Wednesday, May 16, 2007

So Long, Stars Hollow

I love television.

I know that I’m not supposed to. I know that people of my education level, political leanings and literary pretensions are supposed to listen to NPR, read the Sunday New York Times and, if they watch the idiot box at all, tune in solely to Charlie Rose. It’s all high-brow, all the time.

Me, I’m proud to say that I fell for “Dancing with the Stars” in its very first Kelly Monaco vs. John O’Hurley incarnation. I purposely don’t subscribe to cable because if my options were expanded beyond the over-the-air broadcast universe, I’m afraid I would literally never turn off the Food Network.

Which is why today I woke with a heavy heart. Last night I bid farewell to “Gilmore Girls,” a highlight in my dwindling line-up of must-see TV.

Clearly, given the ratings, 99% of Americans will not be familiar with “Gilmore Girls,” mostly because it had the misfortune of airing on the CW (nee, WB), which despite its claims is not really a network. Their loss.

It’s impossible to define the show’s charm—different people loved it for different reasons. Some fell for the small town setting and the quirky cast of Stars Hollow townsfolk. Or the will-they, won’t-they romance of Luke and Lorelai. Or the fast-paced dialogue riddled with semi-obscure pop culture references. I liked that the entire show revolved around a couple of women—not in a “Sex and the City” let’s-strap-on-our-Manolo-Blahniks-and-throw-back-a-couple-of-Cosmos kind of way (which was awesome in its own right)—but a close-knit mother and daughter. I liked that it gave actresses well beyond their teen queen years the meatiest roles of their careers. I liked that it had a whiff of magical realism, creating an alternate universe that twinkled like Christmas lights, at a time when every other one-hour drama seems intent on giving us nightmares.

And now “GG” has been canceled. I hate it when that happens. When we were little, my sister, brother and I petitioned the network to spare “Planet of the Apes.” We wrote an actual letter—in pencil, on lined notebook paper—and expected our heartfelt plea would change the course of simian events. It did not. Today’s “save our show” campaigns, what with the Internet and email, are far more sophisticated, but the results are typically the same. Once the ax has been set in motion, with rare exception it continues to fall.

To network executives, canceling a show equates to cutting a loss—it’s all about ratings and ad dollars and profit margins. But to viewers, it’s like losing a member of the family. Actually, I would say it’s more like quitting a job. You go to work every day and spend more time with co-workers than with a spouse or children or your very best friend. You form relationships, you share trials and triumphs. And then one day you leave, and by and large, you never see these people again. And it’s not exactly devastating—life goes on, you meet new co-workers—but it’s kind of sad. And sometimes you miss your old pals.

That’s how I feel about “Gilmore Girls.” And “thirtysomething.” And “China Beach.” And “Once and Again.” And “Homefront.” And “Northern Exposure.” And “Everwood.” And all the other shows I’ve become attached to over the years. Sad to lose these friends.

I know that some of these actors will pop up in other series, maybe even the occasional feature film. And I’ll be happy to see them, but it won’t be the same. I don’t want “Sookie” show up with the shocking disease of the week on “Grey’s Anatomy.” I don’t want “Emily Gilmore” to turn up as a society matron on any of the 31 varieties of “Law & Order.” I want to know if Lane and Zach get their band back together. I want to know what happens the first time Paris tries to run an IV line. I want to know if Luke and Lorelai live happily ever after. I want “Gilmore Girls.”

Scratch what I said earlier. I don’t love television. I love good television (and I would argue that “Dancing with the Stars” is good television). I love a good story; I love memorable characters. When done right, the very best that television has to offer ranks right up there with the very best a novel has to offer. Don’t kid yourself, quality literary fiction is as hard to come by as a quality sitcom.

My all-time favorite books—and yes I do read books and subscribe to The New Yorker and watch “Masterpiece Theater”—are the ones I want to go on and on. The ones that, as the final page approaches, I begin to read more and more slowly. I don’t want to say goodbye to people I’ve come to love.

It’s the same with my all-time favorite television shows, only I’ve spent years with these characters, not weeks or months. And then they just disappear, in the case of “Gilmore Girls,” not even given the dignity of a super-sized two-hour series finale. I wasn’t ready for the story to end.


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