Take heart, Gilmore Girls fans! Show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino may not be coming back to Stars Hollow — and given the sorry state of the show this season, Lord knows they could use her — but she is returning to TV. This week, Fox picked up her pilot, a 30-minute comedy called The Return of Jezebel James, which, like Gilmore, is all about the ladies. We checked in with the quick-witted Sherman-Palladino to get the lowdown on the new project and her thoughts on what on earth has happened to our beloved Girls.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, your pilot got picked up! How are you feeling?
AMY SHERMAN-PALLADINO Good, good! This is a multi-camera pilot, and I hadn’t written multi-camera in a while, so I opened my desk and went back and read some old things that I wrote years ago, before Gilmore, and I was like, ”These were good! How come no one did this!?” And then I went out and I got drunk and it was horrible… [Laughs] But it’s really nice. I’m very excited about this particular concept.
Can you tell us about the premise?
It’s basically a female buddy comedy — a sister buddy comedy. It’s about a woman who is very focused and driven in her career, and oh, good shoes! She decides to have a baby on her own because it’s the thing — people are doing it. She goes to the doctor and he says, ”This is not something you’re going to be able to pull off, sweetie — sorry.” It leads her down a path where she approaches her younger sibling, who’s, let’s just say, much less focused than she is. She basically cuts a deal, says, ”Let’s look at this like a job. I will pay you to carry my baby for me so that it’s still family, and you’re going to have to move into my house so I can make sure it doesn’t come out with three heads.” The younger sister agrees, and that’s where our journey begins. Basically, it’s a story of two women who don’t really have any relationship at all. When they were growing up, one was 15, 16 when the other was 9 or 10 — not ages where you hang out with your sibling. Then life took them in separate directions, and they probably never would have forged any sort of bond if this hadn’t come along. So the nice thing is — as opposed to something like Gilmore, where the bond was there in the pilot and they finish each other’s sentences — these are two women who have to learn who the other person is. And there will be giggles. And the little [live studio] audience. And some warm-up giving out pizza to the audience.
What made you want to do a 30-minute, multi-camera comedy?
Well, I started in multi-camera. I started on Roseanne, when Roseanne was really Roseanne. And it was the most wonderful job in the world. We had the best time and we did great work. Multi-camera is much less solitary than single-camera. And also, for someone like me who’s got the attention span of, like, a 2-year-old, it was instant gratification. It’s like, you start on Monday, and by Friday, you’ve got a show! It’s in the can! Everything in single-camera is soooo slooooow. And this, it’s like, bing, bang, boom! Come on! Let’s go! It’s showbiz, kid! It’s got that sort of wonderful energy to it. And coming off of six years of Gilmore, I felt like I needed to do something different. I didn’t want to jump back in that same rhythm and that same style. When this presented itself, I was like, Why not? Let’s take a shot on this.
Why did you decide to explore the female dynamic through sisters this time?
Well, it just happened. [Laughs] I came out of a meeting with [Fox Entertainment president] Peter Liguori, who was looking for a female show. And at the time, I was looking to do nothing but stay unemployed and go shopping. Then a couple days later, I literally woke up and had an idea. The more time I spent mulling it over, the more I thought it would be a lot of fun. And I love finding great female characters. Lorelai was just the biggest blast in the world to write. And Emily and these wonderful, crazy chicks. I miss that. I love writing for men, too. There will be men in it. Obviously, they’re not in some crazy island that men forgot.
The pilot hinges on a very specific concept. But I’m assuming you already have ideas on how you would expand the story over multiple seasons?
Mmm-hmm. Oh, you have to. You can’t sell a show when you only see the pilot. ‘Cause then you’re screwed. The minute you leave the upfronts, you might as well kill yourself. The crux of this show, to me, is a sister relationship, and the child is the catalyst to bring them together. You know, Roseanne and Jackie had babies and marriages and lives, and yet that relationship went on and on forever. So I’m not concerned about, once the baby’s born, what do we do?
The show exists only on paper right now, but looking ahead, do you have ideas about actors you’d like to cast, or the type of actors you’d prefer?
I do, I do. As I learned from Lorelai, these women parts — these really layered, wonderful, rich women parts — they’re the really tough ones to cast. I’d love someone who has done some theater. Because the wonderful thing about multi-camera is that audience, and you can feed off that; you can really come up for that, or that can really throw you and scare you, because it’s daunting. So it would be nice to have someone who actually enjoys that, who looks at that like a thrill. I have my wish list, and I’m sure I’ll be hearing a lot of ”What?! No. Eww. Bye!” [from the network]. I’m really looking forward to the rejection that is coming my way in the next few weeks.
You’re up for a good fight.
Oh, I am. I always am! I don’t actually know what the word no means. I’ve heard it and people say it to me and I just sort of gloss over and think about my laundry.
The pressure’s on you to breathe fresh life into the sitcom. Everyone keeps talking about how —
Yeah, they’re all saying it’s dead! I was joking for a long time, saying I was actually going to title my pilot The Nail in the Coffin. The thing that just ends the form altogether! [Laughs] I don’t know, it’s such a great, fun, jazzy, energetic [genre] — it’s putting on a play every week. Plays never go out; people still go see Broadway. I still watch those Roseannes, I still watch Cheers, Taxi, Mary Tyler Moore. Those shows still make me laugh, so I don’t know why they wouldn’t make someone else laugh. But we’ll see. It’s just a pilot — it’s not a series [yet], so nobody could see this. I could be drunk in a hotel in a month from now, crying and sobbing.
Who knows — you might anyway, regardless of the show.
Yeah, exactly! [Laughs] Either way!
And now, the inevitable question: What do you think of this season’s Gilmore Girls?
I haven’t watched this season. I couldn’t bring myself to, because I thought, they could do some really great stuff and then I’m gonna drink arsenic and kill myself because they didn’t need me all along. Or, they’re going to do something that makes me crazy and I’m gonna drink arsenic and kill myself. Either way, there’s not a good ending. I sort of felt it is what it is. I had my run — I enjoyed every moment I was there. I’m still very close to a lot of people there, and I talk to Lauren [Graham], and my best friend still works over there. So I have good thoughts for them. I don’t wish them fire and brimstone and frogs. [But] I don’t have a comment on what’s been going on over there because I took myself out of that world so I didn’t have to go to therapy every day.
Have you shielded yourself entirely from what people are saying about this season? You can’t be that impermeable.
No… I’m aware that there’s stuff out there. But I was taking some flack the last year I was there. People were not always thrilled with the choices that I made, so it’s kind of like, you’ve got fresh blood and new people making new choices, and sometimes that can be a good thing, so really, oddly enough, I really have managed to keep myself out of it more than I thought I would. I thought I was going to be much more of, you know, ”My concept, Mr. De Mille!” with the dead monkey in the other room and William Holden over my garage. I really thought it was going to be a little bit more of that. But I got immersed in this pilot, really started to fall in love with this, and it’s like, ”Hey! There’s another world out there!” But I’m sad I won’t finish [Gilmore Girls]. I had my plans and I’m very stubborn — I want my things to be my way. But it’s a business, and I don’t own the show and it didn’t work out that way, and I’m sure that they’re working hard over there to do what they think is good.
Well, let me tell you, we Gilmore fans all miss you.
That’s sweet. ‘Cause I am petty and I want everyone to like me better. So I do enjoy the thought of being missed. I miss being there, it was a wonderful experience, and I don’t know if anything’s gonna touch that again. I got lucky. Some writers go their whole career without ever being able to truly love something like that and do what they want. I came away with good friends and good pals and I’ll work with them again. So I’m lucky.
With the new show, we’ll be looking out for the witty banter, the pop culture references, and all the telltale Amy Sherman-Palladino stamps.
[Laughs] All that stopping for laughs is going to be really annoying. It’s going to be a lot of me shushing the audience. Like, ”Shush! We’re talking!”
Instead of an applause sign, you could get a ”Shush!” sign.
Yeah, it’s going to be like, ”Hold your applause till the end.” And then the network coming up to me and going, ”Um, honey, it’s not really the point. You’ve got to let them laugh.” That’ll be our first big fight. It’s already a disaster! It’s already over. Oh, I’ve got to go back to bed.