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Gilmore Girls Growing Up, 1.20.04 ...

STARS HOLLOW -- Except for a temperature difference of about 70 degrees, there is something strikingly convincing about the fictional Litchfield town re-created on the Warner Bros. studio in Hollywood for TV's "The Gilmore Girls" (The WB, 8 p.m.).

The quaint Victorian and Georgian facades twinkle with white lights lingering from the holiday season. The hills behind the houses are green as if dressed to be a Connecticut forest. The Weston Bakery is nestled next to the Stars Hollow video store. And the headline in the Stars Hollow Tribune is: "Second Bank Robbery in Hartford by Masked Duo."

It's the kind of place, says star Lauren Graham, where "the biggest problem here is related to ... a single traffic light. My problems are little bit more than that."

Specifically, this has been the season on the quirky, fast-talking mother-daughter saga on which Rory finally went off to college, though not far, to Yale.

"You have to let the TV characters grow up," says Graham in a break before the evening's shoot last week.

And going to Yale is "very much in character," says Alexis Bledel, who plays Rory. "Her story is going just about where I thought it would."

But would a college freshman go home so many weekends, as Rory does?

"They're best friends," she shrugs.

The voice of both women in the series comes from its creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who in her trademark hat was more animated than the two actresses on the set, greeting reporters. The college progression "gives us an opportunity to do different things with these girls," Sherman-Palladino says. "I loved the first half of the season, and I love the second half."

So does the show's network executives. "The Gilmore Girls" has already been given early renewal for another season next year.

"The key to a successful show is to see year five in year one," the creator says.

And in tonight's first new episode in weeks, Rory is back in New Haven (or on a sound stage representing such), where she and Paris are pulling an all-nighter as part of a hazing at the Yale Daily News.

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