Thanks, Ad Guys, For One Fine Show

Posted: October 05, 2000

Something amazing happens tonight at 8 on the WB.

Like many of us, a bunch of advertisers decided they were sick and tired of the lame sex jokes and dippy drama that fill so much of the TV menu. Unlike many of us, they had the cash to do something about it. They put up more than $1 million to develop a series they would like.

And the surprise is that it's not an elegy to fabric softener, an ode to luxury cars, or a sonnet to soda pop. It's a touching, funny, lively show that really does appeal to all ages.

The series is called Gilmore Girls, about a two-person family, a 32-year-old mother and her 16-year-old daughter, and the delightful cast of characters, especially Grandma and Grandpa, who inhabit their lives.

All summer, the project flew outside the flak shot off by "hot" new shows and the ones with big stars. Until last week, there was no finished product for critics to watch.

Captivating, charming, even darling, Gilmore Girls turns out to be the one new program that will actually alter the viewing patterns in my two-person family.

All the sane TV critics actually like television, but because we see so much alone, we also value the company of others as we watch.

In my house, that means we watch what my wife likes. No Simpsons. (It's just a cartoon.) No Buffy. (What are they, high school girls?) No Friends. (Yuck!)

Plus, you may have noticed, those shows all air at 8 p.m. That's when we're supposed to talk to each other.

Gilmore Girls will change that on Thursdays. "That was lovely," my wife said after watching the pilot. "Do you have any more episodes?"

Well, yes, I do. How about this one, which will air Oct. 19: Grandma, who usually gets the last word, decides that granddaughter should spend Saturday at the club learning golf with Grandpa.

Grandpa is appalled. Golf Saturday at the club is a sacred rite of ancient males. Mom is aghast.

Actually, of course, Mom is jealous. She never got that much attention from her father. A self-made success who left home with her baby rather than marry the father as her parents wanted, she also doesn't want her daughter overexposed to the ways of the rich stuffed shirts who golf. And Grandpa is afraid that toting his teenage granddaughter around will hurt his formidable image as a clubman.

Well, everybody - including the aged boys at the club - has a good time. And gentle life lessons are entertainingly learned.

The pilot, which airs tonight, introduces these folks. The tough but elegant Kelly Bishop and Edward Hermann are the grandparents. Lauren Graham, a seasoned sitcomer (Townies, Caroline in the City, NewsRadio), plays mom Lorelai Gilmore, an effervescent presence who runs an inn in a "storybook" Connecticut town and has an extraordinary relationship with her daughter, Rory.

Rory is played by newcomer Alexis Bledel. Headed to prep school, she is that most unusual of contemporary teenagers: Her mother frequently chastises her for wearing frumpy clothes.

Her brainy best friend is all-American Lane Kim, who struggles gently with her Korean immigrant parents. She's given up trying to listen to decent music at home. "If my parents still get upset over the obscene portion size of American food," she says, "I seriously doubt I'm going to make any inroads with Eminem."

Mom's coworkers include her best friend, Sookie, the gifted chef, and the French concierge, Michel.

Sookie, glaringly sunny and intensely klutzy, needs at least two helpers to protect her and her kitchen from disaster. (They often fail.) Supercilious Michel is the opposite.

Blabbing endless instructions, Lorelai the manager finally notices that Michel is paying no attention.

"Tew meee," he sniffs deliciously, "yew arrrr zee teeesher in zee Sharleee Browwnnn carrrtoon."

The series comes from Amy Sherman-Palladino, who proved her mettle writing about family relationships for four years on Roseanne. She earned the only Emmy nomination that show ever got, for the stunningly touching episode in which Becky talked with her mother about getting birth control pills.

Gilmore Girls was developed from the Family Friendly Programming Forum. Twelve big TV advertisers, including Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Ford, Coca-Cola and Wendy's, put up the money. They have no input on scripts, other than the requirement that they be "family friendly." TV people write them, pilots are produced, and networks pick the pilots they like. The WB is the first to air a Family Friendly show, but the group hopes other networks will follow.

The idea, eventually, is to move sex-charged sitcoms and scary dramas away from 8 p.m. and give families something to watch together. It's not a totally altruistic move.

"If we could reclaim that hour, before kids go to bed," said Bob Wheling, Procter & Gamble senior executive for global marketing, "I think it would be a much, much better environment for advertisers, and for the people of this country."

If they can come up with a few more shows like Gilmore Girls, he will be 100 percent correct.

Jonathan Storm's e-mail address is jstorm@phillynews.com

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