Joining the writers room during the fifth season of Gilmore Girls required sitting down with a pen and paper to take notes on all the previous storylines and “lots of coffee,” or so writer Stan Zimmerman reflects in The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore.
In his memoir, to be published by Indigo River Publishing on Feb. 13, Zimmerman chronicles his time working on the series, as well as his journey to finding success as a writer, producer, director and playwright, working on such shows as The Golden Girls and Roseanne. Featuring journal entries throughout, The Girls also details Zimmerman’s relationships with varied stars, including Lily Tomlin, Sandra Bernhard, Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and the Golden Girls cast.
More from The Hollywood Reporter
After coming on to write during season five of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Gilmore Girls, Zimmerman recalls the casting search for the Logan Huntzberger character, Rory’s love interest at Yale, who would go on to have a major story arc throughout the season. During auditions, Zimmerman noticed Matt Czuchry, whom he said felt like the character’s “old money” aura, and offered his input to Sherman-Palladino on why he’d be the perfect fit for the character.
“So, even though I don’t approve of all his character’s choices in later seasons and the reboot, I’ll always be ‘Team Logan,'” Zimmerman writes.
Below, The Hollywood Reporter shares an excerpt.
Per Amy’s instructions, we were asked to watch EVERY episode that had aired. She wanted us to get caught up with all the storylines before we started work. I think I had only watched the pilot, so that meant four seasons’ worth of shows to view. Two huge, long boxes arrived at my door from the studio. This was before DVDs, so there were literally eighty-seven videocassettes that I’d have to get up from the couch and insert into my VCR.
I locked myself in the house and sat down with pen and paper, ready to take notes. And lots of coffee. Which was fitting for that show. I wasn’t sure how I could physically get through all those in one weekend. Without losing my mind.
I decided I’d start by rewatching the pilot, which I found to be beautifully constructed. The idea that Lorelai and Rory were forced to have a weekly Friday night dinner with Lorelai’s parents that they were both estranged from was utterly brilliant. And to have such distinguished film/theater actors like Kelly Bishop (A Chorus Line) and Edward Hermann in the roles of “Emily and Richard Gilmore,” I was impressed.
But the heart of the show was Lorelai and Rory. A mother and daughter who were more like friends. I have to admit I fell in love with Lauren Graham the minute she came on screen. She’s obviously a true beauty, but her comic timing, wit, and intelligence were off the chart. And newcomer, Alexis Bledel, was so natural, she had a way of drawing you in. You couldn’t take your eyes off either one of them. You also couldn’t let your ears rest for one second since they talked so damn fast. Amy wanted the show to have the speed of those old 40’s madcap comedy films. And she also used a sitcom technique of buttons to end scenes, which is rarely used in hour shows. All this added up to make Gilmore Girls such a unique show. What started as a chore for me to watch quickly became addictive.
Television series writing usually starts in June, so you can get a jump on scripts before a show premieres in the fall. Once episodes start airing, it’s a game of catch up. And keeping your strength up because it’s so exhausting. You’re breaking stories, while also writing your own episodes, while also rewriting others, and casting and editing others.
Although Amy and Dan lived in this super-fabulous, two story, Mediterranean house in Hancock Park, they rented a big modern home on the beach in Santa Monica. We were required to drive out there all summer, Monday through Friday, to work on mapping out the first half of the season.
On Day One, Jim and I met in a parking lot near their house so we could walk in together. We hadn’t been on staff in a long time and didn’t know quite what to expect. We got there early in case there was traffic. We sat in Jim’s car and went over the “what ifs” like I had done with my mother before nervously starting a new school year.
Suddenly, we saw this beautiful blonde girl in a short peasant dress with a big floppy hat and sandals. She was a vision out of a 60s foreign film. Twenty minutes later, we’d learn that it was Rebecca Kirshner (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), another writer on the show. Besides her and Bill Prady, there was Jessica Queller (One Tree Hill), who spent a good portion of the time under a blanket on the couch. Of course, we gravitated toward the women writers. And also the writer’s assistant, Lisa Randolph. Writer’s assistant is such a tough job, and Lisa was a superwoman. And funny as hell. She became our bestie, and we’d always have lunch together and get into a little trouble on the lot. She’d been on Gilmore for a couple seasons and knew where all the bodies were buried. But Jim and I had to let the others on staff know that even though we were Amy’s friends, they could say anything around us. We were not going to run and tell her. And we didn’t.
For two and a half months, we’d go out to their beach house. They’d lock us in this room and close the shutters, so we couldn’t even see the beautiful sand and water. All we could look at was this whiteboard. At first, we discussed arcs for the characters.
Amy wanted Season 5 to be about couples coming together and breaking apart and then finally, by the end, be back together again. I thought this was supercool. I also loved how she would plant a seed in an early episode, then that seed would eventually blossom into a full-fledged story in a future episode. That’s not normal for series writing. Usually, stories are self-contained in each episode.
The room was tense. Amy and Dan didn’t seem to really like any of Bill’s suggestions. I’m not even sure they needed a writers’ room since they had such a firm grasp on what they wanted. So, there we all had to sit. Hours on end. The only time we got a break was when we went to the bathroom. I would take as long as I could without raising suspicions of bladder problems. It’s funny—it’s the exact opposite of my time avoiding bathrooms in junior high. Now, I couldn’t wait to get to one.
I really enjoyed when we moved to the Warner Brothers lot. Our office became the social hub where the staff would come to hang. We kept our office door open, and every morning Amy (and Dan), not always arriving together, would pass by it.
I’d smile big and wave and say, “Morning!”
No response. Nothing. Not even a wave. She’d just keep walking. At first, I was hurt by this but soon realized I shouldn’t take it personally. This was simply her way.
My way is different. I think it’s important when you’re the showrunner, or a boss in any job (really, in life), to be nice and say hello. And especially “thank you” to EVERYONE. People will work harder for you if they feel appreciated and part of a team. And it just makes for a more pleasant atmosphere. Especially if you have to be together all day and sometimes long into the night.
Except for that morning weirdness, Amy was great with me and Jim. She is known for totally rewriting everyone’s script. She’d cover her desk with candles and stay up all night, putting the script through her brain. A complicated, but genius, brain. The scripts always turned out better. And more layered. And smarter. And funnier.
For whatever reason, a lot of our words stayed in our scripts. But boy, was it hard to write them. Most hour shows are maybe sixty-some pages. Think a minute per page. Gilmore Girls scripts were seventy-five to ninety pages because the characters talked so damn fast. What helped me in the writing was how I could draw upon the relationships I saw between my grandmother, mother, and sister. They definitely shared similarities with Emily, Lorelai, and Rory.
Although we had our name on two pivotal scripts, “Pulp Friction” and “Norman Mailer, I’m Pregnant,” when you write on staff, you have your hands in all of the scripts in a season. Eventually, you forget which lines you contributed to each.
Amy also did something unusual for an hour show: She’d have table reads of the next week’s script on the Friday before they’d start shooting. When we arrived for our first table read, on one of the golf carts that are all over studio lots, I saw Lauren Graham standing in front of her truck smoking a cigarette, like Lorelai Gilmore would do. I marched right over to her. I had to. I wanted to gush but played it cool. I didn’t want to come off as a weirdo.
She was shocked that I approached her so brazenly.
Lauren: “You better not let Amy see you. She doesn’t like writers talking to the actors. You might get fired.”
I wonder if Amy picked that up from Roseanne.
I shot back, “Let her fire me. We’re only here for the year. I’d gladly take the paychecks and stay home.”
Lauren loved my snappy attitude, and soon we became friends, on and off the set. I was also someone she could vent her occasional frustration to since I had a history with Amy. But we also had mutual respect and much admiration for Amy, so it never got petty or dramatic. Purely normal bitch-about-work talk.
Amy knew I wanted to be a director, and she had me read the stage directions at all the table readings. I was never sure which action lines to say since I didn’t want to break up the flow of the fast-paced dialogue. My stomach would be in knots knowing I had to do this every week. And if Lauren kept talking, I had to follow her lead and shut up. I soon learned to roll with it.
For many of the readings, Kelly and Ed would be on the conference room speakerphone since they lived back East and weren’t in every episode. A couple times, we had Milo Ventimiglia and Jared Padalecki at the readings. Both were so nice and SO cute. One time, I’m not sure why, but Alexis literally picked me up and carried me around the room in her arms. This was odd, since she was a thin young woman. And I had been warned how shy she was. But for me, it wasn’t unusual because I’m often picked up physically at bars when I go out. Like a human beach ball. For some reason people feel the need to lift me in the air. I guess it’s a compliment?
Speaking of cute, young men, we all knew we needed one to play Logan Huntzberger, Rory’s new love interest at Yale. And he had to be a really good actor given that he’d have a major story arc throughout our entire season. The casting office was right outside the writers’ room, so we’d often see actors waiting to audition for Jami Rudofsky and Mara Casey, the show’s casting director team.
One morning, while heading into the room, I saw two young, adorable actors sitting across from each other on couches. My eyes went to the blond one.
Once in the writers’ room, I asked Amy, “Who are those guys?” Amy: “Our final two callbacks to play ‘Logan.’”
I blurted out, “You have to hire the blonde one!”
That was Matt Czuchry.
Me: “I don’t know. I just have this feeling. Plus, I think his coloring would look great opposite Alexis.”
And he did. He also felt very “old money.”
So, even though I don’t approve of all his character’s choices in later seasons and the reboot, I’ll always be “Team Logan.”
Years later, I ran into Matt in NYC in an elevator going up to a party for the TCA (Television Critics Association). I told him he owed his entire career to me and that I’m going to take full credit for all his success. We had a good laugh. I was only half kidding.
Excerpted from The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore by Stan Zimmerman. Published by Indigo River Publishing. Copyright © 2024 by Stan Zimmerman. All rights reserved.
Best of The Hollywood Reporter