IC Alumna Produces Hit Show on Hulu

By Ashley Reedman, April 22, 2020
Liz Tigelaar ’98 expounds on the complexities of motherhood in her binge-worthy adaptation of Celeste Ng's “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 (Hello Sunshine) and Kerry Washington (Simpson Street) 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. "Also, I love writing limited series — where the story has a natural beginning, middle and end."

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

Liz Tigelaar '98, showrunner and executive producer of "Little Fires Everywhere"

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 Reese Witherspoon and Kerry 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.

Delving into the choices we make, and the choices made for us, 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.”

Liz Tigelaar headshot

Liz Tigelaar '98 (Photo by Ricky Middlesworth)

“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.

"I loved the collaboration with the teen actors,” Tigelaar said. “I just felt so invested in them. I was awed by their maturity, their bravery and how eager they were to dive in and pull out these epic performances.”

Tigelaar also said the diverse writers’ room helped add even deeper levels of meaning to the series. The show’s production included writers of various races, writers who were mothers, writers who were adopted, those raised by single mothers, those raised by immigrant parents, those in biracial marriages with mixed race children, novelists, former lawyers, poets and artists. Two of the writers even hailed from Ohio.

“And 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 the collaboration and being involved in all aspects of the production — the dialogue, the stories, trying different performances, picking out the music, all of it. 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, which has opened up other doors for creative projects.

"I've launched my own production company through ABC Signature called Best Day Ever. Now, I can develop my own projects while also supervising writers I really believe in. I love mentoring and helping to raise the next generation of showrunners," she said.

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.