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Don't Go Girls, 02.14.01 ...

The WB's "Gilmore Girls," a family-friendly show that's both sweet and smart, was more or less born in a car.

The conception, of course, occurred earlier.

Producers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Gavin Polone had already discussed the rough idea for the hour-long show, but were driving to pitch sitcom ideas to Warner Bros. when they further sketched out what became "Gilmore Girls," the story of unwed 32-year-old mom Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her 16-year-old daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel).

"Gavin had said, 'Wouldn't it be cool to have a show where mom and teen are more like pals, more like contemporaries, than mother and daughter?' " said Sherman-Palladino.

"And we were just talking about the fact that that (relationship) has never been portrayed in a manner that isn't, 'Mom is a struggling cocktail waitress in Reno and it's all sort of depressing.' And the idea of having a very intelligent girl who took a little side track and (then) managed to carve out a really nice life for her daughter."

At the studio, "We pitched a couple of half-hour shows, and you always get to that 'What else have you got?' kind of thing, and we had just worked this out in the car," said Polone. "And that's always the one they like best."

This time, lucky for us, it was.

"I walked out and I turned to Gavin and I said, 'I don't know what the show is. That's two people that I've never met. I don't know who they are.' "

She met them, or at least discovered the setting she'd eventually put them in, on a subsequent visit to New England with her husband. Staying at an old inn in a small town, Sherman-Palladino experienced the polite life that's frequently led outside of Los Angeles.

"We're driving by and people are slowing down and saying, 'Excuse me, where is the pumpkin patch?' And I'm going, 'Pumpkin patch?' And everything is green and people are out and they're talking. We went to dinner and everyone knew each other and someone got up and they walked behind the thing and they got their own coffee because the waitress was busy.

"And the inn was so beautiful, and everything looked like it was covered in sugar.

"The next day, I took all of these notes and I called Gavin and I said, 'I want her to be in Connecticut and I want her to work at an inn.' And I recently found my notes, and my notes are exactly what the pilot is, including certain scenes of dialogue."

From that first episode forward, "Gilmore Girls" was a critical hit. Ratings, as often, were a different story.

In the 7 p.m. Thursday time slot, competition -- primarily NBC's "Friends" and UPN's World Wrestling Federation broadcast -- was brutal.

The WB did its clever best to work around "Friends," even inserting a what's-happened-so-far snippet halfway through the show to update "Friends" fans switching over.

Then came "Survivor: The Australian Outback," and away went "Gilmore Girls."

In a protective gambit, the WB pulled the show from the schedule for the first two weeks of the February "sweeps" period. It returns Thursday.

"Gilmore Girls" is an under-performing underdog worth pulling for. Here are just a few reasons: -- It is the best possible result of a dubious programming experiment by a group of 43 major advertisers. Calling itself the Family Friendly Forum, the group -- which includes Johnson & Johnson, Ace Hardware, Eastman Kodak and Bell South -- fronts development money to networks to produce shows on which its members can comfortably advertise to family audiences. "Gilmore Girls" is the first product of the partnership.

-- Sherman-Palladino's production company is named Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions.

-- The writing is heart-smart and true.

-- Graham is splendid.

-- A former model working her first TV job, Bledel is, too.

"This is a character I've been wanting to get on the air for a very long time," said Sherman-Palladino. "I started on 'Roseanne' during the glory years, before (Roseanne) discovered all (of her) other personalities, and on that show, there were what I think were two of the smartest and most real teen-age characters.

"And I was so lucky because I was young and I was an idiot and I had just started writing and they're like, 'Oh, she can write for the kids.' So I got to write all of the teen-age stuff.

"Coming from there and then seeing 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.' I thought that 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 sleeping with somebody, who's already dressing like Linda Evangelista, you're missing all the good stories, you're missing all the development and you're missing all the heartache and you're missing all the tears and you're missing all the, 'What do I do?' "

I'm not telling you what to do. I know that every VCR in America is working overtime on Thursday nights already. But you're missing one of TV's small wonders if you're missing "Gilmore Girls."
Credit: The Times-Picayune

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