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Gilmore Girls a WB Family Worth Knowing, 01.25.01 ...

The best show on television you're not watching would be "Gilmore Girls," the WB's comedy-drama about conflict and conciliation among three generations of women.

Where much of TV --- even good TV --- goes ka-chung! with some combination of T&A, violence or easily promo'd gimmickry, "Gilmore" ripples along like a river in springtime, glistening with highlights.

Smooth but not boring, sweet but not sappy, smart but not stuck on itself, it's a series that doesn't scream out for your attention, and hence hasn't gotten what it deserves.

"Gilmore" resists being stuffed into a nutshell, but here's the nutshell anyway. Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) got pregnant at 16 and had an illegitimate daughter. Now Rory (doe-eyed newcomer Alexis Bledel) is 16 herself, and Lorelai is naturally worried that history might repeat itself. But her relationship with Rory is blissful compared to her warfare with her own mother, Emily (Kelly Bishop), a control-freak, old-money snob.

You can watch for the sly humor, the romances, the friction, the deftly incorporated diversity or the tossed-off pop culture references; in just a handful of recent episodes, they were evoking Susan Faludi and Tonya Harding, Ricky Martin and Rick James, "The Odd Couple" and "Heathers," Proust and Beck. It's enough to make Dennis Miller go all giddy.

And critics are pretty high as well. When the trade journal Electronic Media polled more than 100 TV critics on their favorite shows, the freshman series "Gilmore" finished a surprising fourth, beating such favorites as "The Sopranos," and "ER."

"Gilmore" averages a rather puny 3.6 million viewers a week, but it's performing better than a lot of other WB shows and doing particularly well with the WB's target demo, females ages 12-34. Add the advertising support of the Family Friendly Programming Forum (a group of sponsors trying to help TV like this) and the high esteem everyone has for the show, and it has a real shot.

Unless "Survivor: The Australian Outback" finishes it off. "Gilmore" had a rough enough road against "Friends," but on Feb. 1, CBS moves its reality monster to 8 p.m. Thursdays. In the ensuing battle, all industry eyes will be on "Survivor" vs. "Friends."

"I freaked out about going against 'Friends,' '' says Amy Sherman-Palladino, the shows hyper-verbal creator. "I'm freaking out about going against 'Survivor.' I just freak out about everything."

Sherman-Palladino talks like a teenager --- at least the kind of verbally dextrous teenager you find on "Dawson's Creek."

"The teens that are on TV, they all dress like they're 35 and on the cover of Cosmo and they're all having sex at 12 and I'm like, wow, that was so not what I went through," she says, all in one breath.

"I thought somewhere in America there must be one or two kids running around that haven't slept with somebody yet. When you take a kid who's already dressing like Linda Evangelista, you're missing all the good stories, you're missing all the development and all the heartache and all the tears.

On Stage 14 of the Warner Bros. backlot, Sherman-Palladino is sitting in the "lobby" of the Independence Inn, the small hotel in Connecticut that Lorelai manages. On the show, Lorelai is the motormouth, prone to fits of babbling (but coherent babbling). But it's obvious that even though Sherman-Palladino is childless and a California native, she's poured some of herself into Lorelai.

Nearby, Kelly Bishop ("Dirty Dancing") and Edward Herrmann ("Eleanor and Franklin") are singing the praises of Alexis Bledel, embarrassing her half to death.

Bledel, who turned 19 during the show's early episodes, was a film major at New York University with almost no acting experience. "She is one of the most natural actresses I've ever worked with," says Bishop, more grandmotherly in real life than her steely character on the show.

Bledel looks down, blushes, smiles shyly, and shakes her head no. "I'm so embarrassed," she says.

Graham, who has a string of busted sitcoms in her past ("MYOB," "Townies") says she is not much like her character, Lorelai, despite both having a strong affinity for coffee.

She was "more a Rory kind of kid. I was sort of bookish, not confident, not a wild kid in high school."

"I get a lot of reaction from people really relating to the smartness and the toughness of the character," she says. "And it's not just women, it's men too. It's never the same kind of person twice."

A producer summons all the actors away. Time to work. The "Survivor" sequel is bearing down on "Gilmore Girls" like a runaway semi, and it will take some doing for this quiet but rewarding show to survive till next season.
Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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