PASADENA, Calif. —They say to write what you know and Liz Tigelaar took that at face value. She's the creator and executive producer of the new CW show "Life Unexpected," about a young girl lost in the foster-care system and seeking her parents.
Tigelaar is an adoptee herself. "I knew I was born in D.C., so I was always asking my mom, 'What's the deal?' I was, like, 'I think Nancy Reagan's my birth mom, and this really sucks. I should be living in the White House, and I should have $100-a-month allowance.'
"It started when I was little. And weirdly, it lasted for a long time, until finally when I was 8, my mom was like, 'You're an idiot. You're not doing basic math. There's no way that Nancy Reagan could be your birth mom.' I was very insistent. That was my Texas upbringing," she says.
Tigelaar has parlayed her own childhood into the TV series airing Monday nights (8 p.m., CW and KSCW, Channel 5/33). The show is about 15-year-old Lux (Britt Robertson), who searches for her birth parents so she can become legally emancipated.
The parents turn out far less mature than the daughter. "What I brought into the series is that fantasy of who your parents might be. I think when you have no idea and you really have nothing to go on, you really create something in your head," says Tigelaar.
"So this story is very much a story of Lux having this fantasy and in some ways it's really coming true. Her mom is this super-successful, glamorous radio DJ, and her dad is this pretty cool guy who owns a bar and lives with friends and lives in a sweet loft. I think the idea is that just because people are kind of cool, fantasy people, doesn't actually make them fantasy parents."
Tigelaar got her start by working as an assistant to writer Winnie Holzman, who penned "My So-Called Life" and wrote for "thirtysomething."
"It got me kind of thinking about what are thirtysomethings today, and how is it different? And in our parents' generation, maybe thirtysomething means 401(K) plans and mortgages and suburbs and dogs. And for me, and maybe some other people, thirtysomething can mean a person who really has prioritized their professional life over relationships or whatever — or not ... Or a guy who still lives like a frat guy and lives with his buddies and plays video games and drinks Coors Lite, and that's cool. And I just think it's like a whole different thing."
So it became a backward coming-of-age story, she says. "The grown-ups are the people that need to come of age, and Lux is the catalyst for them to do that. I think that was the impetus of the idea."
Tigelaar says she managed to locate her birth parents. "I found both my birth parents, and actually, I just met my birth mom in November for the first time, and the first thing she said was, 'I'm not a radio DJ.' And I said, 'That's OK.' "
Being adopted can leave a child with feelings of inadequacy, thinks Tigelaar, whose credits include "Brothers and Sisters."
"It's like an initial rejection. Your mom has given you up, and that's a thing that you carry with you in your life. On the other hand, if you're adopted, it's juxtaposed by two people who want a kid so badly. My own parents, they made me feel so special and so wanted, and what I want to tell a story about was ... a girl who doesn't get that. She didn't get to feel special and wanted. ..."
"The idea is that with any of these set pieces, they've all been done to death. You've seen the plane movie. You've seen the train movie. We're trying to do something you've never seen before in every one of them, and with the plane, turning it into a bit of the 'Poseidon Adventure' was something that we hadn't seen before. And that's the challenge for us, is to kind of wade into a genre that's been trod over for a long time and find a way to turn it on to you every week." Full speed ahead!