IC Alumna Produces Hit Show on Hulu

By Ashley Reedman, September 4, 2021
Liz Tigelaar ’98 expounds on the complexities of motherhood in her adaptation of Little Fires Everywhere.

In January 2018, Ithaca College alumna and veteran television series producer Liz Tigelaar ’98 was approached by the production companies of Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington to create a limited series adaptation of Celeste Ng’s bestselling novel Little Fires Everywhere. Tigelaar fell in love with the story and jumped at the chance to be the showrunner and executive producer of the series. 

“I had so many points of connectivity to the book as a mom, as an adopted daughter, as someone who as a kid longed to be understood. I also came of age in the ’90s and really understood the decade and why it was important that the show was set then,” said Tigelaar, who graduated from IC with a degree in television-radio. 

“They’re both well-intended mothers, yet they are blind to the damage they may be causing their children.” 

Liz Tigelaar ‘98

The show centers around the themes of race, class, and the journey of motherhood—and at its core are two very different mothers, played by Witherspoon and Washington. The women clash as they live their lives in fundamentally different ways, but they are bonded by a common theme. 

“They’re both well-intended mothers, yet they are blind to the damage they may be causing their children,” said Tigelaar. 

The series explores how their lives and families become entangled and at odds, and their conflict forever changes them, their children, and the tight-knit community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, in 1997. 

“It’s important to me to spend my time working on projects I feel deeply connected to,” said Tigelaar. “And, if I’m going to put all of my time into something and sacrifice other things, like time with my wife and son, it has to be for something that feeds something deep within me.” 

Little Fires Everywhere felt special from the beginning, Tigelaar said, because it amplified the importance of complex stories about motherhood and nonbinary stories about women and their relationships to each other. 

“And most of all, it just touched me deeply,” she said. “The book made me so emotional at times. I’ve had my own unique journey through daughterhood and motherhood, and something about the story with Pearl and Izzy normalized my own story.” 

For Little Fires Everywhere, the level of understanding from producers, writers, and actors was unexpected in its potency. Tigelaar also said the diverse writers’ room helped add even deeper levels of meaning to the series. 

“I think the way we came together, the way we had honest, challenging, hard conversations about race, class, our own biases and prejudices—it was all so illuminating, and life-changing,” she said. 

The biggest challenges of the show for Tigelaar included cutting down the script to better fit the production budget and being away from home for months at a time. 

“The job is like being a CEO of a company, where you oversee lots of departments and do multiple things at once. It’s a lot of juggling, a lot of hours, but incredibly collaborative, creatively satisfying work. I love working with a team of such strong women to make something we’re so proud of.” 

For Tigelaar, Little Fires Everywhere is the highest profile show she’s been involved in. She has also launched her own production company through ABC Signature called Best Day Ever, where she can develop her own projects. 

Tigelaar is currently working on her long-time passion project, Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume, for Hulu, as well as supervising a few young female writers, who all have exciting, distinct voices and stories. 

Little Fires Everywhere premiered in March 2020 on Hulu.