After 90 seconds with Amy Sherman-Palladino, one thing is obvious: This woman is Gilmore Girls. She has Lorelai’s staccato speech, Rory’s intensity, Sookie’s kookiness, Miss Patty’s wild wardrobe (today, a green miniskirt, knee-high black lizard boots, and a hat adorned with brightly colored felt flowers), and just a drop of Luke’s crankiness…but only when she’s talking about fighting with The WB. Fortunately, that’s something that hasn’t happened much lately. Sitting on a pink chaise in her office on the Warner Bros. lot, Sherman-Palladino is recalling how she and the town of Stars Hollow survived a disastrous year only to stage a fairy-tale comeback this fall. In honor of the 100th episode airing Feb. 8, EW asked Sherman-Palladino to explain — in her own rapid-fire words — how she saved Gilmore Girls from an early demise.
Gilmore Girls kicked off its fourth season on Sept. 23, 2003. On Sept. 24, the bitching began: Rory (Alexis Bledel) had started her new life at Yale, forcing her to engage in snappy banter with her best friend/mother, Lorelai (Lauren Graham)… over the phone. Critics argued the show was compromised by the new situation, and in the coming weeks, The WB drama lost 20 percent of its viewers. ”It changed everyone’s spirit on the set,” says Graham. ”I was getting calls from other producers in town saying, ‘I heard it’s over!”’
A lot of things happened last season. John Ritter died, and his last few episodes [of 8 Simple Rules] premiered against us. Then it went right to American Idol. And there were changes in the show. Rory wasn’t in her little plaid skirt anymore. Some people wanted us to keep her in high school, but why? Let her grow up. Let her fall on her ass a little bit.
A lot of what we set up earlier was gone suddenly. It took time to build it up again — new relationships, new worlds. I needed an interim year for Lorelai if I wanted to get her to Luke [Scott Patterson, who plays Stars Hollow’s hunky diner owner]. We also needed to transition her out of working at the Independence Inn to owning her dream place — otherwise it becomes a show about a mother putting her life on hold while her daughter has a life. Believe it or not, there was a thought process. I would love to make people happy and say, ”We were on crack, but we’ve gotten help.” [But] it’s exactly where I wanted to go.
The Transition was made more difficult by Sherman-Palladino’s increased workload: Since January 2003, she had been developing a spin-off for Rory’s brooding boyfriend Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) in which he would move to Venice, Calif., and live with his estranged father. The pilot aired as a Gilmore episode in May ’03, but by that point WB co-CEO Jordan Levin and the Warner Bros. studio had decided not to proceed with the spin-off, citing ”prohibitive” costs.
I had been asked by the studio to spin off Luke. I was like, ”You’re gonna take Luke out of Stars Hollow? He’s the person [Lorelai] is going to be in love with.” A year went by and I knew that [Jess] was going to have to leave the show because you couldn’t keep a kid like that in Stars Hollow. He hated it too much. I always wanted to do a show in Venice because it’s not the O.C. It’s not rich people and pristine white beaches. That’s when I said, ”If you still want a spin-off, I’ll do this.” And they were like, ”Yeah!” Looking back, I don’t really feel that they wanted it. I think they wanted to keep Milo happy and in the WB stable of hot boys. Then it got ugly. The last communication I got was ”We won’t pay for it because it’s going to be an outdoor thing and it’s too expensive to shoot.” I learned a lesson. I’m not sure what it is, but eventually I will.