Growing Pains, TV Guide Feb. 17-23 ...
Alexis Bledel had two strikes against her the day she showed up at a New York
City casting call for the part of Rory in WB's witty new drama Gilmore Girls.
First, she had the flu. Second, she was indifferent about acting, having no
professional experience and no burning desire to get some. The fresh-faced
Bledel had occasionally modeled to pay the bills, but she was attending New
York University's film school with an eye toward writing or maybe directing.
She only came to audition to please her manager.
"She was so 'I don't want to be here,'" recalls Gilmore Girls creator Amy
Sherman-Palladino, who supervised the audition with producing partner Gavin
Polone. "The first thing we said was, 'So, what's NYU like?' And she said,
'OK. Small talk. I guess we can do that.' By the time she left, Gavin and I
turned to each other and went, 'She hates us. Let's get that girl.'"
Conventionally, producers hire actors who actually want to be on television.
But convention has little to do with Gilmore Girls, a promising one-hour
series about free-spirited, 32-year-old single mom Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren
Graham) and her smart, shy, 16-year-old daughter, Rory, played by Bledel. Do
the math and you'll quickly figure out the premise: Lorelai had Rory when she
was 16. Still a young woman herself, Lorelai must deal with a daughter who
has reached a very vulnerable age. But shed no tears for these women who have
been surfers of life's weird curves. In an unexpected, glass-is-half-full
twist the young women who could be sisters are both happy and successful.
Lorelai runs a small hotel in fictional Stars Hollow, Connecticut, and Rory
is a straight-A student at Chilton, a prestigious private school. "We've seen
the single mom who is working as a cocktail waitress in a truck stop and
doesn't know how to make ends meet," says Sherman-Palladino. "But I didn't
want the focus to be on that. [Lorelai] found a very supportive world to
raise her kid and found good people to help her out."
Lorelai's web of friends includes characters so offbeat they make the
inhabitants of Northern Exposure's Cicely, Alaska, look positively normal.
There's sexy surly Luke Danes (Scott Patterson), owner of the local diner;
accident-prone Sookie St. James (Melissa McCarthy), the chef at the inn; and
bubbly Miss Patty (Liz Torres), who runs the dance school. Also in Lorelai's
life are her wealthy, estranged parents, Emily (Kelly Bishop) and Richard
Chances are good that you haven't seen the show-It's up against Friends and
Survivor at 8P.M. on Thursdays, which led WB to bench the series on February
1 and 8 to protect it from serious ratings damage. The heartfelt-yet-quirky
series is, however, a hit with both critics and with teens-especially female
fans aged 12 to 17.
Not bad for a show that started out as an afterthought. Sherman-Palladino, a
former writer for Roseanne and Veronica's Closet, and Polone, who executive
produces HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, went to WB executives to pitch ideas for
half-hour sitcoms. After failing to interest the network in their comedies,
the two bounced a concept that they had spent, "three seconds in the car
thinking about," says Sherman-Palladino. "We said, 'Oh, there's this idea
about a mother and a daughter and they're kind of close in age and they're
more like girlfriends.' And all of a sudden the entire room went, 'That's
what we want.'"
Since Gilmore Girls had the potential to be the kind of show the whole family
could watch, WB tapped the Family Friendly Forums Script Development Fund for
money to help pay for the pilot. The fund is a partnership between WB and big
advertisers like Proctor & Gamble with the purpose of brining more wholesome
fare to TV. Sherman-Palladino said she found out about the fund's involvement
while in production on the pilot and, at first, panicked, fearing the
advertisers would have a say in scripts. So far, however, that hasn't
With it's growing audience, WB will likely renew Gilmore Girls for next
season. (The show has earned 2.5 household ratings, respectable for the
network.) "As long as we continue to see growth creatively and in [ratings]
numbers, there's no reason to think it wouldn't be picked up," says Susanne
Daniels, the network's president of entertainment. That's the good news. The
bad news is that it will likely stay in TV's toughest time slot. Daniels says
moving the show would confuse the audience. "The strategy is to program it in
a time slot and leave it," she says, adding that a similar plan helped launch
7th Heaven, the network's most watched show. "That allows an audience to find
it and let it build. If it works, that's a time slot that Gilmore Girls could
have permanently." Sherman-Palladino, a woman so optimistic that even her
computer is rose colored (the I-Mac in Ruby), puts a positive spin on the
news: "Being put on against Friends was a horrifying thing to me, but it
allows us to grow out of the limelight."
And under the moonlight. A sweet series about both familial and romantic
relationships, many of the scenes are shot outdoors at night around a quaint
faux town square on the Warner Bros. Backlot in Burbank, California. During a
recent visit, the square twinkled in the twilight with plate size and gold
stars suspended from the trees, decorations for an episode about Stars
Hollow's kooky Founder's Firelight Festival. Bledel and Jared Padalecki, who
plays Rory's boyfriend, Dean, are in a scene in which their characters stroll
hand in hand in celebration of their third month together. But as soon as the
camera stop rolling, the actors begin to cut up. "Hey, the dork store called
and they're out of you," Padalecki teases Bledel. "Ha, ha," she responds
without cracking a smile, and smacks him in the chest with her evening bag.
Sherman-Palladino credits the always blasť Bledel as one of two key puzzle
pieces that make the show work. The other is Graham. "You can write the most
fabulous thing in the entire world, but if you can't find the right people to
bring the spirit and life to the words," she says, "then there are no words."
But Graham, 33, nearly missed the fun. She was costarring in NBC's edgy
midseason comedy M.Y.O.B when the Gilmore Girls pilot was being cast last
spring. "Lauren's name was brought up, and I said, 'No. She's on another
show,'" says Sherman-Palladino. When no other actresses fit the bill, she
decided to give Graham a look. She instantly knew she had found Lorelai.
"Lauren possesses so many Lorelai's qualities of sharpness of humor and of
warmth,- the mixture of insanity and grounded intelligence." The job offer
left Graham in anguish: She felt disloyal to NBC (she had previously appeared
on Newsradio and Conrad Bloom for the network) but "wasn't sure" M.Y.O.B
would last. "There wasn't a person in my life who was at all sympathetic,"
says Graham. "They were like, 'That's a great problem, not knowing which job
you're going to have.'"
A native of Honolulu, Graham was herself raised by a single parent, which
gives her perspective on her character. After her parents, singer Donna Grant
and former congressional staffer Larry Graham, divorced when she was 5,
Graham moved to the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., with her dad. "It
makes sense to me," she says of single parenting.
Whether Bledel's home life resembles that of her Character is hard to know,
given the actress won't talk about it. In her trailer on the set, the
19-year-old seems uneasy with being interviewed. Looking down, she
reluctantly reveals that her father is a writer working on his first novel
and her mother works for a nonprofit organization that sets up exhibits for
young artists. But when asked for her parents' names, she hesitates. "Um, I
don't want to go there," she says. It is this shyness that Sherman-Palladino
says makes Bledel perfect for Rory. "She was a real innocence and purity to
her," she says. "She's really a little girl in a lot of ways."
Graham's character too has a childlike quality, which makes her seem less
motherly then sisterly. Still, other thirtysomething actresses would have
balked at playing a part where a teenager calls them "Mom," fearing it would
ruin their chances to play younger characters later. Graham says she would
have had the same fears if it weren't for the way Lorelai is written. "In
some ways," says Graham, "she's the kid, and her daughter is the one that's
more reserved and conservative."
Back on the set, the night is getting cold as the cast finishes a scene in
which Stars Hollow mayor (David Huddleston) explains the founding of the
town, which was put on the map by two star crossed lovers on the run. "Many a
true love have started on the very spot I stand now," says Huddleston,
standing in a gazebo swathed in pink and gold fabric. And while it's too soon
to say if TV audiences will continue to fall under the spell of Gilmore
Girls, the relationship is certainly off to a good start.
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