Writer Liz Tigelaar shares the story of her unaired pilot Split Decision
Leave it to Batman to inspire a story about a high school girl.
In 2005, Liz Tigelaar was just getting started as a television writer. She'd worked in a couple of rooms, including Dawson’s Creek, but hadn’t yet created her own series. At least not until she went through a breakup and ended up seeing Batman Begins in theaters. When Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) said, "It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you." Tigelaar, as the kids would say, felt that.
"I think I wrote that line in my journal," Tigelaar says. "I remember thinking, in my breakup depression, it's not about being a good person underneath, it's about how at every moment you have a choice and that choice will have a ripple effect." Combine that quote with something her ex said, and Tigelaar's idea was born. "At the time, my ex was saying something like, 'If we’re meant to be, we’ll be meant to be,'" Tigelaar recalls. "That’s where I lost my s---. I was like, 'As if there’s no free will or choice? You have to choose what’s meant to be! It’s a compilation of every choice you make.'"
So, Tigelaar started writing a pilot about a choice. Titled Split Decision, the show followed a teenage girl named Lennie on her first day of school. And when it came time for her to pick a seat in the cafeteria, things got interesting. “It was kind of a Sliding Doors pilot,” Tigelaar says. “It showed two parallel stories of how who she sits with changes the trajectory of her relationships. It was meant to show how little, insignificant choices can end up having a really big effect on your life.”
Tigelaar successfully sold the pilot to UPN, which then merged with Warner Brothers to form The CW. But that didn’t stop Split Decision from heading to Vancouver and filming the pilot. With Jessy Schram (Once Upon a Time) as Lennie and Ben Barnes (Westworld) as her love interest, the cast also included Vanessa Lengies (Glee) and Jessica Lucas (Gotham) as the popular girls, Alona Tal (Veronica Mars) as the skater girl, and eventual Vampire Diaries costars Zach Roerig and Susan Walters as Lennie’s brother and mom.
“The idea I loved is that everything will happen to all of us,” Tigelaar says. “We’ll all grow up, we’ll all have sex, we’ll all have our hearts broken, we’ll all fall in love and suffer loss and grief. In high school you’ll have prom and graduation, whether you go or not. The milestones will happen, but the circumstances surrounding everything that happens could be totally different. In one version, we explored how your enemy could be your best friend. It’s how you connect with people.”
But ultimately, the pilot, which was directed by Simon West (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), didn’t get picked up. “The feedback we got was, ‘Which one is really her?’ ” Tigelaar remembers. “They’re both her. But starting on Dawson’s Creek, I recognize people want to know who they’re rooting for, and they almost couldn’t conceptually say, ‘There are two different versions of you and I could like both of you as different characters.’ I weirdly feel like now audiences are so much more sophisticated in how they think about story that I don’t think I’d get the same note.”
Split Decision may not have been picked up to series, but it did have a lasting impact. “That pilot changed the trajectory of my whole career,” says Tigelaar, who’d go on to write on Brothers & Sisters and create Little Fires Everywhere. Guess you could say it was the right decision.
Check out a couple of script pages from Split Decision below: