On the eve of the premiere of “Bunheads,” the latest series from Amy Sherman-Palladino, our most beloved voice working on television, on ABC Family on June 11th, we’re republishing this interview I did for the Daily Texan on September 24, 2002 for “Gilmore Girls.”
When “Gilmore Girls” enters its third season at 7 p.m. tonight on the WB, the only thing more certain than Lauren Graham’s Lorelai yearning for coffee is the show’s trademark witty, fast-paced repartee. Believe it or not, the show had a major language problem during its first year and frankly, my dear, Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator and executive producer of the show, didn’t give in. Instead, she decided to let her naysayers eat cake. Two years later, the literate verbal sparring remains and so does the audience.
“The fun thing about the show is that the network stopped asking me about the references around show seven of the first year,” said Sherman-Palladino, “and we had an argument about Oscar Levant, and that was the last one because we had a show that had Dorothy Parker and Oscar Levant, and it was like, ‘We don’t know who Oscar Levant is.’ And I’m like ‘Well, tough. He was in ‘An American in Paris,’ rent a tape.’ And it was like a big fight over whether or not I would take the Oscar Levant reference out, and when I didn’t, it was like ‘Let the crazy woman dig her own grave.'”
Instead, Sherman-Palladino proved to be crazy like a fox. “Gilmore Girls” has become one of the most elegantly sly, clever and quirky shows on TV. Each week the writers give the mother-daughter duo of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore plenty of pop culture ammunition to work with, while the show itself is becoming a pop cultural staple in its own right. Peppered with references as diverse as the failed Vanilla Ice vehicle “Cool as Ice” to XTC, even its cast includes pop culture icons like Sally Struthers and Grant Lee Phillips (as a town troubadour).
The show, like its razor-sharp dialogue, works on several levels. It’s witty, wise and sentimental besides being socially and politically astute. (To that end, tonight’s season premiere is only one of two to feature members of the U.S. Congress: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif).) Cunningly, “Gilmore Girls” pulls its viewers into the lives, loves and aspirations of the characters in a quaint Connecticut town that functions as a smaller, more perfect microcosm of the outside world. Brilliantly plotted, the show is savvy enough to deal with flawed, eccentric people in a humorous, optimistic way.
Starting this fall, the WB will begin airing “Gilmore Girls: Beginnings,” replaying the show’s first season, on Sunday nights at 6 p.m., an honor reserved for the WB network’s most successful shows, though ironically, it was recently named TV Guide‘s “Best Show You’re Not Watching.” Among those who have been watching, which is a motley mix of television critics and devoted fans, “Gilmore Girls” has avoided being labeled as either a comedy or as a drama, and it is that ambiguity that has left behind a show that can only be described as an instant classic. Impressively, “Gilmore Girls” survived competing against another TV classic in the making, “Friends,” on Thursday nights in its first season, a time slot Sherman-Palladino now considers a blessing.
“The weird thing about the ‘Friends’ time slot is everyone said it was the death time slot,” Sherman-Palladino said. “But for us, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to us … We don’t quite fit the WB mold perfectly. No one flies or turns things into bats or frogs, and no one’s got superhuman powers, and also, it’s not like young, hot people fucking each other all the time, so going into a time slot where everyone figures you’re going to get killed anyhow, it allowed us to be there and grow and do the kinds of stories we wanted to do without anybody thinking, ‘Now, you’ve got to go out and take on ‘Friends’.'”
But if a little friendly competition was all that the “Gilmore Girls” were in store for during their first season on the WB, Lorelai and Rory could have probably enjoyed their movie nights together in peace. For a show that revolves around the simple concept of a mother and daughter who are each other’s best friends, “Gilmore Girls” has endured its fair share of controversy. An online rumor that Amy Sherman-Palladino was actually a pseudonym for “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin (one Sherman-Palladino scoffed at, “If you had to be involved in some sort of rumor, that was a pretty good one.”).
Moreover, an early media blitz involving a group of high-powered corporations called the Family Friendly Forum, who were supposed sponsors, gave the show some unwanted publicity, showing that even the fictional knoll of Stars Hollow, Conn., wasn’t immune to a little scrutiny. The coalition of 13 advertisers, including AT&T, FedEx, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and General Motors, gave $1 million in starting funds to the WB in 1999 to develop shows that encouraged family viewing. While three of the eight scripts originally commissioned were picked to film pilots, only “Gilmore Girls” was put on the WB’s fall 2000 schedule, though as Sherman-Palladino was quick to note, “The very concept of the show is a woman who got pregnant at 16 and is a single mom raising her kid alone.”
“I didn’t know we were family-friendly until we were shooting the pilot,” said Sherman-Palladino, “and I was in Canada, in the snow, reading The Wall Street Journal article on the Family Friendly Forum, and our name was there. And I called the network and said, ‘What does this mean? Who are these guys in hoods, and are they going to come in the middle of the night, and tell me what to write?’ And the thing about the Family Friendly Forum, as far as I can understand, because they’re quite secretive … I’ve never met them. I’ve never seen them. And I tried to get an address to send them a coffee cup two years ago for Christmas, I couldn’t get one. I do not know who these people are. Every now and then, we get some Rice Krispies sent to us in the mail, but other than that, as far as I can tell from our side creatively, they’ve had absolutely nothing to do with our show at all.”
Fortunately, with the fate of the “Gilmore Girls” completely in the control of Sherman-Palladino, the biggest problem at the moment is where high school junior Rory will go to college a year from now.
“Honestly, the writers here have not decided where she’s going to go,” said Sherman-Palladino. “We’ve got storylines coming up that pit her and Lorelai against Richard and Emily, [Lorelai’s high society parents] because Richard is a Yale man, and Richard wants Rory to go to Yale, so there’s stories in Yale versus Harvard.”
This whole year is really going to be focused on separation anxiety, because it’s the year where she’s got to start figuring out college, and she’s got her Harvard applications to fill out, and it’s the reality of 16 years of, ‘You’re going to go to Harvard, and we’re going to be thrilled.’ And now, this is the year that it’s like, ‘You’re going to go to Harvard … and we’re not going to be together anymore, and that kind of sucks.’ So that’s what this whole year is actually about, so it kind of fits that we start it with them apart because it’s sort of a little glimpse of where they could theoretically be next year.”
There’s also the small matter of Rory’s love interest. At the end of last season, she had become attracted to Jess, the literate if under-ambitious nephew of Luke, despite having the perfect boyfriend in Dean, a studious throwback to Wally Cleaver.
Romance wasn’t the only thing left hanging at the end of last season. Rory and her on-again, off-again rival Paris were elected to serve as student council vice president and president, respectively and as a result, the two spent the summer in Washington, D.C., at a leadership camp, which is where the season premiere will pick up. A lucky coincidence for Rory, the summer not only turned the younger Gilmore girl loose from a sticky situation with Jess and Dean, it also marked the first time Lorelai and Rory had spent a long period of time apart, something Sherman-Palladino insisted the show will deal with in the first episode.
But if separation anxiety is, in fact, the theme of the third season of “Gilmore Girls,” rest assured the theme won’t play out behind the scenes. Sherman-Palladino is already thinking about season four, which chronologically will revolve around Rory’s first year of college, but as for season five, “I’m in the Betty Ford Center, but for three and four, we’re good to go,” said Sherman-Palladino.
Sherman-Palladino can also count on her leading ladies for support. She spoke lovingly of Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham, the actresses who play Rory and Lorelai on the show. Naturally, as the show has become more successful, the “Gilmore” girls have been more heavily pursued by Hollywood. Upon the mention of Bledel’s upcoming film “Tuck Everlasting,” Sherman-Palladino replied with the long breathy “yes” of a proud parent.
“Somehow, some way, we got …,” Sherman-Palladino stuttered, seemingly confounded by her luck, “I mean, Alexis had never done anything before. We found her in New York at NYU, and she had the flu. She was very annoyed at having to audition, and she didn’t want to speak to us. She just wanted go home and back to bed, and we’re like, ‘She hates us. We love her! Let’s give it to her.'”
Then there’s Graham, whose history in TV might’ve been the butt of one of her onscreen alter ego’s crueler jokes. After appearances on nearly every failed sitcom, including the Molly Ringwald-Jenna Elfman ABC show “Townies” and memorable turns on “Seinfeld” and “Newsradio,” the actress finally hit her stride on “Gilmore Girls.”
“The fact that you had someone that talented running around Hollywood, not found yet, was the biggest coup in the world,” said Sherman-Palladino. “Because Lorelai’s a hard fucking part. You’ve got to be funny, you’ve got to talk really fucking fast, you’ve got to be able to act, you’ve got to be sexy, but not scary sexy. You’ve got to be strong, but not like ‘I hate men.’ It’s a lot that goes into this character, and it was really a tough find. And to find it and be able to feel like you broke somebody fresh, even though everybody in town knew Lauren, like everybody here was like, ‘When is Lauren going to get something great.’ But America didn’t know Lauren, and that was a real coup for us. They’re both sort of brand new faces in their own right and that was really quite lucky and fun for us.”
After three seasons, all Sherman-Palladino is concerned with is having fun.
“The longer that you’re on, the more people trust you, and the more people trust you, the more fun you get to have because first of all, you’re not defending every story line; you’re not having arguments about Oscar Levant anymore; you’re able to do stories that people may not totally agree with because you haven’t screwed them over in the past, they sort of give you a little flyer like ‘we trust you.’ So because of that, if anything, it has gotten better and more fun, and the characters I know so well and the fun of getting to add new characters, and bring in new people, and find new relationships. That really only gets better.
“There’s nobody that’s not fun to write for. There’s nobody who’s like, ‘Oh God, if you could just not talk.’ Everyone’s just really solid and good. Whatever happens, happens. What am I going to do? Control the entire universe? I don’t have that kind of power,” she said.
If “Gilmore Girls” is any indication though, some of the time, it would be nice if she did.