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More Able to Watch Gilmore, 08.07.01 ...

Well, it's about time.

The best new network series of last year finally has a time slot where you might actually get to see it.

After languishing in the Thursday-night shadow of "Friends" and "Survivor" like a daisy trying to grow between two giant redwoods, the WB's "Gilmore Girls" (7 Tuesday, Channel 18) moves to Tuesdays this week. It couldn't happen to a nicer show.

This hourlong comedy-drama about single mother Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her teen daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel), is the kind of thing television often promises and seldom delivers: warm but not cloying, witty but not snide, quirky but hardly ever cutesy. All by itself, it could give "family TV" a good name.

Lorelai manages a small-town Connecticut inn, where her duties include riding herd on the hilariously supercilious French concierge, Michel (Yanic Truesdale), and the gifted but somewhat goofy chef, Sookie (Melissa McCarthy). Also on hand are the town's gossipy dance teacher, Miss Patty (Liz Torres), the cranky but romantic owner of a local coffee shop, Luke (Scott Patterson), and an assortment of interesting others.

The precocious Rory goes to prep school, a perk made possible by Lorelai's WASPy, monied parents, Emily (Kelly Bishop) and Richard (Edward Herrmann).

After having been estranged for years from this patrician pair, black sheep Lorelai has reluctantly come back to the fold for Rory's sake, but this extended family will never be mistaken for the Waltons.

Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino understands that people - especially parents and children, heaven knows - need to compromise to get along, and that this can be funny, even if it isn't always fun.

Even better, she doesn't cramp her characters. The resourceful Lorelai screws up, and the brainy Rory can be silly. Emily and Richard are snobs, but they're smart and stylish and they love both of their girls. It amounts to a minor miracle to see not one but two grandparents who are neither insufferably wise nor "colorfully" losing their marbles.

At 34, Graham is a survivor of a long string of short-lived sitcoms ("Good Company," "Townies," "Conrad Bloom," "M.Y.O.B."), finally has the setting she deserves. Though she looks like any garden-variety I-could-have-been-a-model-but-I-went-to-acting-school-instead female lead, she's a nimble comedian with a real gift for timing.

She and Bledel nail the sometimes breathlessly paced mother-daughter dialogue, which skitters all over the place from H.L. Mencken to Macy Gray to borrowed sweater sets. Sure, the writing can get a little too glib or giddy, but most of the time it's got a pleasant zing to it.

Probably the most surprising thing about "Gilmore Girls" is that its development was subsidized by something called the Family Friendly Programming Forum, a consortium of the family-lovin' folks at Ford, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and dozens of other big advertisers, under an arrangement with the WB.

This sounds as if it should have resulted in the prime-time equivalent of some lame educational film from 1962, or at the very least an infomercial for home, hearth and SUVs.

Who knew it would give rise to something as good as "Gilmore Girls"? It's enough to make you want to go out and buy a Ford Explorer, or at least a Cherry Coke.

Tuesday only, the show occupies both the 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. time slots, with repeats of two episodes. Reruns will continue to air at 7 p.m. until the season premiere sometime this fall.
Credit: JS

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