Zimmerman’s new book, ‘The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore,’ details his life as a writer on some of TV’s most iconic shows
If you’ve ever laughed at Bea Arthur’s iconic Golden Girls glare, or swooned when Logan Huntzberger (Matt Czuchry) reappears in Rory’s life on Gilmore Girls, you can thank Stan Zimmerman.
A writer whose long list of credits includes those beloved shows, along with films like the campy Brady Bunch Movie series, Zimmerman has penned many memorable pop culture moments. He’s reflecting on his Hollywood career — and the stars who brought it to life — in a new book, The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore.
“You're lucky in a career if you're involved in one popular show, but I was lucky enough to be involved in three popular shows,” Zimmerman tells PEOPLE. “And not just popular at the time.”
Zimmerman, who grew up in Michigan, was always interested in show business. He set out to become an actor, attending a theater program at New York University, where he met journalism student James Berg. After graduation, the future writing partners moved to Los Angeles to try their hand at television writing.
"We looked at [scripts] like snarly hair," Zimmerman says. "We would just comb it out and [it would] get smoother and smoother." After brief stints on other shows, including Fame and George Burns Comedy Week, the two were eventually hired as writers on a new NBC sitcom about four older women living together in Miami. That show, of course, became The Golden Girls.
"When I was on Golden Girls, I was just consumed with doing a good job, keeping the job, learning," Zimmerman reflects. "It was really, for us, 'Writing 101.' I didn't think I was a very funny writer. And then they would say, 'Go pitch a bunch of jokes for the end of the scene for Bea Arthur.'"
Zimmerman and Berg, who worked on the show's first season, were the brains behind some of the sitcom's most beloved gags, including character Dorothy Zbornak’s withering stare.
“We wrote [the phrase] 'Dorothy shoots her a look,'" Zimmerman says. "And that's become a thing in writing now, 'shooting a look.' But that's something very few actors could do. Bea Arthur could nail a look, and you knew exactly what she meant."
The team also wrote episodes like “Blanche & the Younger Man,” “Rose’s Mother,” for which they received a Writers Guild of America nomination, and “Adult Education.” The latter episode addressed sexual harassment, which was “unheard of” in a television script at the time.
“I learned early on from Golden Girls that people are much more open to taking in new ideas when they're laughing,” Zimmerman says. Despite the show’s many progressive aspects, he reveals that the set itself was still of its time, and he had to hide the fact that he was gay.
“Back then, we had to be in the closet,” he says. “We were told by our representatives if there was a function dealing with the TV show, we had to bring a woman as our date.” It was because of this that Zimmerman formed a special bond with one of the show’s stars.
“Only Estelle Getty figured it out rather quickly and said that she would have our back and keep our secret,” he says, of the late actress who played Sophia. “She was an early ally for the LGBTQ community and I respect her so much.”
Zimmerman also worked on shows like Roseanne, where he and Berg co-wrote the 1994 episode “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which famously featured a same-sex kiss and earned them a second WGA nod. On Roseanne, he met fellow staff writer Amy Sherman-Palladino, who later tapped Zimmerman and Berg to write on the fifth season of her early 2000's show Gilmore Girls. Zimmerman, who is behind episodes like "Norman Mailer, I'm Pregnant," admits that he was initially shocked by some aspects of the small town dramady series.
“I was horrified. You would let your daughter drink coffee? Don't start her so young," he says of the abundance of caffeine consumed by the show's characters. "But there's no way [Rory] could have talked that fast if she hadn't started drinking coffee.”
“They said that Alexis was very reserved,” he says. “She was so open with me. One day at a table read, I don't know why, but she picked me up and carried me around the room. She's little. How did she pick me up?”
Zimmerman is also surprised by the lasting impact of the projects he’s worked on (though uncredited, he is behind the meme-worthy “Sure, Jan,” line in 1995's The Brady Bunch Movie, which he says still “really tickles” him.) The Golden Girls was a rewatch favorite during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Gilmore Girls was one of the 10 most streamed shows of 2023.
“Something in those shows still speaks to this new generation,” he says, of their enduring popularity.
Zimmerman still remains a self-proclaimed “theater nerd," and one of his recent projects is an adaptation of Wendy Kesselman's play, The Diary of Anne Frank. Zimmerman chose to cast his version with Latinx actors, in response to the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Philip Rosenthal and Monica Horan, of Everybody Loves Raymond fame, helped to bring school groups in to see the show through The Rosenthal Family Foundation. After some performances, the theater hosted a conversation with Holocaust survivor Gabriella Y. Karin.
“It's been really intense, but, I think, important for kids to [be] making the connection that this is going on still, the persecution and othering of people,” Zimmerman says.
While any career in the arts is far from a sure thing, Zimmerman states that believing in the process, and viewing life like “a ride at an amusement park,” have helped to keep the uncertainties at bay. For him, trusting the rhythm is crucial.
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“You get to the end [of the rollercoaster] and you're like, ‘Let's do it again,’” he says. “So I wake up and I want to do it again every day.”
The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore will be published on Feb. 13 by Indigo River Publishing.
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