at all. Back in L.A., Tigelaar began an internship on the television series Dawson’s Creek, which then turned into a job in post-production.
She knew she really wanted to be in the writer’s room, but at that stage in the game, you take what you’re offered and find your way to where you want to be.
“I said yes to anything,” Tigelaar said, including a Dawson’s mystery novel series, which she loves to joke about.
After Dawson’s (and actually getting to write an episode), Tigelaar moved on to shows like American Dreams, What About Brian, Dirty Sexy Money, Brothers and Sisters, and, her favorite (insert sarcasm here), Kyle XY.
It was only a matter of time before Tigelaar had success with a show of her own. Life Unexpected, which she is creator and executive producer of, was picked up by the CW and has aired a well-received first season. It’s currently up for renewal for a second season.
Tigelaar just pitched her season two arc to the network and is eagerly waiting Upfronts at the end of the month (a large meeting where networks announce their primetime schedules for the oncoming seasons) to hear if Life Unexpected made the final cut.
“It’s radio silence—it’s like they’re your boyfriend and they won’t call you back,” said Tigelaar. “Once you’re on the air, the only place to go is off. Hopefully not yet though.”
The show is about a foster girl, Lux (Brittany Robertson), who tries to become emancipated from the system. In order to do so she must have her birth parents’ signatures. She tracks down her birth father, Nate Bazile (Kristoffer Polana), who tells her that her birth mother is the local radio DJ Cate Cassidy (Shiri Appleby) and that he got her pregnant in high school. The show chronicles their journey of becoming a family.
Tigelaar herself was adopted. “I think [being adopted] did inspire [Life Unexpected], but I didn’t realize it until after,” Tigelaar said. “In continuing the story it makes it easier—but I think people have these feelings, whether you’re adopted or not.”
Tigelaar’s characters are incredibly complicated and flawed, which she said is one of her favorite things about them. Not necessarily so for the network. Cate, in particular, was hard for The CW to warm up to. When Tigelaar first started Life Unexpected, lots of people complained that Cate wasn’t “likeable” enough.
“There’s such a double standard when it comes to women on TV,” said Tigelaar. Cate is a career-driven woman, hesitant to marry and settle down. Tigelaar felt a personal blow here, as Cate is fashioned largely after her. Being a successful woman in a competitive business, Tigelaar has a real drive and love for what she does and less of a focus on being a Betty Draper type. Cate isn’t alone on the air, however.
“Liz Lemon is so much more like what women are like,” Tigelaar said. “Most women are NOT Carrie Bradshaw.”
As one of Ithaca College’s successful alumni, Tigelaar came back to speak to Park School students about the future. She visited several classes, and taught a master class herself on breaking story for a television series. She also spoke at the Park School of Communications’ senior dinner.
“If I can do it, anyone can,” she laughed. While this is not entirely true, she does leave students feeling reassured. “Everything that led me to getting the position that got me started was through IC,” Tigelaar said.
“Life is a series [of decisions],” Tigelaar said. “It’s not just the big decisions that change your life—it’s every little teeny tiny thing.”
Jocelyn Codner is a senior cinema and photography major who’s excited for her own show, House of Steves, to take off. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.