Amy Sherman-Palladino Talks ‘Bunheads’ Winter Premiere And ‘Gilmore Girls’ Comparisons
Bunheads is back tonight on ABC Family, and to celebrate, we have all the details on series return from creator Amy Sherman-Palladino! Check out the full interview below!
How many episodes is this second batch, and what are the odds at this point, how does it look for having a second season?
A. Palladino: There are eight episodes right now, and I have no freaking idea. The world of ABC Family is different, they have a whole different show schedule with Seasons 1, 1a, 1b, 1c. Some of their other shows, I think they’re on Season 1/25.
I think they’ve done about 4,000 shows and they’re not on Season 2 yet, so I don’t really know how it works on ABC Family. It’s a new kind of family. But as far as what we discussed with what I promised ABC Family in terms of where I’m going with the girls and the dance and blah, blah, blah, I haven’t lied to them and they seem a little happy at the moment, so I will take that as a positive sign.
Will we be seeing Alan Ruck, who plays the dead husband, at all in these episodes coming up?
A. Palladino: You will. Alan Ruck has said to me, “… you’re going to have to let me go now. I don’t know how many other ways you can bring me back.” And I’ve said to him, do not underestimate me, young man, because I will figure it out, because he shows up and the whole world is a little cheerier. He’s just so great.
You’ve created some wonderful television shows like Gilmore Girls and now of course Bunheads, where do you get your inspiration to make shows with such great plots and interesting characters?
A. Palladino: Well, I don’t know, just a lack of therapy, perhaps, no time to work it out on a couch with a man and an iPad. I love family interaction, and in a weird way Gilmore, obviously was family, but this show is a new kind of family, I’ll keep saying that, because it’s my favorite tagline ever, but it is about people who, you know, somebody once told me, “You just created your own family.” I don’t care what, if your family isn’t exactly what you need it to be, then go out and create it, find it. And that’s what this show is about. It’s about creating your own family, finding your own support system.
And I just enjoy that because you never run out of stories, because you’re never not mad at your family, it never ends, I mean, even if you have a nice family, it’s all over. So it’s a little bit of that. And this is a little bit based on my experiences. I was supposed to be a dancer, so I spent a lot of time in ballet class, and the interactions between girls in an intense environment like that, it’s always been a very interesting world to me, and that ballet dressing room, that’s where a lot of stuff goes down, so I’ve got an opportunity to be able to explore a world that I love. I love dance. I just love it. I love watching it. I love watching other people do it.
And when I was handed the delicious Sutton Foster, when you’ve got somebody who can do anything in the world, it opens up an avenue of anything you ever wanted to do, suddenly you can do it, you can drive down the street and you see an AT&T store, and somebody screaming outside of an AT&T store, and you’re like, wow, that would be funny. I would enjoy watching Sutton scream at someone – I just passed an AT&T store, by the way, so there you go, there’s my inspiration. It really just comes from that, it comes from real life experience, it comes from the people around you, and it comes from working with the best.
Speaking of working with the best, you’ve worked with some great actors in Gilmore Girls and you have a tendency to put actors from previously successful shows into new shows like Bunheads. Are you trying to maybe recreate the magic that made Gilmore Girls successful with Bunheads?
A. Palladino: Yes, exactly. Do you know what it is, my particular style of writing, love it or hate it, it is very specific and when I find a particular person who can knock it out of the ballpark, it’s like Orson Welles and his group of mad actors that he would use in everything – not that I’m Orson Welles, although I wouldn’t mind being Orson Welles someday – but the idea that you’re lucky enough in your career to collect people who are particularly good at the stuff that you like to write, and when you find them you want to write for them.
I find myself longing to write for Liza Weil, or longing to write for Sean Gunn, or longing to write for Todd Lowe, or Rose Abdoo, and when you have a jones to write for certain people because they’re so good, I understand the whole concept of you’re trying to build a whole new reality, but the reality of show business is when you find people that are great, you’ve got to work with them and you’ve got to latch on to them, because there’s not billions of people out there who are special. And if you find a merry band of madmen who will come and make things wonderful, I will write for those people forever.
Were you at all concerned about the comparisons between Bunheads and Gilmore Girls, especially in casting Kelly Bishop?
A. Palladino: Well, it comes into your head, and the thing about Kelly Bishop is when I was casting that role I did not go to Kelly. I did not go to Kelly mostly because Kelly lived in Jersey and her life is in Jersey, and I knew the show had to shoot out here, and that’s not something Kelly was keen to do, and also, yes, because of the comparisons. And then I found myself in the auditions, after these lovely women would read and work and leave, I would turn to the casting director and I would say, yes, but they’re not Kelly Bishop. And after three weeks of saying “They’re not Kelly Bishop,” I had to just go get Kelly Bishop, because it was like, what the hell was I doing? There’s nobody who could have done this part but Kelly Bishop. It was Kelly Bishop. I wrote it for Kelly Bishop. And I got crazy, I’m hoping some other Kelly Bishop’s going to walk in the door, and so there was a lot of conning and negotiating and finagling to try and make it work with her lifestyle.
But at some point to me the work is the work, and yes, sure, some people can take swipes at me for Gilmore, or comparisons or whatever, but it’s not Gilmore, it’s different relationships, they’re playing different characters, Sutton Foster is not Lorelai at all, and I just feel like, again, you’ve got to get the best person. You can’t shy from what someone says about you, because I’m free game, when I put things on the air, I get “This is what we get, the Gilmore Girls, really? Thanks a lot, lady.” You can’t make your creative decisions based on, boy, somebody may not like it, or somebody thinks I’m going to try and recreate something that I’ve already done. If you’ve got the vision. That’s what I’m trying to do.
In the pilot we saw a lot about the ocean, there was a lot about the window looking out over the ocean, and it seems like as the season went on the ocean kind of disappeared. Are we going to see that again, how close they are to the beach?
A. Palladino: Well, here’s the funny stuff, oceans, they cost money to go there, and the thing about ABC Family, as delightful as they are as people and supportive as they are of the show, they don’t have unlimited money to go anyplace. So moving away from the ocean was not necessarily a creative gesture, it was more – this is a show that is unlike shows that have big budgets, and a lot of figuring out how to handle the finances of the dance, which is quite a lot because of rehearsal, music, of bodies, of choreography, and so when you’re allocating your money I can either put a great dance in there or I can drive us out to the ocean, and the ocean tends to lose.
I hope to go back there, because what the ocean represented to Michelle in the pilot was a sense of openness, a sense of freedom, a sense of not being trapped in a crap apartment off the Strip in a depressing sort of environment. So we’ve tried to keep that alive with her wonderful Topanga Canyon-y feeling house that still has lots of windows, lots of air, lots of space. We try to keep the elements that drew her here alive, and we try to do it on our budget. And hopefully we will get to do more there, but story trumps locations many, many times, the nuts and bolts of actual production money.
What was your assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of that first batch of episodes, and how did you incorporate that evaluation into these new episodes?
A. Palladino: Well, one thing we learned from the first episodes is there’s been a lot of money talk. I’ve gotten a lot more knowledgeable about money. I’ve never talked so much about money in my entire life, it’s a very weird process for me, and how to be smart and get all the production value on screen. But I would say what you really learn, one of the biggest things was Sutton Foster can do anything which is a weapon I’ve got in my arsenal, because it just means I’m going to throw more stuff at her. But the other thing is the way we could incorporate guests organically into the show, because one thing I was very nervous about is that we were going to get a lot of requests to just throw a dance number in there and I didn’t want it to be a performing show in terms of it wasn’t about that.
One thing that we really learned was that dance was very, very, very integral to this show. Shows that we did that did not visit the venue or did not have the flavor of dance in it, we always wound up going back and putting a dance in it, because it was just something that made it special and specific to our world.
The other thing is we had to adjust to, on a practical level, our page count was too low because we were coming in very, very, very short and I was trying to keep the page count low because we had a day less to shoot than we had on Gilmore, but the pace of the show goes so fast that that became a big problem for us. So now we’ve got the page count correct.
And I think we also, the first ten, the learning curve for us was what can these four young girls do? They were all kind of new. They were all kind of green. Who can talk? Who can turn a joke? Who is great with long speeches? Who is not great with long speeches? It was a lot of that. And who was going to be able to, was anybody going to fall out, or were all these girls going to get stronger?
That’s the scariest thing going into a new show is you go in with the big storylines and then a character that you had planned on doing something either can’t do it, or it’s not in their wheelhouse and then suddenly the best laid plans are all gone. We got very, very lucky because these girls all just really rose to the challenge and it made it more important for us to work with their families, with their parents, get them involved in romances. They weren’t going to be peripheral characters anymore. They needed to really be whole, dimensional, flesh-and-blood, as much as Michelle and as much as the dance.
In terms of the show title, was that something that you came up with, was that a title you pushed? It seems like the show had some trouble getting traction with viewers, and I wonder if people were confused by the title.
A. Palladino: Well, bunheads is a term that I grew up with, because they call you a bunhead when you’re in ballet class, at least they did when I was in ballet class, because you wear a bun. So the title for me was just that. It’s within that world, and it was a title that means something. And I base most of my life decisions on what is ridiculous and insane. And as far as people now – yes, I guess that maybe some people didn’t quite get it or understand it, and part of the reason when we did an opening sequence we shots buns on heads, so the people were like, “Oh, there are buns on heads. I get it.”
And I think also, though, the learning curve for this show is just it doesn’t really fit into a particular category. It’s not truly a teen show. It’s not truly about a 35-year-old woman. It’s not truly about a 65-year-old woman. It’s an amalgam of women basically and coming of age at many stages of your life. So I think that it’s also been a challenge for us and for ABC Family and everyone to figure out how to make people understand that there’s actually a little something for everybody in here. It’s a delightful grab bag of craziness.
So much of the first season was about the character of Michelle struggling to adjust to life in Paradise, but when she returns are we going to see more of the same sort of fish out of water issues, or is she going to get more settled in?
A. Palladino: I don’t think Michelle necessarily is a fish out of water. I felt more like it’s a person struggling with what is the next aspect of my life, more than, hey, these people are all weird. Michelle’s struggle and a lot of people’s life struggles, which sometimes they’re never quite resolved, is what do I do when all of the plans that I’ve made and all of the things I thought were going to happen I suddenly realize, oh, that’s actually not going to happen. I need a new plan. And that to me that’s what Michelle’s journey was in the first ten, and frankly, it may be her journey for the rest of her life to figure out, I was supposed to be a dancer and those years are slipping away and now where am I, what am I, can I fall in love, can I have a relationship, will I ever be married, will I stay here forever, will I leave in a month? Again, I go back to Michelle’s a girl with a lot of armor, and it takes a lot to cross through that armor sometimes. So I actually think a lot of the journey is her trying to focus not so much on wow, I’m in this new environment, but I need a road map. I need a life road map. That’s the way I view it.
The first batch of episodes ended with her leaving Fanny and the girls, so how did Michelle’s departure affect all the people she left behind?
A. Palladino: I think Michelle’s biggest surprise is the hole that her departure actually left for people, because I think Michelle’s a girl who thinks: I don’t get attached, I don’t latch on, I don’t fall in love, I never have, out of sight, out of mind, and it’s a new experience with someone like her that she would come back and realize she’s been missed, she’s been needed, she’s left a hole in lives of young girls who aren’t her girls. It’s like, you’re not my kids, why do they care whether I’m here or not. I’m not their mom. But you know what, any influence on young girls comes from many, many areas and sometimes it’s not their mom. Sometimes it is that teacher. Sometimes it is that babysitter or that person, or the unusual, from left field advice that you get from a crazy librarian who hands you a book that changes your life. You can’t anticipate what sort of thing is going to impact, and I think Michelle, who probably doesn’t really think much of herself in the grand scheme of things, is very surprised that she means a lot to people.
Excited for the return of Bunheads tonight? Check out the recap of our favorite ABC Family show below!