Let’s start with the good news: Considering the way “Gilmore Girls” ended, it’s remarkable that the cast came together at all for a reunion this weekend. As devoted viewers know, creators Dan Palladino and Amy Sherman-Palladino exited the show in 2006 following a dispute with the studio, resulting in a seventh and final season that was widely regarded as terrible.
Nonetheless, the Palladinos showed up for a 15th anniversary, in the form of a delightful, highly-hyped panel at the ATX Television Festival on Saturday. The show has garnered a fiercely loyal fanbase over the years, and the audience roared as about 15 cast members (including Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Kelly Bishop and Scott Patterson) took the stage for a nearly two-hour session. Everyone told stories and reminisced about the series, which recently got a big boost with a Netflix streaming deal.
— Danny Strong (@Dannystrong) June 7, 2015
As refreshing as it was to see (or hear, as the panel was also streamed on SiriusXM radio) everyone recalling why the show was so special, it was also depressing to realize what the success of “Gilmore Girls” says about the current state of television. As Sherman-Palladino said herself during another panel earlier in the day, the series would never happen if she pitched it now: “Today, you don’t sell ‘Gilmore Girls,’” she said.” Nobody would buy it.” And as the reunion went on and the cast and creators shared more details about how the series came to be, it became increasingly clear that it was all too true.
It’s really a shame, considering that, as moderator Jessica Shaw said at the beginning, “Gilmore Girls” had some of “sharpest, most exhilarating dialogue” ever on TV. Centered on a mother-daughter duo who were best friends instead of the typical parent-child relationship, the show featured incredibly fast dialogue peppered with obscure pop culture references; a weird small town; and in-depth character studies from a wide-ranging cast of all ages and backgrounds.
Or, if “Gilmore Girls” did manage to make it on TV in 2015, there’s no way it would have survived in the same way. These days, it’s tough to get anything quirky or different to last very long, especially on network television. Sherman-Palladino pitched the show on a whim to the WB pre-2000, and the network loved the idea. Not only that, she said, but the network stayed out of the way. Executives read the script and basically said “Let’s go.” They also added the addendum “Don’t spend too much money,” but the creators were mostly left alone to do what they pleased.
That included casting, even more rare. Sherman-Palladino said generally on network shows, you need to see a dozen actors per role. But she had a gut instinct on several people immediately, including Graham, Bledel, Bishop and Patterson, along with secondary characters (such as Liza Weil and Danny Strong) and the execs signed off every time.
Though certain creators can get away with doing whatever they want without supervision, that kind of freedom is now far from the norm. There’s just too much at stake with so much TV competition. Many behind-the-scenes stories involve executives getting too involved to help “fix” shows, which can often end up having a negative effect.
The Palladinos also could take their time with story lines back then, another aspect of TV that has been lost in the binge-watch culture. Lorelai and Luke – the show’s main will they-won’t they couple – didn’t officially get together until Season 5, almost incomprehensible with an obviously star-crossed pair.
Even more surprising, that was intentional. “I think TV sometimes rushes into things without thinking, ‘What are you losing?’” Sherman-Palladino said. “We were very stingy with events for a specific reason, because there’s so much to mine in the characters. When you jump to that next moment, you’re going to lose three or four moments.”
Speaking of plots that took awhile to develop, Sherman-Palladino recalls the one thing the studio did inquire about: When Rory was going to have sex. “At the time, everybody who was under 18 on television was just [having sex],” Sherman-Palladino said as the crowd laughed. “We weren’t trying to make a statement or anything. We were really trying to play the truth of who [Rory] was, and it’s a decision she’s not going to make lightly.”
Eventually, after many people increased the pressure to move that story line along by the fourth season (“What’s up with her not sleeping with boys?” “Is she a nun?”), Rory slept with her ex-boyfriend, Dean (Jared Padalecki), who happened to be married at the time.
It’s difficult to imagine that a network — or an audience — would have that kind of patience now to wait for that kind of story to play out. Especially when creators can get so much feedback in real time via social media about what viewers like and don’t like, which can lead to pressure to change a certain arc.
Finally, another lesson learned, which ultimately leads to the saddest takeaway of all: Dan Palladino said the series has found a new, younger audience, especially since last fall, when the show starting streaming on Netflix. “My nephew kept telling me we’re trending. I’m still not sure what that means,” he said. “But it was definitely an explosion” of viewers.
So, to sum up: Even if the show would have no chance in 2015, it’s clear that there’s still an enormous appetite for something like “Gilmore Girls.” But if a similar show was pitched now, realistically, there’s little chance it would survive.