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History of TV: A Dialogue on ‘Gilmore Girls’

April 15, 2021
3 min read time

The family-friendly WB comedy/drama first aired back in 2000 as a lead-in for that other female-focused family drama, the fantasy Charmed. But Gilmore Girls stood apart from all of its melodramatic, family-centric cohorts for its cozy tone, fast-talking leads, and multi-generational appeal.

The soft-focus, wide shots of Gilmore Girls literally gave us uninterrupted single “big picture” takes of the central single mother-daughter relationship against a backdrop of generational and social class divides in a warm, un-preachy way  much like Lorelai Gilmore’s (Lauren Graham at her best) parenting style.

Connect the Hollywood dots

Rory Gilmore, Lorelai’s teenage daughter, was Alexis Bledel’s first role ever, which is impressive in its own right. Gilmore Girls also gave us our first real taste of the comedic talents of one Melissa McCarthy (as Sookie St. James). Not to mention a baby Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki as Rory’s first love, Dean Forester), How to Get Away with Murder's Liza Weil as Rory’s enemy-turned-BFF Paris Geller, and Milo Ventimiglia of This Is Us. Rory’s bestie since the pilot, Lane Kim (Keiko Agena), was based on showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino’s friend and co-producer on the show, Helen Pai, while Lorelai is a reflection of Sherman-Palladino herself.

In true Hollywood magic, Stars Hollow (where Lorelai and Rory live) is actually a WB backlot construction with interiors shot on multiple soundstages. That shot of the quaint New England town we see in the opening credits? Yeah, that’s actually Royalton, Vermont. But in terms of the show’s true magic, that lay in the cast chemistry and that dialogue...

“Life’s short. Talk fast.”

Whip-smart dialogue at a whiplash pace became the Gilmore Girls calling card.

There's an energy and style to our show that's very simple, in my mind ... [it] almost needs to be shot like a play. That's how we get our pace, our energy, and our flow ... I don't think it could work any other way," Sherman-Palladino is quoted as saying in an article published by The A.V. Club back in 2005.

She (along with partner Daniel Palladino) oversaw seasons one through five and the re-make, with each episode script passing through her hands to ensure the show’s distinctive voice shone through. The Gilmore Girls writers room developed storylines, while it was Sherman-Palladino who maintained the tone consistency — important to a show that relied almost entirely on talking at breakneck speeds.

The snappy dialogue was a purposeful choice to infuse the drama with comedy, and often featured cultural references to other television shows, music, literature and celebrity. It gave viewers the sense that the Gilmore girls lived in the now with us, giving them an added layer of relatability and urbanity. To achieve the dialogue pace, rumor has it Lauren Graham and Scott Patterson (steadfast Luke Danes) even quit smoking to improve their lung capacity.

Slow-burn stories

Gilmore Girls’ charming quality pervades its setting, character relationships, and the pace at which the series progresses. The single-take, uninterrupted shots (often of the “walk and talk” variety) place importance on the immediate — the speed at which it's delivered asking for extra attentiveness from the viewer — and the minute detail of the moment. It’s a beautiful take on life. And infinitely bingeable because the stories are so drawn out; rather than the hyperactive, mile-a-minute plot evolution signature of current programming.

We really just tuned back in to see what Lorelai and Rory were up to, not for an hour-long roller-coaster ride (though that of the emotional kind was often present). There’s something to be said for the long season arc and obsessing for an entire episode over something small  like switching schools  which today would not consume a whole episode. Because in real life, moves like that do overtake one’s life for more than a two-minute intro teaser.

Also in contradiction to regular programming is that key events in the Gilmore girls’ lives happened offscreen, giving the aftermath attention through all of those endless conversations — another real-life tactic: chattering around a subject to avoid what really needs to be said.

In retrospect

Screenwriters can take away a lot from how the dialogue was handled in Gilmore Girls. Its overall popularity is thanks to the show’s endearing qualities and incredibly talented writers and cast, though the show never won anything beyond an Emmy® for Outstanding Makeup and Graham's Golden Globe® and Screen Actors Guild® nominations, along with a place on TIME’s “All-TIME 100 TV Shows” list. Yet its impact ensured a 2016 Netflix revival; the one season open enough to leave audiences wanting more of Lorelai and Rory in the future.

Stream all seven seasons on Netflix.

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