Rejoice, for the fates have declared that Gilmore Girls shall be accessible to all on Netflix as of 1 October. The US classic joins a growing number of series making their way to the internet for a rejuvenated run — a move that is changing the nature of television in the United States.
Gilmore Girls is currently more popular than it was when it actually aired, a phenomenon seen with a number of its contemporaries. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, has a massive and still-growing fanbase. The West Wing lives on. Even relatively obscure programmes like Due South are winning new viewers over — as testified by the amount of related fanfiction that’s growing on a nearly daily basis. Entirely new generations and groups of viewers are finding new shows long after they finished airing — so say we all.
The earliest television was aired live, adapted originally from radio plays, and then from original scripts. Archival options were limited, and viewers didn’t have a chance of watching a favourite programme again. Then the re-run was born, allowing networks to earn residuals from shows that ran over and over. It wasn’t just a smart profit-making move, of course: It also built up entirely new generations of fans (see the wild success of I Love Lucy).
With the development of VHS and DVD, networks were able to generate profits both through re-runs and sales of series retrospectives — complete with boxed sets, directors’ commentary, and other features to add value. (Networks like HBO in particular have enriched their content to make it appealing to past fans and new alike.) These profit-generating moves have been made even more cost-effective by the rise of services like Hulu and Netflix.
These services don’t just facilitate the viewing of recent television programmes and commissioned series (Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, for example) — they also create opportunities for building new fanbases for older series. In the case of Gilmore Girls, the decision to release the entire series on Netflix reflects a brave new age of television.
It’s not just that networks have found more ways of generating profits (though they have) or that new fanbases are being created thanks to the release of old content on new media platforms. It’s also about the growing push for competition between the two platforms, as Netflix and Hulu battle it out for supremacy while Amazon Prime nudges in on the market (and CBS straggles behind when it comes to releasing its own content, evidently convinced that the internet is just a passing fad that will eventually burn out). These platforms are being forced to learn what appeals to consumers, and the conclusion might shock studio executives and absolutely no one else: It would appear that people like things with women in them.
A recent rewatch of the Gilmore Girls reminds me of why the show is so popular — the sharp, snappy dialogue, the great characters, the brilliant commentary on life in the contemporary US for women. Gilmore Girls is remarkable not simply because of all the traits that earn it continued praise from fans new and old, but because it depicts the lives of ordinary women in the United States.
The lives of women are often pushed out of pop culture, and are treated as something of limited interest. Gilmore Girls, with legions of enduring fans, has proved that pop culture about women has value, and is worth producing. In a way, recent years have been the years of women in pop culture, with numerous female-led films dominating the box office, and a growing number of women in television dominating the screen — Scandal and Gravity alike, women are taking over the media and proving that they have box office staying power and Neilson clout.
That’s what makes the release of the Gilmore Girls on Netflix so important. It’s taking place within a larger pop culture landscape. With every female-centric programme and film that lands a sizable fan base and proves profitable through residuals, networks and studios learn that it’s cost-effective and useful to keep producing that kind of media. Even the most bone-headed, sexist studio executives eventually have to absorb the fact that numerous people like media with women in it, and that many of those people specifically like female-centric media that isn’t filled with sexist stereotypes and misogyny.
Gilmore Girls, unfortunately, still has plenty of transmisogyny, Trans jokes are a steady and pernicious theme running through the series, something that becomes especially noticeable when marathoning episodes back to back, as I’ve been doing in recent weeks. Suddenly, jokes revolving around trans identity that other viewers might think of as popping up ‘here and there’ become an everpresent aspect of the series.
Disappointingly, they don’t slack off in later seasons, suggesting that the Sherman-Palladinos never really saw a problem with that particular brand of humour. In a series that’s otherwise sensitive, sharp, and germane, such ‘humour’ sticks out like a sore thumb, and it makes for a disappointing component of what would otherwise be a wonderful series starring two powerful women. Even more dismayingly, such jokes popped up with regularity in Bunheads as well, which makes me nervous to say the least about future projects from Amy Sherman-Palladino.
It would seem that while female-led media (both in the writing room and on the screen) is finally starting to come into its own, the people creating that media still can’t seem to recognise trans women as human beings, with a few notable exceptions. Orange is the New Black, for example, clashes radically with Gilmore Girls, featuring as it does a trans woman of colour handled in a respectful and responsible way.
This, too, is a consequence of bringing old shows to new life on the internet: Their regressive, sometimes actively offensive nature is revealed, and fans may ask themselves why they were so besotted when those series aired. As Gilmore Girls blows up, is it going to withstand the test of time?