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Fall TV Preview: 'Gilmore Girls'

Happy ‘Gilmore’ — Alexis Bledel’s funky family drama nudges The WB beyond its teen horizons

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On THE L.A. set of the WB’s Gilmore Girls, the titular twosome — Rory and Lorelai — are having a good old-fashioned mother-daughter spat. Rory’s swamped with work, but Lorelai keeps bugging her to take an ice cream break. Finally, Rory erupts: ”Lorelai, go to your room!” It sounds like your average family dramedy scene, except for one thing: Rory (Alexis Bledel) is a serious-minded 16-year-old prep schooler, and Lorelai (Lauren Graham) is her free-spirited 32-year-old single mother. Do the math, and you’ll figure out this is not your stereotypical American TV clan. ”[Gilmore‘s] strength is that it’s a family show that does not pander or condescend to families,” says Graham (M.Y.O.B.). ”It’s not so soft that your grandmother could watch it with her dentures out.”

In other words, ”it’s not going to be 7th Heaven,” declares Gilmore creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (Roseanne). What sets the show apart are its sardonic one-liners (”On the way home, you can pull a Menendez,” Lorelai tells Rory before dragging her to dinner at her stuffy grandparents’ house), its multicultural cast (Lorelai manages a hotel in the diverse fictional hamlet of Stars Hollow, Conn.), and unusually close familial bonding (Rory and Lorelai share the same taste in lip gloss and Macy Gray CDs).

Yet Sherman-Palladino can thank shows like Heaven for helping get her series on the air. As that 99 44/100 percent pure drama started cleaning up in the ratings, a group of advertisers (including Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson) formed the Family Friendly Programming Forum to fund the development of similar series. When Graham learned Gilmore was supported by the FFPF, however, she admits that it ”made me so nervous … I would be more comfortable if it were called the Dysfunctional Family Friendly Forum.” Not to worry: Despite its ominous moniker, the FFPF has no political agenda. ”It’s not a right-wing thing,” says Graham. ”It’s mainly supporting shows with a multigenerational element that you could watch as a family.”

Sounds good, but up against NBC’s Friends, will there be any families left to watch Gilmore? ”People really like those six kids,” Sherman-Palladino says, adding tartly ”Well, they’re not kids anymore — they’re all, like, 80.” Still, ”there probably isn’t a tougher time slot,” WB Entertainment president Susanne Daniels concedes. ”But in a strange way, that’s a vote of confidence from us.” If the show can overcome this potentially crippling ”vote of confidence” and attract a small, loyal cult the way Popular did in the same spot last season, Daniels promises Gilmore won’t be a goner.

It could also be rough persuading men to switch from UPN’s WWF Smackdown! to watch something with the far less macho title of Gilmore Girls. ”It’s not just a chick show,” insists Sherman-Palladino. ”There are funny, interesting characters … and I’m adding a couple more guys.” Offers Bledel (an 18-year-old model making her TV debut), ”Guys are interested in girls, so maybe they’ll check it out.” And while Graham agrees that the name may turn off a few males, she prefers it to an alternative she’s heard: ”One title that has been flown is The Gilmore Way, which sounds like a method of natural childbirth. I’m not behind that.”

Besides, the actress is convinced that men will eventually come around. ”That’s why my shorts will be very short,” she quips. Even though she’s playing a TV mom, ”this will be the sexiest character I’ve ever gotten to do, ironically,” says Graham, who nevertheless confesses that ”the first time I got called ‘Mom’ on the set, it sent a chill down my spine that I can’t say was pleasant.”

More appealing for The WB is the prospect of Gilmore attracting a few moms along with their daughters. The network learned the hard way last season that you can’t survive on high school shows alone, as its youth-appeal-heavy schedule helped drag it down from fifth to sixth behind UPN in overall ratings. ”They really saturated the teen market,” says Sherman-Palladino. ”Last year some good shows went down because people were like, ‘Ugh, another show about teens — who cares?”’ That’s why Gilmore will deal as much with Stars Hollow’s quirky residents as with Rory’s adolescent travails. ”School’s a place we’ve all seen before, and this town isn’t,” says The WB’s Daniels. Adds Graham: ”I don’t think there are that many high school stories left to be told. The focus of this show is the family and their relationships.”

And if that family just happens to comprise, in Sherman- Palladino’s words, ”two unbelievably beautiful women,” all the better. While Graham isn’t gunning for the Sexiest Mom on TV title (”Sela Ward has that one”), she has been indoctrinated into the ways of The WB Women: ”I’ve already gotten the briefing: ‘Don’t cut your hair, and be prepared to wear [only] a bra at any time.”’ Oh, Mama!