Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Being Different Is Anything But "UneXpected" For The CW's Liz Tigelaar...

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!

Life UneXpected is a show I have been advocating should have been on the original fall schedule since...well, since the fall schedule was announced! It is a throwback to the character-driven series that unfortunately appear to be few and far between these days, when networks gravitate towards the flashy, zippy, easy formulaic procedurals.

"My Life, Made Possible By Pop Culture" 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!

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 airdate 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 air date 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?
- It kind of happened in multiple ways. I'm adopted, and I always kind of had this fantasy of who my birth parents were. I was born in D.C. and growing up the Reagans were, like, the only people I knew in D.C. so I was very convinced that Nancy Reagan was my birth mom. And my mom always had to be like "I swear she's not connected to you," and I'd be like: "How do you know?? You don't know anything about her! How do you know it's not Nancy Reagan? I should be in the White House, and I should be getting $100 a month allowance. I should be with the Reagans!" And I really believed I was a Reagan, which was very horrifying for my very liberal parents. I just kind of thought a lot about it in my life of this idea of who people are, and I feel like I've kind of searched for that-- like, who are those people out there just like me?...Thinking I've found people and kind of putting them on a pedestal and then seeing them come kind of crashing down. So I feel like the way that Lux has listened to Cate her whole life and idolized her, but the reality of Cate-- on one hand, it might very much be the picture that Lux dreamed of because Cate is so charismatic and glamorous and successful, but on the other hand, Cate is a really deeply flawed, wounded, damaged character. She and Lux are probably much more similar than Lux would have thought.

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?
- We're just kind of playing that it's cold out, and we're not necessarily in real time, although we're not not either, you know? [Laughs] We're kind of just leaving it vague so that if we're lucky enough to have up for a second season, we can eventually pick up in real time. But no, the mid-season thing hasn't really been too much of an adjustment. Obviously had we known, we would have written to it more-- you know, we were writing with the hope we'd get picked up in the fall. But still, very grateful that we were picked up at all, so we're so happy! And 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.

Which, I think, is a key point to the show: daring to stand out.
- Because we're different.

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'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.

Honestly, I think that's what's so great about-- and what works so well for-- the show: they feel real. And it's great that it's so easy for you guys because it means for us, it will feel natural watching it all play out.
- Right, right.

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 then, you know, I'm hoping those that did watch things like Dawson's Creek and Roswell that have grown-up like me and will get a kick out of watching Shiri and Kerr in these new roles. And a lot of my family and friends have watched it and they're of various ages, so I'm hoping it will have a broad appeal. I don't think it's trying to target one specific group; we're just trying to do our best, most grounded, honest, heartfelt work, hoping there will be an audience for it

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!!

1 comment:

Stefan said...

I think this may be the most highly anticipated TV show ever in my house. I'm gonna get everyone to watch it.