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Team Palladino: The Interview

I'm going to dispense with the fancy introductions this one time and cut right to the chase: I just hung up with exiting Gilmore Girls show runners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino and here's the complete Q&A, raw and uncensored. I'm anxious to hear what you think. Ausiello: So let's start with the obvious question: Why are you leaving?Amy: Oh, my god! Nobody told me! I just bought new curtains!Ausiello: I was hoping this was all just a big punking.Amy: Ashton Kutcher is standing behind me.Dan: The short answer really is that we just could not come to terms with the studio for a new contract. Amy: And we tried. We went to them very early — what was it, January? — to say, "Let's talk about this now."Ausiello: Well, let's get into the longer version of the story, shall we?Amy: Oh, you're adorable.Ausiello: The word on the street is that you guys wanted a two-year pickup. True?Amy: I don't think "pickup" is the right word, because this was a personal deal; this had...

Michael Ausiello

I'm going to dispense with the fancy introductions this one time and cut right to the chase: I just hung up with exiting Gilmore Girls show runners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino and here's the complete Q&A, raw and uncensored. I'm anxious to hear what you think.
Ausiello: So let's start with the obvious question: Why are you leaving?
Oh, my god! Nobody told me! I just bought new curtains!
Ausiello: I was hoping this was all just a big punking.
Ashton Kutcher is standing behind me.
Dan: The short answer really is that we just could not come to terms with the studio for a new contract.
Amy: And we tried. We went to them very early - what was it, January? - to say, "Let's talk about this now."
Ausiello: Well, let's get into the longer version of the story, shall we?
Oh, you're adorable.
Ausiello: The word on the street is that you guys wanted a two-year pickup. True?
I don't think "pickup" is the right word, because this was a personal deal; this had nothing to do with the show. Our deal ends, or ended, already. Basically, what the f--k am I doing in editing? I should be home. So, we, personally, as individual writers did not have a deal going forward. The show is picked up and the actors have a deal but we didn't have a deal. It wasn't so much about a pickup. We have gone year to year to year, and this year we decided that this charade is ridiculous. We want to be able to be around to protect the show for next year, the year after, for however long the show is up and running.
Dan: We were doing one-year contracts for the last two years and we felt like...
Amy: It's very exhausting to do a one-year contract.
Dan: We felt like we wanted to be able to see more than 300 days into the future; we felt like we had earned that. And that was definitely one of our points. We wanted to play a significant role on Gilmore Girls for at least two more years, because as Amy has told you before, we feel like this show... it can weave and bob and change and mutate and keep going, because it's about family, it's about relationships, and it could keep going for two, three, who knows how many years.
Amy: [And] they have to launch a new network. They need product. Maybe they'll be very lucky and they'll have like 12 hit shows right off the bat this year, but we sort of felt like... we find ourselves in the position every year of doing this. Every year, it's like, "Oh, it's the last year! One more year! Come back for one more year!" And it's like, you know, kids, don't tell me "one more year" anymore. I'm so tired of hearing "one more year." It's exhausting. I firmly believe that as long as... I mean, Lauren Graham, every show she does something different. She grows more as an actress. These actors aren't done with their journey yet. And we feel like, sure, maybe it's the last year, but chances are, if it's a solid lead-in, if it does good numbers, if it helps them launch something, why wouldn't they want another year? That's not insane.
Ausiello: From the studio's standpoint, the cast isn't committed for an eighth year. So why would they go ahead and give you guys a two-year deal without a guarantee that any of the actors will be back?
( Sarcastically) Because we're special. Well, but you also get development. It's not like they're paying us to sit around and have cocktails. Because, believe me, if I was asking them to pay me to sit around and have cocktails, I'd understand them being a little upset. Look, it's business. Every time you pick up the trades and you read that some show runner is getting a two-year deal, that show could be canceled the following year, and then that deal continues. Also, deals have options... there are all sorts of things that go into deals. What we were asking for was not crazy. It was not insane. It was not the moon. It was really about, frankly, protecting the show and about keeping us around so that as the show goes forward they don't have to panic every year: "Well, how do we move the show forward and who's going to be at the helm?" It would allow us to plan for one year, it would allow us to plan for two years. You know, a big part of making new deals with the actors would be telling them what that second year would be. Telling them what their stories will be. Telling them what their lives would be like. That's all stuff that we could have provided for 'em.
Ausiello: If the show didn't end up coming back for that eighth season, what would have happened?
Then we would have cleaned [Warner Bros. TV president] Peter Roth's house for a year. For a whole year. I would do the laundry, and Dan would dust the CDs.
Dan: We never even got that far into the process. They just wanted to sign us for one year. We never got to talk about the logistics. We just sort of hit a wall with that request.
Amy: My biggest frustration, actually, was the fact that there was no dialogue. It was like we went to them and said, "This is what we would like," and they came back and said, "This is what we'll give you - take it or leave it." There was no chance for Dan and I and the studio to talk about what any of that would mean. And that's a little sad, a little frustrating, but you know what? It's business. They have a business model they need to stick to and we understand that.
Ausiello: When I spoke to you guys last year, Amy, you said you conceived Gilmore as a seven-year show, ending with Rory's graduation. Did you change your mind?
It's not that. I conceived this show to be able to go seven years, because that's the whole point of conceiving a show. To me, if you're going to pitch a show and it can't go seven years, go back to the drawing board and figure out a different pitch. So, for me, if you're going to end the show at Year 7, that's fine, that is great. It would have been great to end at Year 7. It would have been, frankly, great to end at Year 6, because we could have found an end this year.
Dan: But we wanted to break Bonanza and Gunsmoke's record.
Amy: Yeah! Also, when you look at 7th Heaven being around for 10 years, there's no reason this show couldn't have gone on for 10 years. You know, if I felt like the show was just this train wreck, if I felt like the actors were sloughing off, if I felt like people were asleep at the wheel, it would've been different. But when you see stuff happening, and when scenes and moments happen that you didn't think could happen before, and when you add a kid like Matt Czuchry to the show and all of a sudden it brings in different layers and different stories and different textures, it's like, it doesn't have to end. And I'm not saying that next year won't be the last year. It could be, or it could go on. But from a business standpoint, us doing year-to-year deals at this point in our careers did not make any sense. It just didn't make any sense. And, frankly, it's very stressful for me every year not to know, "Do I end it this year? Do I not end it this year? What do I do?" Which has been the way it's been every single freakin' year.
Ausiello: From the fans' POV, you've been with the show for six years, next year could be the final year, you have the chance here to wrap things up in a nice bow, tell this whole story, give everyone closure, the whole thing. When it became clear that the studio wasn't going to budge on the two-year deal, did you ever consider going, "Look, screw it. We're going to stick around for this last year anyway. We're going to make it a great year. We're going to send the show out on a high note."
Honey, there were many other issues that weren't about the two years. There were many production issues that we simply, physically, could not continue the show without - certain production concessions from the studio. And that, frankly, is a reality, also.
Ausiello: Can you say what any of those were?
For the six years, we've been working seven days a week, 'cause we knew every aspect of the show. We'd break every story, we'd edit, this last year we directed seven between ourselves, we have written 90-something scripts.
Amy: We also take a pass at all scripts that go out and by the time our season ends, by the time I'm done editing and by the time I'm done with sound mixes and everything like that, it's mid-May. We start back June 1. We work through every holiday... Christmas, Thanksgiving. It's been quite a load.
Dan: So, having done that for six years, we really wanted to expand our personnel base. We wanted more writers, more bodies in that writers' room, we wanted a director on staff, which I think every other hourlong show has, except ours. Not having that director on staff means Amy and I have to be down on stage supervising other directors, which leads to the seven-days-a-week thing. So we were needing more personnel. And we never got around to convincing people that that was absolutely necessary.
Amy: And part of the reason we went to the studio so early in the game is because we wanted to be able to go out and find writers then. And find a director-producer then. So that everything would be in place the following year. Because at this point in time, shows are being picked up, people are putting their schedules together, the marketplace is thin. Great people are being snapped up. And we went to the studio and said, "Look, give us a chance to get everything in place now. Let's have everyone sign up for next year. Let's start working on next year this year." I think it's a couple of things. Businesswise, we spoiled them, because why spend money on other writers when you don't have to? [ Laughs] There's a little bit of that. And I also think that everybody thinks that everybody's playing poker, and who's going to blink first? And we were like, very honestly, like, in an Andy Hardy movie going, "No, seriously, we really want to put on a show in the barn if you just listen to us, mister!" And it just never got to that point. And it wasn't until things really came to a head that suddenly people realized, "The insane people are actually serious about this."
Ausiello: Moving away from the business part, how does it feel to be passing the show off to someone else just before what could potentially be its final year?
It's horrifying. It's like a freaking nightmare. And I know I speak for Dan, too.... Well, maybe I don't but I am speaking for Dan now, if we can't ensure the quality... every year we've tried to push the bar higher. For better or worse, whether people like it or don't like it, we tried to make our stories more complex. We try and push the quality higher. When we go on location we want to make more of that. We want to do more interesting things. You know, this year we did our troubadour thing, which has been a long time coming. We personally push everything higher, and a lot of times in Year 6 or 7, show runners take steps back. Their lives get easier. And our lives only get harder. And partially it's because we want to make things better and better and better until there's no more better to make. But also, if we can't do that as the kind of creative people we are, it's something.... I can't be a part of something that I can't ensure that I'm giving 100 percent anymore. If I'm saying, "I'm tired, I'm exhausted, I feel like I'm going to flip out and be a Margot Kidder in the hedges with my teeth gone at Episode 6 if I don't get some help," somebody should listen. Because, seriously, me without my teeth is even scarier than me with my teeth. We really wanted to be able to say, "Here's how we ensure the show - for the life of the show." If it's next year or the year after, we can ensure it. We have been begging for these things every single year, and every single year it gets harder and harder and harder, and it got to the point where it's like, "No. We've done a lot for you. We've done a lot for you. We've done a lot for this network and we've done a lot for this studio. We need you to do something for us. We need some relief. We need more writers, we need a director-producer, we need to know that this isn't the year that you get the last year of your show and I end up drooling into a cup."
Dan: I was willing to give 110 percent, which is 10 percent more than Amy.
Ausiello: Let's talk about the $5 million figure that's being thrown around. It sounds like they backed the Brink's truck up and you told them to move it.
First of all, it was all in shekels. Ha! Ha! Shekels! It's a funny word.
Dan: We would never comment on the specifics of money.
Amy: We were raised better than that.
Dan: I haven't even told my parents how much our house cost nine years ago. We never talk about money. It's gauche, it's not classy. But having said that, I can tell you that we've never been unhappy with what we've been paid on this show.
Amy: Ever.
Dan: Ever. We were compensated very generously by the studio. What broke this deal was not at all, in any way, shape or form, about our compensation.
Amy: It was a nonissue.
Ausiello: Let's talk about the creative. I don't know how much you guys read of what's out there, but there's been a rocky reception to some of the stuff that's happened this season, specifically regarding Luke and Lorelai and the return of Christopher. What is your reaction to what you may or may not be hearing?
Look, we went through this in Season 4. We've been through this before. People love you, they hate you, they love you, they hate you. That's the nature of drama. We don't read a lot of that stuff because, frankly, we don't have the energy to do that. I will say what I've said before in this position, which is we've only done story lines that felt to us like the true place to take the characters. I think that if you don't grow and move you die. I've always felt that. Luke and Lorelai are two very complex human beings. They are two people in their late thirties who, for some reason, have never comingled with anyone, never lived with anyone, never been married. And that kind of person brings baggage to a relationship. If you ignore that baggage and say, "Now they're in love and happy and they're skipping around the town square and everything's delightful," then I think you're doing a disservice to the characters and the story line and, in the end, I think we'd be getting slammed for, "Oh, Luke and Lorelai are so boring! All they do is skip in a circle now." I think that no matter what you're going to do, it's going to go up, it's going to go down. I feel that Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel have done some of the best work of their careers this year. And I think they deserve story lines that take them to new places. We have a responsibility to our actors, who are here 24 hours a day, who can't eat a pretzel because you have to be perfect and thin and gorgeous in front of the camera, and who have never let us down. Who have never stopped committing to the stories. And if they're going to do that then we've got to make sure that the stories are digging deeper, are getting more complex, are pushing forward, otherwise everybody will just sort of take a nap. While I never like people to be upset, especially our fans, because our fans have been so unbelievably loyal to us and have kept us where we are now... I mean we're up against the biggest year of American Idol ever and someone's still tuning in. So we're very fortunate to have these people in our lives and hopefully they will, as they've done before when they've gotten upset, hang around long enough to find out that things that go up also go down, go sideways and eventually come back around again. But I think I feel very comfortable in saying we did the right thing for the characters that we've created and we stayed true to who they were and we took them to new places. And that's also how you extend the life of a show. If you just kept them static and everything was happy and everybody was like, "Mama, look, a pretty tree!" How long can you look at a f--king pretty tree before you want to kill yourself?
Ausiello: Based on the mail I've been reading, a lot of fans don't buy the April obstacle. As you know, they were pissed off before she ever appeared on the screen. And at the time, you asked them to have a little faith. So, cut to April 24: April has driven a wedge between Luke and Lorelai. If the spoilers are to be believed (SPOILER ALERT), Lorelai will end up in Christopher's bed in the finale, and now you guys are leaving. It looks like you asked them to have faith, then you split Luke and Lorelai up, threw her in bed with Christopher, and quit. What do you have to say to that?
[ Crickets]
Dan: I've got nothing to say to that.
Amy: Yeah, that's something. You know what, that's a good story line. We should use that.
Dan: You know, in the very beginning of the series, in the first year with Alexis Bledel with that beautiful baby face as Rory, if we had said in three years we're going to have this girl lose her virginity to a married man, our heads would've been chopped off, put on pikes and paraded around Burbank.
Amy: Which Warner. Bros. is still negotiating for, by the way. [ Laughs]
Dan: I'm basically repeating what Amy said: We try to follow the characters and we also try to make it as interesting as possible. And I've always felt with spoilers, a lot of people hear about a plot point seven episodes down the line without taking into account what happens in the episodes in between now and then. I've always sort of been astonished by that. That's why I say if in the first year you had heard that [about Rory], a lot of people would have turned off their televisions like, "This is going to turn into a soap opera." And that was a very controversial story line for us.
Amy: People were not happy with that.
Dan: And even in our writers' room we had a lot of heated discussions about whether that's going to hurt the character and all that stuff, but Amy and I felt like that's where she would go, that's where her heart would go, that's her own flaw, because it wasn't the right thing to do. And we followed through on that flaw. In Year 5, we showed the ramifications of what happens when you sleep with your ex-boyfriend who is married. What are the ramifications for that man's wife? What are the ramifications for him? So, again, I completely agree with Amy that we've always just tried to follow the characters, tried to keep it interesting and always tried to keep it true to the characters, and the people who come after us are going to be doing the same thing.
Amy: And also I just really want to stress, we did not quit. Everything we put in place this year, we put in place so that we could continue it next year. And that's just the bottom line. This entire story line was in place so that Dan and I could continue it next year. So, if anyone thinks that I threw something at the fans - and why I would want to throw something upsetting at the fans when all they've done is support the show - it's a little nutty. We threw the story line out there because we knew where we were going next year. Dan and I knew. Now it's open to many different places for the next crew that comes in. I know it's not up to us to tell them where to go. They have to make that decision on their own. But everything we put into place we put into place fully expecting to continue it. This has been an awful, heartbreaking thing. When a deal falls apart because somebody wants a gazillion dollars and I demand that my parking space be painted pink and that every time I show up somebody sings "Once in Love with Amy," then fine, walk away. But what we asked for from the studio had nothing to do with money. Dan and I never even got around to discussing price, because we just wanted our other issues to be talked about first. We earned that, we deserved that, we should've gotten that and we should've been coming back next year. And that's my feeling. I'm very, very sorry we're not. This show has been my heart and my soul for six years. I dragged Dan away from a lovely room of boys doing fart jokes over at Family Guy to come play with the girls and, between the two of us, we have kept this show as fresh and alive and as hopping as it has been. And we have done nothing but devote every single aspect of our lives for the last six years to this show. We haven't had time to do anything else. We haven't breathed anything else. It never occurred to us. And now that it's over, we're very, very sad. But I need it very clear out there that we did not walk away. And what we asked for was absolutely, ridiculously within our rights to get. And I feel like without it, the show really would've not done well next year because we just couldn't have maintained this high-wire act that we've been on for this long.
Ausiello: What happens to your seven-year plan now? What happens to the last two lines of the show that only you know?
Well, I think that you have to look for another two lines now.
[ Crickets]
Ausiello: So, there's no hope that your story...
It's not my story anymore, honey. No one's consulting me. No one's talking to me. No one's asking me about anything next year. I don't know what's in the budget. I don't know who's being hired. The minute the studio decided they're moving on, they moved on. I'm out of the loop.
Ausiello: Well, I can tell you that Dave Rosenthal is taking over.
We know Dave Rosenthal. We hired him.
Ausiello: Is the show in good hands?
Dave's a great guy. He's a great guy. He has credits up the arse.
Ausiello: One of those credits is Good Morning, Miami. [ Dan chuckles]
Amy: Well, he also did Spin City.
Dan: Don't look too closely at Amy's and my credits going back. You'll find something in all of our résumés. We hired David as an executive producer, perhaps even in anticipation of either leaving or getting more people so that we could delegate a little more, and it's really, really worked. They'll have to hire a bunch of new people.
Amy: They need to hire some major writers because they don't have a staff right now.
Ausiello: How should fans feel about Dave?
First of all, the fans are not focused on Dave Rosenthal. Dave came to the show with us, he saw our style of story-breaking. The fans should take a step back, take a breath and give it a shot on its own merits. It's really going to come down to how much support David gets, because it's a very, very, very big job that he's inherited. He's inherited everything that Dan and I do, and they've got to make sure to support him and give him what he needs so that he can continue to focus on the quality of the show.
Ausiello: Might you guys consult?
Ausiello: If next year is the last year, is there a possibility of you guys going back to do the finale?
There's been no talk of that.
Ausiello: But is it a possibility?
We're living a day at a time here, Mike.
Amy: Dude, I plan on being on crack in an hour. I'm going to be with Whitney Houston in that bathroom of hers.
Ausiello: So you wouldn't rule out returning for the finale?
A lot of it's gonna depend on where the show goes next year. I have very strong, emotional feelings about things - some are rational, some are not. [ Laughs] It's going to be a whole different trip next year, with different story lines that don't come out of my head, so I think that's something that's really hard to talk about at this point. Especially since I plan on being drunk the entire year.
Ausiello: How did the cast take the news?
They're all going to kill themselves. No, what are they going to do? They're all sweet and they're all very supportive, and I'm sure they're all surprised and a little freaked. We've been keeping them apprised of everything. Months ago when we went to [Warner Bros.] and nothing was happening, Lauren and I talked. I said, "Nothing's happening. We've gone to them and we're hearing nothing." I don't think this is a complete and utter shock, because they are my actors and my first responsibility is to them. I certainly wouldn't want them shocked. And then the minute it fell apart, I went and talked to them directly and told them. That was before we wrapped.
Ausiello: Are they concerned about next year?
We didn't have that talk. Our talk was more, "I love you, we'll e-mail, we'll have drinks, now we can go shopping, I'll miss you," and End Scene. And then Lauren had to get back on a plane and go to Virginia because she's shooting a movie. Look, they know David. David's been here. I think that any change is jarring to people. We've been together as a group since the pilot. We went to Niagara Falls together. We're a tight-knit group. It was not a group that was ready to be broken apart, so I'm sure that's going to freak some people out. But they're pros. And they're great. And they could read the phone book and people are going to love it, because they're that good. So I don't think that they should be throwing up or shaking. I'll do that for all of them.
Ausiello: Will you watch the show next year?
( Crickets)
Dan: I... I... yes. We will.
Ausiello: What would've happened next year in your plan?
I can't do that. Someone else is going to get stories going and I can't...
Dan: And honestly, Mike, while we always have a notion of where we're going, we're never 100 percent sure. We get into it in June as we're starting each year, and we dive into all the complexities and think of all the possible scenarios.
Amy: And we can't tell you because new people are coming in and it's not cool for us to say, "Well, we would've done this!" Give these new guys a shot. It's a hard show. I'm sure they'll be just as dedicated and care just as much about it as we did. It could be the best year ever.
Ausiello: Can you at least tell me if, per your plan, Luke and Lorelai would've gotten married?
I can't. I don't want to do anything like that. I just don't. Because I don't know where they're going. They could have this great story line planned out that has Luke and Lorelai joining the Russian mafia and being on opposite sides of covert actions, which, by the way, sounds pretty good. I may call Dave right now.
Dan: I don't like that story.
Amy: [ Laughs] For me to go, "That's what I would've done, here's my plan... " Look, that's something that I've got to deal with, man. I've got to wake up and go, "S--t. That last scene that I was going to do? Not going to happen." That's something that I have to deal with.
Ausiello: If next year is the final year, will you tell me what those last two words were?
Yes, I will. I promise you. You've got my word.
Dan: They're sitting in a safe-deposit box in Switzerland.
Amy: Last four words, actually.
Ausiello: Really?
Ausiello: What are you going to do now?
Drugs. Lots of drugs. No, I'm working on a little something for MTV with RJ Cutler that I'm kind of excited about that I've been trying to find time for the last 185 years, and now I have time. And other than that I think we're going to travel, and then Dan and I are going to figure out what's next. We're going to do some movies, some TV and we're going to keep ourselves out of the mall. We're going to keep really busy. We've got to look at this not just from sadness, we've got to look at it like, "S--t. All those little notebooks with story ideas we've been jotting down for over six years? Now we get to do something with them." Once I sober up, that's how I plan on looking at everything.
Ausiello: Should I assume you won't be working with Warner Bros. ever again?
Oh, honey, you can't say that. Who thought we would be at the WB past Year 4? I have no f--kin' idea what my life is about now. Warner Bros. made a business decision. I don't think they made a creative decision. We made a creative decision, and that's where we couldn't meet. We were thinking from two different sides of our brains.