In the grand scheme of things, 15 or 16 years is an insignificant amount of time, a dead fly on the windshield that is the universe (woah). In the world of television, though, it’s an eternity. When Gilmore Girls premiered on The WB, more than a decade-and-a-half ago, The WB still existed. Also: Survivor was the most watched show on TV, Freaks and Geeks had just been canceled, and people were saying The Simpsons and SNL weren’t as good as they used to be. Okay, some things stay the same; others, however, couldn’t be more different.
There’s almost no chance Gilmore Girls would make it on TV today, despite everything we know now: That it lasted for seven seasons, that Time listed it as one of the 100 greatest shows of all-time, that it became The WB’s second most-watched series, and that the cast reuniting would nearly break Twitter.
Why is that? A thought exercise might help explain. How would you describe, in only a few words, some of TV’s biggest and best current dramas?
Game of Thrones: “Dragons and boobs and violence”
The Walking Dead: “Zombies”
The Strain: “Vampires”
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “Superheroes”
Once Upon a Time: “Fairytales”
Orange Is the New Black: “Prison”
Empire: “Family fights for control of a company”
The Americans: “Marriage is a metaphor for spying, or vice versa?”
Better Call Saul: “A spin-off about a slick lawyer who works for a drug kingpin”
Now more than ever, TV series, particularly dramas, need a hook, an instant gimmick to bring in viewers. It’s a necessary evil: There are approximately 827,308 shows to watch these days, on TV, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Crackle, and networks want to prove that their vampire series is better than the competitor’s vampire series. Even if you haven’t seen a single second of NBC’s Blindspot, you know it’s that show about the naked Marvel lady and her tattoos. For NBC, acknowledgment is half the battle.
Meanwhile, the pitch for Gilmore Girls would sound like:
“Hello, Amy Sherman-Palladino. I hear you have something for us.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“Okay, well, it’s about two women, a mother and her teenage daughter. They live in a small New England town. They really like to talk and eat. The mother, Lorelai, doesn’t get along with her wealthy parents, but she needs their help because Rory, the daughter, was accepted into an esteemed prep school, but she can’t afford it. So, Lorelai and Rory have a Friday night dinner and…”
“I’m going to stop you there. Her name’s Lorelai? Really?”
“I guess we can live with that. But what I’m really wondering is, where are the dragons? The espionage? The affairs? The zombies? The serial killers? The gangsters? The drugs? The space fights? The bastard executioners???”
“Oh, there’s none of that.”
“I think we’ve heard enough.”
That’s about as low-concept a premise as you’re ever going to find. Gilmore Girls wasn’t about the plot, it was more concerned with characters, and that’s a rarity on contemporary television. The most intimate dramas still have death row inmates (Rectify), departures (The Leftovers), and affairs (The Affair). Gilmore Girls had coffee jokes and Busby Berkeley references. Even The CW, which was spun off from The WB and UPN in 2006, when Gilmore Girls was in its seventh and Sherman-Palladino-less finale season, is unrecognizable compared to a decade ago. Instead of 7th Heaven, Everwood, and Felicity, where the biggest plot development was the titular character cutting her hair, now there are vampire shows, superhero shows, demon-fighting shows, and zombie shows. Even Jane the Virgin, which boasts one of the most honest mother-daughter relationships on TV, tells its stories as a telenovela, with an omnipresent Latin Lover Narrator watching along with us.
Fittingly, NBC’s Parenthood, the closest thing we’ve had to Gilmore Girls‘ affection for unremarkable, normal people, also stars Lauren Graham, but it went off the air earlier this year. Jason Katims loves unironic earnestness, whether through the Bravermans (Bravermen?) on Parenthood or high school football on Friday Night Lights. But even he, too, is going bigger: His next show, The Path, is about a cult.
(This is where I should discuss ABC Family’s programming, like Pretty Little Liars, but I’m still mad that Bunheads, Sherman-Palladino’s slice-of-ballet-life, was canceled after one remarkable season.)
There’s nothing like Gilmore Girls left, and there probably won’t be for some time. Not while Fox and ABC devote their resources to Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes’ insane plot turns. There’s a place for that, and God knows I’ve seen every episode of every season of American Horror Story (and Scream Queens and Glee and…), but it gets exhausting. (AHS is like a Madonna album: A little goes a long way.) Not every episode can be the most important episode of the season. Gilmore Girls knew exactly what it was — cozy, charming, familiar. On its 30th anniversary, we’ll still be talking about Lorelai and Rory, because we feel an instant connection to the them and the world they live in. There are no stunt episodes or shocking twists, only reassurance. Gilmore Girls is timeless.
Good thing, too, because it’s the only one we’re getting.
This is an updated version of a post that originally ran in October 2015.