An UNEXPECTED Surprise: The CW Remembers its WB Roots

By: Vlada Gelman

Next season, The CW will introduce LIFE UNEXPECTED, a heartfelt midseason entry that may remind some viewers of the network’s predecessor, The WB. 

The resemblance to the shows that defined the WB is not unjustified. Creator Liz Tigelaar’s college internship at DAWSON’S CREEK turned into a staff job, where she worked alongside Greg Berlanti. She later went on to write for Berlanti’s ABC drama BROTHERS & SISTERS.

LIFE UNEXPECTED stars Britt Robertson as Lux, a teenage girl searching for her biological parents after being bounced around in the foster care system for fifteen years. The subject is close to Tigelaar’s heart, who was briefly in foster care as a baby before being adopted.  

“One thing that came to light when I was meeting with the writers was just how much of this story was something that had been with me my whole life,” Tigelaar said during a Q&A on Wednesday. “This idea of, ‘Where are my young, cool parents?’ No matter how great your own family is and my parents are wonderful, you can’t help but when you’re sixteen be in a fight with your mom and be like, ‘My real, cool, young, hot mom would totally understand! She would buy me beer!’” 

During the two years that “Life” was in development, Tigelaar found out who her birth parents were, but growing up, she had her own wild ideas about who her mother was. 

“I was born in D.C. That was one of the only things I knew. I was born in the ’70s. I really thought Nancy Reagan was my birth mom. In a really profound way, I believed it,” Tigelaar said. “As I got older, I obviously was able to do basic math and realize this was not possible. And as I became more of a liberal democrat, I realized this was not my preference.” 

In the series, Lux’s young, cool mom and morning radio show host Cate is played by Shiri Appleby, who’s torn between co-host/fiancé Ryan (Kerr Smith) and Lux’s dad/bar owner Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), who’s suddenly reentered Cate’s life. Both workplaces will provide plenty of opportunities to incorporate music into the series. 

Smith starred on DAWSON’S CREEK, but Tigelaar insists his casting is pure coincidence. 

“He literally came in to audition and I was like, “Jack! It’s Jack McPhee. Why is Jack McPhee wanting to be Ryan Thomas?’ He read and he was amazing,” Tigelaar explained. “I hadn’t seen him since ‘Dawson’s.’ We didn’t know each other really well because the writers were here [in LA] and they were in Wilmington.” 

Appleby’s WB past may make things difficult if the show should ever want to do flashbacks of Cate and Baze’s high school years. 

“Shiri was on ROSWELL when she was 19 or 20, so I feel like we know what little Shiri looks like whereas with other people, we would be able to cast somebody else. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that,” Tigelaar said of possible flashbacks. However, she kept some hope alive, saying it would be “hilarious” if production could figure out a way to make it work. 

While the pilot focuses mainly on Lux and the adult characters, future episodes will open up Lux’s world as Cate and Baze enroll her in their old high school. In episode two, we’ll find out Lux wasn’t being entirely truthful about her emancipation. 

“Lux had other plans. We find out she has a 18-year-old boyfriend named Bug,” Tigelaar teased. “Her best friend, Vanessa, was planning on getting emancipated, as well, and now Lux has screwed everything up.” There will be tension between her foster care friends, who feel ditched, and Lux, who doesn’t really want to give up her new family. 

LIFE UNEXPECTED begins filming in Vancouver, B.C., Sept. 28, but is set in Portland, Oregon. Tigelaar dabbled with the idea of setting the show in Seattle (too many doctors), San Francisco (too glitzy), but finally settled on Portland because it “felt really unexplored” and gave the show a “Juno”-esque “indie feel for television.” 

Vlada resides in Los Angeles, where there are stars in the sky and on the ground. She has worked for TVWeek,, and The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, CA. She runs the TV blog Staying In and can be found on Twitter: @stayingin.

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  • jess

    sounds cool. might have to check it out. although my DVR is overflowing as it is.

  • jess,
    the good news is that it’s a early 2010 premiere, so you’ll have time to clear off you DVR!

  • Ace

    It seems like most of the shows I’m actually excited about are coming back mid-season (Lost, Chuck, this show). Hopefully that will be a good thing. Is this replacing Top Model mid-season?

  • it does sound interesting and WB-ish. I’m not a big Shiri fan having worked with her before but I love Chris and Kerr. And the name Lux.

  • Lorena

    I’m really looking forward to watch this show. It seems different. I only hope it’s not too teen orientated.
    As for the actors, I haven’t followed them too much but I like them. They are armonic.
    BTW, Isn’t Sheri Appleby Daria from ER? She seems familiar. I loved Daria!

  • Tim

    I’ll def check this out. sounds good.

  • I really enjoyed the pilot as well. Robertson is is fantastically charming and the writing (as long as it doesn’t veer into too many gooey exchanges) is strong, and I think this cast works well. Great interview!

  • HannaD

    I find the girl very charming but I’m more into the romantic trio part. I really like the Smith-Appleby-Polaha combo!
    I’ll be watching.

  • Loulou

    Agree with the last one.
    As much as I like the concept of the girl finding herself I’m all for the tension between the parental group…In fact, that’s the reason I’m really excited about this show.

  • I really hope this will be perform well on the ratings

  • Btw, I still want Privileged back!

  • Loulou

    Sorry, but I found Privileged as glamorous as boring. I read somewhere Life Unexpected has a resemblance to Privileged and I really wish it wasn’t too simmilar in this aspect.

  • ariana

    Sorry Shana but I heard that Privileged was eaten by Gossip Girls and Beverly Hills 90210. As for Shiri what project had you worked with her?
    Most people who worked with her are very fond of her in her Roswell days the staff celebrated her Birthday and she was the only one out of the whole cast and not even “famous” Katherine Hieg l that they did that for. There’s even a picture to prove that. I only read good praises from people who worked with her. This is something new.

  • Loulou

    And even if it was true it’s your experience and your view. I agree with Arianna.

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  • ExactlyAriana

    Everyone that’s worked with Shiri’s former co-star KH can’t stand her, and everyone that’s worked with Shiri Appleby NEVER has anything bad to say about her. Chances are: she’s never worked with her, it’s just to get attention, and she probably LOVES Katherine Heigl.