My CBS pilot was inspired by my dad. This is him.

In case you haven’t heard me hollering, CBS ordered my drama pilot, THE ORDAINED. Here’s the write-up in Deadline by Nellie Andreeva (“The back story of Cullen’s project is the kind aspiring writers dream of”—if you dream of ulcerative colitis!) and the one from the Hollywood Reporter.

As Deadline reports,

the essence of the lead character inspired by her late father, a former priest.

This is true. So I thought I’d introduce you to my dad.

His name was Tom Reilly, and he was an ex-priest. My character’s name is Tom Reilly, and he is an ex-priest.

I am not yet so good at making stuff up.

Thomas J. Reilly, priest

This was Father Tom Reilly, before he became MY father.

My dad was born in 1933 in Philadelphia, the second of six children. My grandfather, his father, was an Irish-American lawyer who ran for district attorney but lost. My grandmother, his mother, was of Cuban descent.

In my pilot, Tom’s father is an Irish-American former governor of New York who ran for President but lost. Tom’s mother is of Cuban descent.

Making stuff up is hard.

My dad left the priesthood in his mid-thirties to marry my mom. In my show, Tom leaves the priesthood in his mid-thirties to try to save his sister, the mayor of New York City, from an assassination plot.

So I made THAT up.

After he quit the priesthood, the real Tom Reilly went into advertising. The made-up Tom Reilly goes into the law.

See the difference? I can do this.

Tom Reilly spent the next forty years in Japan, raised four kids, ran his ad agency, made everyone he met laugh, and remained a devout Catholic to his last. That last came in 2009, nine months after my mom died of cancer. Near as any of us can figure, he died of a broken heart.

I don’t know yet what the future holds for my Tom Reilly, the one in my head. I have so many adventures plotted for him, twists and turns, tragedies and triumphs, maybe a broken heart or two. All I know is he’d be damn lucky to live a life as rich as the real-life Tom Reilly’s. We all would.

So here’s to the resurrection of Tom Reilly. May he yet live.

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  1. Hi Lisa,

    Your road to television is truly inspiring. I’m a New York actor taping tomorrow in NY for the role of Tom. You can read about me online and watch my work in the courtroom of Clint Eastwood’s J.Edgar on my reel, but what you won’t find there is that Philly is my hometown, and when I was 13 I wanted to go to Harvard Law School.

    I eventually went to Duke pre-med and ended up blessed with a life in show-biz but, as you say, life is full of “twists and turns, tragedies and triumphs, a broken heart or two.” My parents held onto hope that their prize-son would be a doctor or a lawyer. Now they’re partially satisfied when I play one on tv. 🙂

    Wishing you all the best with The Ordained. May our paths will cross if its what the Universe holds for us.

    Aaron Lazar

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your dad! Here’s hoping “Ordained” makes it to “the big time” and your story is told. 🙂

  3. A lovely post Lisa, full of heart and humour. Sounds like the real Tom Reilly has provided some rich story material. I look forward to getting to know more about both Tom’s. I second Brian’s question about your decision to write drama vs comedy. From the little I have read, your work is laced with a humour that comes from self-reflection and a generosity of spirit. Curious about your journey. Happy writing!

    • Kathleen Dowling says:

      Your show sounds rich in character. Raised as I was for a time in the Pre Vatican II world the idea priests leaving is slightly scandalous and yet the priests that I knew who left were some of the finest men I have ever known.
      I anxiously await “Ordained” and wish you great success.

    • lisacullen says:

      Thank you, Maryna…but I’m not that funny. Seriously. If you’ve ever met someone who writes TV comedy, you know from funny.

  4. Lisa, another great post. Thank you for the shared insight. I’m wondering if you might post your thought process on what lead you toward TV drama. In reading your posts on this blog, it is certainly evident that you have a penchant for comedy writing also. I think we’re seeing a lot more hour-long TV programming that is a combination of dramatic and funny (i.e. dramadies) which is awesome. And, it seems more and more writers are jumping between writing for comedy and drama, but I’ve also heard it recommended to focus on a niche/genre. Perhaps it’s prudent to pick comedy or drama when you’re trying to break in, but as a writer who would like to accomplish writing for comedy and drama TV (and perhaps projecting that on you), I’m curious as to what lead you toward drama writing and whether comedy writing is also a consideration. Perhaps this query can be fodder for a future post. Thank you!

    • lisacullen says:

      Brian, once again, I hope you’re taking workshops or classes or otherwise consulting wiser heads than mine! I can only speak from my own meager experience: everyone will tell you to pick one or the other, especially when you’re starting out. That said, a friend who once ran a hot sit-com now is showrunner of one of cable’s hottest dramas. If the spec pilot you’re working on is a very funny one-hour drama, I don’t see why you should stop. (That said, I don’t see a lot of serious half-hours.)