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Gilmore Girls Emerges as Excellent Drama, 01.24.01 ...

Seated in the beautiful rustic lobby of a quaint New England inn, the old Roseanne was the farthest thing from our minds.

But Roseanne's earthy blue-collar sitcom provided the birth of WB's Gilmore Girls, TV's terrific family drama about a sweet innocent 16-year-old girl (Alexis Bledel) and her best friend, who also happens to be her cool single mom (Lauren Graham).

“This is a character that I've been wanting to get on the air for a very long time,” says Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, the Emmy-winning writer from Roseanne.

Tired of TV teens having sex and dressing like MTV video stars, Ms. Sherman-Palladino dreamed of a series about a smart, realistic teen-ager, similar to Roseanne daughters Becky or Darlene.

Unlike that old sitcom, the daughter and mother on this show are pals, a relationship seldom seen on TV.

“It's the idea of having a kid who was more mature in . . . some ways because her mother treated her as an equal,” the writer told a visit by TV critics to the studio that houses the Connecticut inn managed by Lorelai Gilmore (Ms. Graham).

But it's more than that. Teen-ager Rory Gilmore (Ms. Bledel) is TV's most refreshingly authentic teen since WB's 7th Heaven premiered five years ago.

“(All) the teens that are on TV,” Ms. Sherman-Palladino says, “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's not what I went through!'

“I thought somewhere in America there must be one or two kids running around that haven't slept with somebody yet,” says the Los Angeles native.

In this Girls world, which was developed with money from the Family Friendly Programming Forum, Rory stays out all night with her boyfriend and they do nothing more than kiss.

“They have a nice kiss, they look, they smile, and then they go back to reading Dorothy Parker, and they fall asleep,” Ms. Sherman-Palladino says.

Making all of this believeable is the work of Ms. Bledel, 18, the Houston native appearing in her first TV series, and the charming Ms. Graham, a talented actress who has survived many bombs (M.Y.O.B., Conrad Bloom, Townies). Two respected veterans, Kelly Bishop (Dirty Dancing) and Edward Herrmann (The Practice, Miss Congeniality), play the snooty parents Lorelai left when she got pregnant at 16.

“Amy really has it pegged beautifully,” says Mr. Herrmann, who has won Emmys for his roles on The Practice, St. Elsewhere, Concealed Enemies and Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years and a Tony Award for Mrs. Warren's Profession.

“The way these characters are developing, they're rich and beautiful and right on the money,” he says.

Ms. Sherman-Palladino knows these characters intimately. They've been kicking around in her head for a decade. She didn't know where to put them until she vacationed at the Mayflower Inn in Washington, Conn., last year.

“The inn was so beautiful,” she said. “Everything looked like it was covered in sugar.”

Although critics have praised the family show, the Gilmore Girls has struggled in the ratings at 8 p.m. Thursday opposite NBC's Friends and Drew Carey's Whose Line Is It Anyway? When researchers noted that Gilmore Girls audience increased at 8:30 p.m., after Friends, the WB began airing a Gilmore Girls mid-show recap on the half-hour.

“Eventually we'll get them so used to watching the second half hour that Friends will go into repeats and we'll get them in the beginning,” says Jamie Kellner, WB CEO.

The competition gets tougher in two weeks when Survivor: The Australian Outback airs at 8 p.m. Thursday.

“We'll see how it does against Survivor, and then we'll decide where it's going to fit (on the WB schedule) for a long period of time and move it there,” Mr. Kellner says. (The Gilmore Girls would be a nice fit with Monday's family drama, 7th Heaven, WB's highest-rated series.)

Fortunately for viewers, Mr. Kellner and other WB executives realize that the Gilmore Girls is something special.

WB's Dawson's Creek and other shows featuring worldly, sexually aware teens “are missing all the good stories,” Ms. Sherman-Palladino says. “You're missing all the development, and you're missing all the heartache, and you're missing all the tears.”

If you're not watching Gilmore Girls, you're missing the best family drama on television.
Credit: The Cincinnati Enquirer

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