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'Gilmore Girls': Friends and Family

Mother and daughter: They share clothes, music and a sense of values.

October 01, 2000|ELIZABETH JENSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Can a "family-friendly" show also be funny, fun television?

The words conjure up earnestness and sappiness, but the WB's "Gilmore Girls" is hoping to prove otherwise.

The mother-daughter combo at the heart of "Gilmore Girls" are Lorelai (Lauren Graham), a single mom, and Rory (Alexis Beidel), who is 16, the same age at which Lorelai's life changed when she became pregnant. So close in age, the two listen to the same music, share clothes and are more best friends than parent and child. The relationship sometimes poses problems for Lorelai when Rory wants to make decisions that Lorelai thinks aren't in her best interests. Also in the picture are Lorelai's strait-laced parents, with whom she has a tense relationship.

The one-hour drama, which airs from 8-9 p.m. and premieres Thursday, is far from traditional, but has at its core a "strong morality, and strong sense of the importance of family," says Jordan Levin, the WB's executive vice president of programming.

But the stereotype was on the minds of the WB executives when they set out to solicit proposals for family-friendly shows. A group of advertisers, concerned about the dearth of such programs on the networks, agreed to fund development of several ideas to see if the WB could find one that would appeal to a number of age groups.

The WB's "7th Heaven," about a traditional family headed by a minister, had proven that family shows, which tend to draw an older audience, could garner an audience on the teen-- and young adult--oriented network. But most other family shows in the marketplace "were very dramatic, overly earnest, and didn't have the feeling of capturing the full emotional range you get in a family, a mix of the lighter moments as well as the heavier ones," says Levin.

The WB got around that on "7th Heaven" by hiring a creator who had previously worked only in sitcoms, and that formula worked again with "Gilmore Girls," which has even more of a comedy feel. Although the core mother-daughter relationship is fairly straightforward, the town is populated with quirky characters, the kind who would have felt at home in the former CBS drama, "Northern Exposure." Included are an antiques shop owner whose store is so cluttered that customers can't find her and a cook who is a walking accident.

Amy Sherman-Palladino, executive producer of "Gilmore Girls," came out of sitcoms, starting with ABC's "Roseanne," where she was supervising producer. Her idea was for "a cool single mom, who got pregnant young, and had the baby, and wasn't living in a trailer park or a crack den. She made a mistake, but went on to build a really cool life for herself and her kid." The series picks up the story when Rory is 16, "the exact same age that Lorelai was when her life took a huge left turn," Sherman-Palladino says. "Their tight best-friend bond gets tested."

When creating the show, she says "there was a great longing on my part to put a different kind of teen on television ... teenage girls on television today are very sophisticated, and they're especially sexually sophisticated. Rory is an innocent, someone who is comfortable in an adult world without being sexually aggressive, without dressing in sexy clothes."

She didn't know until shooting had already begun on the pilot that development of the show had been financed by some members of a group called the Family Friendly Advertising Forum. The Forum had given just under $1 million to the WB last fall, after a lunch with WB executives to ask for more programs like "7th Heaven."

"This is where I got really lucky; what I pitched and had in my head and wanted to do fit what they were looking for," she says. She laments that "we're in a time where family friendly is viewed as a scary, narrow point of view that beats you over the head with a message, rather than a fun, quality show that a bunch of people of different ages can sit down and watch together."

The Forum says it is quite pleased. "Gilmore Girls" has gotten positive word of mouth from critics and is considered to have a good shot at success. J. Andrea Alstrup, Johnson & Johnson's corporate vice president of advertising and a founder of the group, says she relates to it as a parent and a daughter. "You're always going to have challenges raising kids. The show touches a lot of sensitive areas. I don't think we thought it was just going to be a sweet little show about a family."

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"Gilmore Girls" premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. on the WB.

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