Why ‘Gilmore Girls’ continues to be a hit, 20 years later
Twenty years ago, a quirky town called Stars Hollow came to life. Scott Patterson, who played gruff diner owner Luke, called it ‘the happiest place on Earth’
SALT LAKE CITY — Ask Scott Patterson to name the “happiest place on Earth,” and he won’t tell you Disneyland or Disney World.
Instead, he’ll point to a fictional town in Connecticut. The population is small, but the people there are larger than life.
There’s Mrs. Kim, a God-fearing woman who calls french fries the “Devil’s fingers” and drives a hard bargain at her antique store that doubles as her home. Upstairs, her spunky daughter, Lane Kim, secretly dreams of being a drummer in a rock ’n’ roll band.
There’s the town selectman, Taylor Doose, who uses town meetings to share what are typically unappealing ways of promoting tourism — like reverting all the streets back to original, historic names such as Sores and Boils Alley.
Taylor’s loyal sidekick, Kirk, performs an endless series of odd jobs that once included creating a line of skincare products inspired by cows called “Hay There” — because “cows never wrinkle,” he said.
And then there’s Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, who talk so fast about so much that not even the countless cups of coffee they drink can keep up with their banter. They’re the closest mother-daughter duo you’ll ever find.
These people and more form Stars Hollow, the quirky setting of the comedy-drama series “Gilmore Girls.” Patterson considers it to be the “happiest place on Earth,” and he would know: For seven years he played the gruff diner owner Luke, who watched the town closely from behind his counter.
“These completely eccentric characters were just a blast to be around,” Patterson told the Deseret News. “They all are very well thought out, very well-cast, very well-acted. There’s a variety of voices going on in that show. Beyond the main cast, there’s a whole host of supporting cast that contributed mightily to the show and every single episode.
“It wasn’t a rock band; it was an orchestra,” he continued. “There were a lot of notes that you could play. We were far more versatile and we had far more instruments going on than your traditional show.”
Stars Hollow came to life 20 years ago, on The WB network, on Oct. 5, 2000. That feels like a lifetime ago for Patterson. The show’s initial run ended in 2007 — it eventually got a four-episode Netflix revival in 2016 — but the phenomenon of “Gilmore Girls” is that the popularity continues to rise at a rapid rate.
“It’s a nice surprise,” Patterson said. “Things usually just sort of come and go — that’s the nature of the business no matter how hot a show they are. ... And then maybe 50 years later, they come back and there’s the nostalgia play. But not only does (‘Gilmore Girls’) not go away, it just grows and grows and grows and grows. I could not have predicted that — I don’t think anybody could have.”
The ‘happiness business’
Netflix has played a significant part in the ongoing popularity, Patterson said. The platform began streaming all seven seasons in 2014. Two years later when the revival hit Netflix, nearly 5 million adults ages 18-49 watched all four episodes within the first three days of the premiere, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
But even before then, the show was a hit.
For most of its original run, “Gilmore Girls” reached close to 5 million viewers each week, according to Vulture. While not staggering compared to other shows of the time, like “Friends,” the numbers were impressive considering WB shows aired on a network of smaller stations that didn’t have the reach of the more established broadcasters, Vulture reported. And when Freeform (formerly ABC Family) began airing reruns in 2004, the fan base grew exponentially.
“It was kind of mass-marketed, but to a smaller demographic,” Patterson said. “Over the years, people keep discovering it and sort of passing it on to their friends and recommending it. I think word of mouth after 20 years has made it a pretty iconic show. And there’s always going to be an appetite for what I consider to be the happiest place on Earth — Stars Hollow. We’re in the happiness business. We produce happiness.”
In “Gilmore Girls,” Lorelai finds refuge in Stars Hollow. She chooses to leave her family’s home and start anew in the small town after giving birth to her daughter, Rory, at the age of 16. Amid the town’s eccentricities, the close-knit pair navigate work, school and dating.
“Gilmore Girls” doesn’t shy away from weighty issues like death, heartbreak and family struggles — much of the show revolves around Lorelai’s strained relationship with her parents. But rather than singling out these issues, the show often infused them with warmth or comedy.
“You just never got a break from the goodness. But at the same time, it reflects real life,” Patterson said. “There was always something to make you laugh or make you gasp.”
Five years ago, after attending a “Gilmore Girls” reunion at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, Patterson was sitting in the airport when a visibly emotional man approached him.
“You’re Luke,” the man said.
He was a veteran, a sniper who had done several tours in Iraq. He told Patterson that while overseas, during any kind of down time, his unit would watch “Gilmore Girls.” The show reminded them of “the best of America.” “It calmed us down, made us happy,” Patterson recalled the man saying.
“It was quite moving,” the actor said. “At the end of the day, we’re making something that makes people very happy, and that’s a good business to be in.”
There’s a lot of sunniness in Stars Hollow. But Luke, a man of few words who very begrudgingly takes part in the town’s one-of-a-kind events — like the annual 24-hour dance marathon — is decidedly the town grump.
That was his take on the character. The show needed that contrast, he thought.
Patterson was in his 40s when he auditioned for the role. By this point, he was well out of his career as a minor league baseball pitcher. For about a decade, he had taken on smaller roles and one-time appearances, sharpening his skills as an actor.
The “Gilmore Girls” audition was around 2 p.m., and he had another audition lined up shortly after, so he briskly walked in, read the script and went about his day. He didn’t have time to worry or even care if he would land the part.
“It was just another audition. You just gotta keep going and keep chipping away at the rock, and maybe someday you’ll crack it,” he said with a laugh.
To his surprise, by the time he made it through the heavy Los Angeles traffic and got home around 5 p.m., he had a message on his machine telling him to call his manager.
He was going to be Luke Danes.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I got it,” he said. “I’ve been told that they stopped seeing people after they saw me.”
In producers’ eyes, he was a great fit for the role. But playing the part didn’t come easy. Because in real life, Patterson is nothing like Luke. He talks a lot. He’s not really a small-town kind of guy. He’s expressive. He likes to tell jokes. And he’s rarely in a foul mood.
“Sometimes you don’t have to stay in character because you get the character so easily — you can just sort of be yourself when they yell, ‘Cut!’ But I couldn’t do that with Luke. I had to hold on to him the whole day or else I’d lose him.” — Scott Patterson on playing Luke Danes on “Gilmore Girls”
“He was difficult to play, challenging to play all of the time. That was a character that was endlessly interesting to me, because it was always this exercise in restraint,” Patterson said, adding that he worked hard to communicate nonverbally since the show already had enough fast-talkers.
“Sometimes you don’t have to stay in character because you get the character so easily — you can just sort of be yourself when they yell, ‘Cut!’” he continued. “But I couldn’t do that with Luke. I had to hold on to him the whole day or else I’d lose him.”
So Patterson rarely broke character on set — something he admitted would sometimes rub people the wrong way.
“I couldn’t even break character enough to say, ‘Hey, I’m just trying not to break character,’” he said with a laugh. “I was Luke most of the time.”
Coffee, coffee, coffee
But Patterson does share at least one thing in common with the Stars Hollow diner owner: He runs his own coffee company.
“There’s nobody with better coffee, trust me on that one,” he said. “This is grade one specialty coffee.”
Capitalizing on his “Gilmore Girls” recognition, the actor launched Scotty P’s Big Mug Coffee in November 2017, in part because he wanted to inspire his young son, who recently turned 6.
“He’s never seen me do anything in life — and I’ve done a lot,” Patterson said. “I wanted him to see me doing something and building something and going through all the trials and tribulations that owning a small company entail, trying to teach him that you just have to keep at it.”
The actor, 62, spends a lot of time with his son these days. In fact, Patterson, a longtime musician, put his band and touring on the back burner a few years ago because he missed his family too much.
“I did kind of sense that people weren’t coming to hear the music,” he said with a laugh. “But I just missed my wife and son so much. My dad, he was on the road all the time. I rarely saw that guy. I didn’t want my boy to grow up that way, on top of the fact it physically hurt not to be with him. … When I (came home) and he saw me, he ran and gave me the biggest hug and wouldn’t let go. I just thought, ‘I’ll never leave this boy again.’”
Patterson still attends a lot of fan events — including the upcoming virtual Gilmore Girls Fan Fest on Oct. 17. He still acts, too, although he’s cut back a bit over the last few years. But that doesn’t mean he’d turn down another “Gilmore Girls” revival. This time, though, he might want to see a script before committing.
“I feel very protective of (Luke). I don’t want him portrayed in certain ways,” Patterson said, noting that he wasn’t fond of the storyline at the end of the fifth season, when Lorelai proposed to Luke, or how the revival downplayed the long-anticipated wedding of Luke and Lorelai.
But more likely than not, he’d jump on board. Because he’s believed in the show since filming the opening scene of the pilot episode that aired 20 years ago, when a bright-eyed Lauren Graham walked across the main street of Stars Hollow, stepped into Luke’s diner and demanded an excessive amount of coffee.
“I just really enjoyed doing scenes with Lauren. It was always, always stimulating,” he said. “And I love that scene because it really establishes those characters. It sort of says everything about them, and it gave the audience the idea that something was going on there and that something should go on and that something will go on. And that’s the soul of acting right there.”