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Tuned In: 'Gilmore Girls' bad boy may star in spin-off

Monday, January 13, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- Goodbye, "Girls. " The WB will spin off the bad boy "Gilmore Girls" character Jess Mariano, played by Milo Ventimiglia, into his own series.

Jess, currently the boyfriend of Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel), will get reacquainted with his father later this season on "Girls," and, if all goes according to plan, Ventimiglia will return to The WB this fall in a series of his own.

"It wasn't, 'Hey, let's do a spin-off,' " said WB Entertainment president Jordan Levin. "['Gilmore Girls' creator Amy Sherman-Palladino] had this idea for a series she could do either as a spin-off or on its own, but she'd rather use Milo because she really likes him as an actor."

Though the premise may sound like this season's successful new drama "Everwood," Sherman-Palladino said the Jess spin-off won't repeat the themes in "Everwood."

"There's an aspect of the Jess character that we have never explored," she said. "We know his mother's a little bit of a lunatic; we've never met her. We've never even delved into the father at all. ... 'Everwood' is about an established father and son who have history. Jess has never met his dad, so it's a completely different show. It's almost more like two strangers getting to know each other out of necessity than two people with baggage working through their baggage. And it's not gonna be in the mountains, and there won't be trees."

Levin said if the proposed spin-off doesn't come to fruition, Jess could remain on "Gilmore Girls." Sherman-Palladino said the Jess spin-off and "Girls" will always maintain ties.

"Connections have been made that will always be kept," she said. "Luke and Jess are related. Jess and Rory have a very strong connection. Will it be like, 'See ya, buh-bye?' No. When there's family involved and hearts and emotions involved, it's always gonna make it easy to smoosh the two if you need to smoosh."

Rory's first boyfriend, Dean (Jared Padelecki), remains on "Gilmore Girls" despite their breakup last fall, which is unusual for TV. More often, when a relationship ends, the party who is not the star of the series immediately disappears.

"When you're doing first love, there are many aspects to it, and one of the biggest aspects is breaking up," Sherman-Palladino said. "We would have been really cheating to not see what happens after. It's also a small town; you get entwined. To just say they broke up and now Dean didn't exist anymore seemed crazy to me and seemed like we're also missing stories."

"Lone Ranger" rides again

The WB's update of "The Lone Ranger" didn't make it onto the schedule last fall, but the two-hour series pilot will air Feb. 26, the last day of February sweeps. Depending on its reception, it could become a series, but network executives indicated that it might be a long shot due to the cost associated with producing a Western.

Set in Dallas in the late 1800s, the movie begins as Boston law student Luke Hartman (Chad Michael Murray, "Dawson's Creek," "Gilmore Girls") witnesses the murder of his brother, a Texas Ranger. He's rescued by the Apache Tonto (Nathaniel Arcand) and falls in love with Tonto's sister.

The WB's Levin said Tonto has a character arc of his own.

"Tonto is dealing with a generation gap within his community," Levin said. "The leaders of his tribe in this story don't believe in assimilating with the white man, and he argues instead that you have to be part of that culture or else they're going to destroy us, so he makes the choice to engage with the Lone Ranger and engage with modern-day society."

Being The WB, it's a sexed-up "Lone Ranger."

"Somehow we found a way to include a hot tub scene in a teepee," Levin said.

Actually, it's a natural hot sulfur spring, according to Turner CEO Jamie Kellner.

Back to The WB

Barry Watson and Jessica Biel will return for the 150th episode of "7th Heaven" this spring, reprising their roles of Matt and Mary Camden, respectively. Watson, who wrote for the show this season while undergoing cancer treatment, is now cancer-free. He'll appear in two additional episodes this spring.

Steve Harvey, who had a sitcom on The WB for many years, is developing a new prime-time variety/talk show for the network's fall schedule.

Midseason on The WB

"Black Sash" (9 p.m. Sunday, no premiere date set): An ex-cop (Russell Wong) mentors a diverse group of teens while teaching them martial arts skills in this so-so one-hour drama.

"On the Spot" (no premiere date set): Tim Conway, well out of The WB's target demo, leads a cast of young comedians and actors in a half-hour series, set in a hotel, that's partially scripted and partially improvised. Not available for review.

Fixing UPN

Despite a decline in ratings from a year ago when UPN acquired "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and debuted "Enterprise," Leslie Moonves said the network is in a better place. Moonves, who oversees UPN as president of sister network CBS, said efforts are under way to focus UPN as executives develop new series for fall.

"The problem was we had five different audiences on five different nights," Moonves said. Monday's sitcoms appealed to a predominantly African-American audience, "Buffy" fans came to UPN on Tuesday, "Star Trek" fans tuned in on Wednesday and wrestling fans showed up on Thursday night.

Now the goal is to focus on adults ages 18-34 while welcoming minority viewers. "Platinum," a midseason drama set in the world of hip-hop music, is an effort to bridge the Monday and Tuesday audiences by appealing to the two different constituencies.

Moonves said he wants UPN to be a younger, hipper network with smarter shows than some of what it airs currently.

"We don't have the quality we'd like to have," Moonves said, adding it will take time to achieve all his goals for UPN. "You can't change on a dime."

Midseason on UPN

"Platinum" (no premiere date set): A family saga set in the realm of a hip-hop music empire, this drama is executive-produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola and stars rapper Sticky Fingaz. Not available for review.

"America's Next Top Model" (no premiere date set): Supermodel Tyra Banks leads a panel of judges who put contestants through their paces in an effort to find a new supermodel. Not available for review.

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com .

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