For seven seasons, Gilmore Girls filled its audiences’ homes with a barrage of references to popular culture — familiar and otherwise. Most of these playful, off-the-cuff mentions of Jack Kerouac’s novels and Paul Anka’s duets came in the form of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and the writing staff’s rich, witty dialogue. Yet the series took this even further with numerous celebrity cameos that, as the Los Angeles Times noted at the time, “bypassed the usual sitcom fare” for “the likes of Tony Kushner, Stephen Sondheim and Norman Mailer.” More than any other show before, during and after its time, Gilmore Girls celebrated the modern intelligentsia — politicians, writers, scientists — the same way sitcoms prized pop culture’s darlings. In doing so, Sherman-Palladino’s creation became television’s representative for the smartest people in the room, but never at the viewers’ expense.
Of course, the familiar faces that popped up in the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut weren’t always established pop icons. Googling “Gilmore Girls cameo” or “Gilmore Girls celebrity cameo” produces countless articles detailing guests who were already famous (Marion Ross of Happy Days) and those who weren’t famous yet (Danny Pudi of Community). But some of the most memorable cameos drew from a different source. Sure, the Bangles made an appearance, but so did former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. Public figures who were (and still are) rightly celebrated, but mostly unknown by the 18 to 34 demographic prized by The WB (and then The CW).
Judging by the prevalence of cameos made by diplomats (Albright), journalists (Amanpour) and other celebrities whose renown originated outside the entertainment industry, Sherman-Palladino preferred a healthy dose of intelligence with her pop culture. (Even the program’s occasional insertion of fictional cameos, like Rory Gilmore’s [Alexis Bledel] Nobel Prize-winning macroeconomics teacher at Yale, Professor Coppedge [Robert Arce] in “You’ve Been Gilmored,” argued for brainpower as star power.)