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GG Has a Grounded Grip on Struggles, 02.15.01 ...

To hear the producers of the show tell it, ``Gilmore Girls'' was just one happy accident.

According to creator and executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino, she and partner Gavin Polone were batting around ideas, ``and Gavin said, `Wouldn't it be cool to have a show where mom and teen were more like pals, more like contemporaries than mother and daughter?'

``And we were just talking about the fact that that kind of relationship has never been portrayed in a manner that isn't like Mom is a struggling cocktail waitress in Reno and it's all sorts of every kind of depressing.''

Sherman-Palladino and Polone just happened to have that conversation right before meeting last spring with executives of the WB network to pitch ideas for new series.

``So I had all these elaborate pitches,'' says Sherman-Palladino, ``and then we threw it in the last minute: `Oh, yeah, the mother and daughter are more like friends.' And they're like, `Yeah, that's what we want!'

``I walked out and I turned to Gavin and I go, `I don't know what the show is!' ''

The show turned out to be ``Gilmore Girls,'' a sweet, smart, poignant, family-friendly comedy-drama that, along with NBC's ``Ed,'' is one of the two best new series this TV season.

Although it made its debut last fall with relatively little attention, the show finished a surprising fourth in Electronic Media magazine's biannual critics' poll -- just a few votes behind ``Ed'' and ahead of such critics' favorites as ``Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' and ``Once and Again.''

The difference between ``Gilmore Girls'' and ``Ed,'' though, is that the WB show is not a hit by the standard television measurements. While ``Ed'' has flourished in NBC's Wednesday night lineup, ``Gilmore Girls'' barely draws 3 million viewers each week.

And those low-end ratings are likely to drop even lower now that the series faces both ``Friends'' and ``Survivor'' on Thursday nights. In fact, ``Gilmore Girls'' has been off the air the past two weeks in an effort to avoid the initial viewership battle between NBC and CBS.

So far, though, both the WB and Warner Bros. -- the studio that produces ``Gilmore Girls'' -- have backed the show with a passion not normally seen in network television.

``The constant that I've been getting from both the network and studio has been, . . . `We love the show, we love what you're doing, just stay on track,' '' says Sherman-Palladino with something bordering on relief in her voice.

It is relationships -- and the show's willingness to deal honestly with them -- that are at the core of the ``Gilmore Girls''' appeal.

Set in the small Connecticut town of Stars Hollow -- the quirkiest TV burg this side of ``Ed's'' Stuckeyville -- the series focuses on the sometimes-sarcastic, headstrong Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her smart, wise-beyond-her-years daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel). Mom got pregnant at the age of 16 and decided to have and keep her child -- even though her boyfriend took off and her wealthy family all but disowned her.

Now that child is 16 and going through some of the same things Lorelai dealt with at the same age. Lorelai's goal: to guide Rory toward the things she never had while retaining the friendship the two have developed over the years.

Surrounding Graham, a veteran of TV sitcoms who has always been the best thing about those shows, and Bledel, a newcomer who appears to be a naturally intuitive actress, is a superior ensemble cast that provides the accent marks to the mother-daughter relationship. Some of the secondary characters -- Rory's best friend, who struggles with growing up in a conservative Korean family, and Lorelai's parents -- could carry a show by themselves.

But it is the rich and extraordinarily nuanced portrait of mother and daughter that will resonate with anyone trying to raise a child in these times.

Sherman-Palladino, an Emmy-winning writer for ``Roseanne,'' says that Rory ``is a character that I've been wanting to get on the air for a very long time.''

``I started on `Roseanne' during the glory years before she discovered all the other personalities. And on that show, there were two of the smartest, most real teenage 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 the teenage stuff.''

But since then, she notes, the teens she sees on television ``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 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 dressing like Linda Evangelista, 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?' ''

Sometimes, Sherman-Palladino admits, she writes scenes that may fall just outside the edge of reality. In one episode, for example, Rory stays out overnight for the first time with her boyfriend -- and nothing sexual happens.

``That was my favorite moment when you've got two gorgeous kids sitting there, they have a nice kiss, they look, they smile and then they go back to reading Dorothy Parker and they fall asleep,'' she says with a laugh.

``Only in my world could I get away with that.''
Credit: The Mercury News

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