HOLLYWOOD — The folks at the WB are, much to their credit, aware that there have been a few problems with "Gilmore Girls." On the other hand, the show's executive producer is in denial.
Basically, the show (airing Tuesdays at 7 p.m. on Ch. 30) is going through a transition of sorts this season. When it began three years ago, it was about an almost 16-year-old girl, Rory (Alexis Bledel), and her 32-year-old mother, Lorelai (Lauren Graham), who were more best friends than parent and child. And who lived in the somewhat magical, fictional town of Stars Hollow, Conn.
But Rory graduated from high school at the end of last season and started at Yale this fall. And the separation hasn't been easy on the characters — or, in the opinion of a lot of fans and critics, particularly well-handled by the creator/writer/executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino and her writing team.
"I think that was a transition period that was a bit rocky. . . . There obviously was a bit of discomfort that I think we also all sense and all shared," said WB co-CEO Jordan Levin.
Sherman-Palladino is well aware of that. And she's aware that top executives at the WB are also more than a bit concerned about the direction the show has gone in. But while Sherman-Palladino has listened to the criticism, she hasn't really heard it.
"I've got to tell you, I have mixed feelings about those opinions," she said. "Partially, I like that people are invested in the characters, that they even care. That that's even a debate, that's cool."
And she acknowledged that this has been a challenging season, but. . . . "Sweetheart, every time I sit in front of that computer it's challenging because I decide I'm out of words," she said. "Change is always weird for everybody. You couldn't have her (Rory) live at home a fourth year because then they'd both need mental counseling. You couldn't have her cling to mommy forever, because how is she going to travel the world and be all of the things that she wants to be?"
Sherman-Palladino's sort of missing the point, however. It's not that most fans wanted Rory to remain at home, but the storytelling has suffered because the writers don't seem to a handle on writing the show with Rory off at college and Lorelai back in Stars Hollow.
"It was an interesting challenge. We got great new sets," Sherman-Palladino said with a laugh. "I know that people feel it has mixed results. Personally, I liked what we did with their separation. I liked the fact that she kept going home for a while, because I think in reality, that's what would happen. I think if you were that tight with your mother."
She said that, in her experience, most kids going off to college revel in the freedom it presents. "But they didn't have the relationship with their parent that Rory had with Lorelai. It's very different leaving your very, very best friend — your greatest confidante in the whole world, the person you run to every second. She doesn't view Lorelai as someone who's keeping her from freedom or someone who's keeping her from growing up. And because of that, I think it's a different transition into life. It's not like, 'Now I get to be an adult.' I think Rory has always kind of felt like an adult."
So, in Sherman-Palladino's mind, Rory's separation anxiety is actually worse than the normal teen's. "It's like leaving your touchstone, leaving your best friend. It's a different transition, and because of that, I personally feel like we were true to the nature of who they were."
"I understand people going, 'It's different. It's changed.' I understand people saying, 'I like it' or 'I don't like it.' I like it when people have strong opinions. I have strong opinions."
And both the producer and the network executives insist there are good things to come. "I think we're settling into episodes in the first and second quarter that feel more connected in a real way versus a manufactured way," said Levin, who's quick to point out that former cast members Jared Padalecki (who played Dean) and Milo Ventimiglia (Jess) will both be back in upcoming episodes.
"It's going good," Sherman-Palladino echoed. "We're doing a really interesting story right now where they actually don't connect at all through the entire episode. And it's really a beautiful story, and I'm really excited about it. This is a lot about how it is when things get rough and that person who's always been there for you has their own life. That's a story that we haven't done yet.
"I loved the first half of the season, and I love the second half of the season more. And next year . . . next year I'll be in the Betty Ford Center."
The WB's Levin makes it clear that he's communicated his concerns to Sherman-Palladino about the direction of the show, but he wants to make it clear that it's her show and he trusts her to do the right thing. "I'd rather Amy has the freedom to try to go in that direction," he said. "She certainly deserves our trust after all these years and try and let these characters live and breathe the real life. It's hard."
"I work as hard as I can," Sherman-Palladino said with mock drama. "I don't shower. I don't sleep. My first priority has always been that we at least stay true to our characters. And if we fall off sometimes — if you didn't try, you wouldn't fall off the cliff."
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