From a pile of index cards to the rebirth of Stars Hollow: Inside ‘Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life’
Somewhere in Brooklyn Heights in the summer of 2015, a scattering of index cards carried the weight of nine years of curiosity, anticipation and pressure on their flimsy surface.
“We had cards all over the floors of our place — we would tip-toe around them, trying to piece it all together,” recalled Amy Sherman-Palladino. “Somehow we got here.”
Sherman-Palladino is the force behind “Gilmore Girls,” a dramedy centered on a mother and daughter, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, and the goings-on in their eccentric small town, Stars Hollow. The series, which ran for seven seasons from 2000 to 2007 on the WB (later the CW), became a cult favorite that was known for rat-a-tat dialogue that sifted through pop culture faster than diner owner Luke could pour a cup of coffee.
The show’s charm proved so enduring that Sherman-Palladino finds herself “here,” preparing for the release of “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” a four-part revival of the series on Netflix. Fittingly, the episodes will drop Friday, Nov. 25 — because what better time to celebrate family and mandatory dinners than in a post-Thanksgiving tryptophan haze?
“We basically emptied our heads of everything that filled them up over the last nine years,” said Sherman-Palladino, who crafted the four 90-minute installments alongside her writer-director husband Daniel Palladino, who was also an executive producer on the original series.
Some have characterized the revisiting as a form of properly shutting the door for the wife-and-husband team who left the show after its sixth season due to contractual disputes with the newly minted CW. But the duo is not among that group.
“We weren’t looking for closure,” Daniel said in an interview with his wife a few weeks ahead of the revival’s release. “We just wanted to come back and work with the cast again. What I love is that it did not feel nostalgic at all. It felt very new and right.”
“Gilmore Girls” was a relatively small fish. At its peak in its third season, it averaged 5.8 million viewers — about a quarter of the audience of “Survivor.” Still, it was one of the most popular shows for the WB.
It was a series that relied on witty banter and small-scale family drama rather than stylistic flourishes or labyrinthine plots.
“It was an understated show,” said Warner Bros. Television Group President and Chief Content Officer Peter Roth, whose studio produced the original series and the upcoming Netflix revival. “It was all about the characters and the small town and yet it resonated thoroughly with the audience.”
But the reboot also comes with expectations, which weren’t lost on Sherman-Palladino back in March while directing one of the episodes on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.
“I hope the fans like it,” said Sherman-Palladino, surveying the show’s set, which had to be rebuilt from scratch. “This was all for them.”
On this particular day of production, a scene was unfolding in Luke’s Diner, where laptops and headphones are now as common a sight as burgers and french fries — much to the chagrin of proprietor Luke Danes (played by Scott Patterson). At one point in the scene, Luke has a run-in with a bag of flour.
“There’s going to be flour all over our [crap]!,” shouted the always-energetic Sherman-Palladino while adjusting her leopard-print beret. “Let’s do it once more, Scott. I promise you won’t be getting a rash tonight!”
These are words Sherman-Palladino didn’t expect she’d be saying after she left the series. She didn’t expect to be saying anything. Sure, there were moments in the time after the Palladinos left where the couple would read a small story in the news and wonder, “Oh, if we could do that in Stars Hollow…,” but it never went further than that.
It wasn’t until Netflix acquired the streaming rights to all seven seasons of the original series in 2014 that a shift occurred. Fans and uninitiated viewers were no longer beholden to cable repeats or DVD sets for access. And while Netflix is notorious for not releasing viewership data, the anecdotal evidence showed that people were watching. A lot of people.
By then, the Palladinos had created two other series that fizzled — “The Return of Jezebel James” and “Bunheads” — and backed the Broadway production “Violet,” starring “Bunheads” lead Sutton Foster.
“We would walk out after shows of ‘Violet’ and there would be 20-year-old women waiting for us because of ‘Gilmore Girls,’” Sherman-Palladino recalled. “And we were like, ‘wow, these girls shouldn’t even know about ‘Gilmore Girls.’ It sort of started planting the seed to revisit the series.”
Initial talks had begun just before a reunion of some key “Gilmore Girls” cast members at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, in June 2015 — the pandemonium that resulted from that event was evidence that they were onto something.
The Palladinos met with Netflix with a heavily prepared pitch. The WB’s Roth said the reason the CW had not been pitched the proposition was a matter of economics: “This was a very big and ambitious story — one that required a very significant license fee. We wanted to go to a service that would enable us to tell the story with all the grandeur that Amy and Dan had envisioned.”
Sherman-Palladino said streaming on Netflix also opened up creative opportunities. They opted for 90-minute episodes — somewhat inspired by the PBS series “Sherlock”— that will span the course of a season in the calendar year. While a script of “Gilmore Girls” from yesteryear might average 75 to 80 pages, a script for the revival might average150 or more.
Dan added: “I think the biggest change was that we knew we had to write everything before we went into production, which we have never done because you can’t possibly do that with 22 episodes.”
But was Stars Hollow still with them after all these years?
“Have you seen ‘Rain Man’? Because I seriously think ‘Gilmore Girls’ is our ‘Rain Man,’” Amy said. “There’s something about this show where it just comes out of us. A couple of days in, we were like, ‘Oh, we’re going to have a problem. We may have too many episodes in these cards.”
“It could have been a year and three months in the life!” Dan said.
There are 35-plus original cast members returning, including Kelly Bishop as Lorelai’s mother, Emily, Keiko Agena as Rory’s BFF Lane Kim, and (after some controversial headline-making) Melissa McCarthy as Sookie St. James, Lorelai’s bestie.
Rory (played by Alexis Bledel) is now roughly the age Lorelai was when we met them in the original series and, as such, says screen mom Lauren Graham, “The revival will feel more ‘grown up.’”
“A Year in the Life” will also delve deeper into the divide between Lorelai and Emily through the death of Richard Gilmore. (Edward Herrmann, who portrayed the family patriarch, died of brain cancer in 2014.) In “A Year in the Life,” Richard’s absence looms over the four installments as the three Gilmore women try to cope with the loss.
“We instinctively knew where these people were in their lives,” Sherman-Palladino said. “Also with Ed’s passing — we knew that had to be a big thing because Richard was such a big part of the show. The gravity of his absence was felt on that set.”
This isn’t the first time Netflix has mined the vaults to revive an on-the-shelf series. The streaming TV network first brought “Arrested Development,” which originally ran on Fox from 2003 to 2006, back to life for a not-quite critically acclaimed fourth season in 2013. And last year a continuation of family sitcom “Full House,” once a pillar of ABC’s prime-time programming block TGIF, returned with “Fuller House.”
“We weren’t surprised that people were really excited for the ‘Gilmore’ story to continue, but we didn’t expect quite the fervor we have seen,” said Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice president for content.
Each tidbit of news or drip-drop of clues on the cast’s social media accounts would get analyzed at length. And when coffee shops across the country transformed for a day into “Luke’s Diner” to celebrate the show’s 16th anniversary in early October, fans lined up in droves.
“It gives me chills,” Graham said about the fan reaction. “None of us had a map for what to do when the show was over. I had never been on a show that long. It felt like we had been suspended in air—even for the fans. So that was all the more reason why people kept asking, because they felt unsatisfied too. I know some people watch it multiple times a year. Now you have some new material.”
But might the Palladinos consider doing more past these four installments?
“Oh my God,” Sherman-Palladino said, daunted by the thought. “Let people just watch these!”
Dan interjected: “Everyone just watch and say, ‘that’s all we need.’”
If not, maybe fans should start sending them index cards?
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