Liz Tigelaar, showrunner for The CW's Life Unexpected, has explained before that she drew in part from her own life when creating this show about a young girl in the foster care system who ends up in the care of her mismatched biological parents. But yesterday, at IBG Inc's second-ever Conversation Series event featuring her and her series stars Kristoffer Polaha Shiri Appleby, she took us back to those early days of creation and went even further into detail about from where the story stemmed.
As a writer in general Tigelaar shared that she "always start[s], kind of in a way, of thinking, like, 'Well, what's going on in my life right now?, like how am I feeling about things, and what am I thinking about in a thematic sense?' It just happened to be at a time in my life when I was like, oh I hate babies, but I love teenagers. And I was like, I had these teenagers in my life, and I was like God, not that I want anything bad to happen to their parents, but if it did, and I had these teenagers got dropped-- if I had to take them, I'd be psyched! It would be the best!"
But she went on to add that Polaha's character is actually named for her own high school boyfriend Nate, and that she based the Cate and Baze relationship partially on her own: "'God I could have gotten pregnant by him a zillion times!' And if I had then I would have a teenager right now, and that'd be awesome, and then I started thinking that if I got pregnant with Nate, that would have been so awkward because obviously we have a very contentious relationship: we love each other, we hate each other, and blah blah blah blah blah, and that kind of spawned this idea of Cate and Baze: these two people who don't get along."
The hour-long Q&A event took place in an intimate theater in Beverly Hills where fans of the show, and the individual talent, came out to hear the group talk about their experiences working with each other, and in Hollywood in general. The audience was privy to little nuggets of trivia, such as the fact that Britt Robertson was the first girl Tigelaar saw read for Lux. The network hyped her up and Tigelaar shared she was against casting the first person she saw-- until she saw Robertson. Kerr Smith, on the other hand, didn't want to take a part that wasn't a series regular, so when he expressed interest in the role of Ryan, Tigelaar agreed to expand the character for him.
"And then they said Kerr called and wants to talk to you about the arc for Ryan," she laughed, "and I was like 'I have no idea!'"
Tigelaar added that the inclusion of Ryan past the pilot episode as originally planned really took the show on another journey: suddenly there was this love triangle aspect, which she said was never part of the original plan. And more recently, when the writers sat down to wrap up the story lines, they had the discussion of 'Well, what is our show really about? Is it about a love triangle or a family?' And ultimately, Tigelaar said, it really is about the family. As Baze said in "Stand Taken": "We're crazy; we're unconventional; we're often inappropriate, but no matter what we're your family."
And for many of the fans, the characters on the show have felt like family, as well. This is due in strong part to the deep bond the cast has formed while filming the series up in Vancouver, but also in how they have reached out to their fandom through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, or even agreeing to do interviews for my small, local-based news outlet week after week.
"We really did band together," Appleby stressed, adding later that on the second to last day of shooting (which was Polaha's last day), when the production team called wrap on him, Britt just broke down and began bawling. That's not something that typically happens on a set; usually wrap is called and hugs are given, but you know you'll see each other around so it's not a big deal. For this group, living up in Vancouver together, hanging out at each other's houses, watching every episode as a tight unit, they have become so much more than just co-workers.
"The day we got the email that the show got canceled, we were like 'Okay, we're going to be done on the 23rd; Thanksgiving's on the 25th; we're staying!" Appleby told the audience. "And we stayed in Vancouver; we had our last Thanksgiving together, and then we all left the next morning to go back to L.A.. And this is what I think was amazing: we could all be going home to our families, but we're going to finish this job out with this family and then move. This is the kind of experience I want to continue to have in my life."
In season two, that family got a little bigger. Tigelaar shared that it was actually the network who said the expansion of the world was necessary. "I can actually see so many reasons why that's such a great idea; I think that means adding new characters so it's not always the same old triangle of Cate and Ryan fighting, and Baze showing up somewhere," she explained. "I think that's good; I think it makes it less redundant, and new, and fresh.
"But as any writer would point out when getting that note, you have to say 'Okay, but you realize what the downside of expanding the show is, [right]?' Now these characters are going to have more satellite stories with guest stars; they're going to come together to inform each others' stories and learn valuable lessons from each other. Okay, Cate talks to Baze, and they take their lessons back to their stories with Emma and Ryan...It's a little bit different than when the four or five of them were just interacting with each other: in expanding it, you lose some of the family element."
While the cast and crew will go on, continue to be friends, continue to be in each others' lives, and continue to root for each other, it is really the characters that should be grieved. After all, while Tigelaar may take elements of some of her Life Unexpected characters into new ones and new scripts, there will never be another Cate or another Baze or another Lux!
"It's weird, but it's a loss," Tigelaar said. "When I walked into the writer's room to tell them we were canceled, I said I'm crying about fake people!"
Well, My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture cries over these fake people every week when the new episodes air because they-- and their traumas and heartbreaks-- feel so real, so we can only imagine what it's like for Tigelaar who has had them consume as much, if not more, of her life over the last few years as her own friends and family.
Tigelaar didn't know episode 213 would be the last when she first broke the story for it, but once she got the call, she was able to go back and make some tweaks so that the story lines would be satisfying for the fans. She considers the final two episodes a sort-of hybrid version of seasons one and two of the series, indicative of what the tone would have been if allowed to continue, taking her original premise, mixing it with the network mandates, and birthing a super baby, so to speak.
Austin Basis came out to the event as a surprise guest in the audience and got to actually ask a question this time around:
Tigelaar spoke in greater length than I anticipated about the give-and-take a writer must undergo when working on a television show, as opposed to, say, a film or a novel. With a television show, elements are constantly changing and are under the scrutiny of the studio producing the project as well as the network airing it. It can become a battle of wills as to how much a writer must compromise, and Tigelaar shared one particular note that hurt her a little (and hurt me, too!): less Cate and Baze.
So how does a writer handle it when the key romantic relationship must be toned down and cut out? Why, she calls on her extremely capable actors, of course!
"[Shiri and Kris] basically made a commitment that it doesn't matter what is written, we are playing that connection. That's not going away for us!"
Polaha added that that is one of the things he loved most about his time on Life Unexpected: he actually got to do real character work and be a real actor: "There's that rare stuff that when you watch it, it gets into you and it taps into something that's very human, and very real, and very deep, and I smelled it when I was reading the pilot that Liz had written. I smelled that there was something very true and human, but I had no idea that as we carried these two seasons out it was going to be such a compelling, human, heartbreaking show."
Tigelaar, therefore, proved an argument I have been making since "Music Faced" was not, in fact, my over-analyzing or reading too much into a performance but in fact very specific and very deliberate acting choices.
"I think the way I reconciled it as a writer," Tigelaar started, "was is Baze in love with Emma? Yeah...Does Baze need to be in love with Emma because he needs to get over Cate? Yeah! And then I understand how someone can move on quickly; I understand when you need it so bad-- and you need to move on because you can't stand seeing her with Ryan, and you can't stand being in this place, and you can't stand that she married him anyway and that you were late and you missed your chance...What does a flawed person do, who isn't a self-examined person? They fully commit to it, and they embrace it. And so when I start to think of it like that, I say okay, I get what Baze is doing, and I get what Cate is doing. Because she needs this marriage to work because she made a decision...It becomes complicated and messy and fun!"
There: proof that through it all, and as much as she loves Emma Caulfield, Tigelaar is still Team Baze, too, you guys!
And though some actors in Hollywood would (and have) scoffed at playing parents to a teenager while they are still young, for fear of typecasting or never being able to play the "sexy whatever" role again, Appleby doesn't feel pigeonholed by Cate at all. She admitted she wants to take some time off before finding her next project, because she's not one to want to work all the time, but she is comfortable
"I actually think that we're all in much better places post the show in terms of our careers," Appleby offered. "The fact that we're part of an ensemble that got such critical acclaim and was well respected in the business. The fact that Kris is a father, and I'm not a mother yet; we're showing we have range, and I think that's what people respond to."
Well, wherever they go, My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture will surely follow!