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What To Watch 'To Drown Out' The Voices In Your Head

Writer, director and producer Amy Sherman-Palladino creates television shows, like Gilmore Girls, that draw a loyal female following. That's because her ensemble of female characters are smart, witty, offbeat and sympathetic. Her latest show is Bunheads. For our occasional series "Watch This," Steve Inskeep talks to Sherman-Palladino about what she's watching on TV and video.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Writer, director and producer Amy Sherman-Palladino made her name with shows in which large numbers of women interact onscreen, and large numbers of women tend to watch. Her ensemble casts include kids to seniors.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The characters are smart, witty, offbeat and fast-talking.

MONTAGNE: "Gilmore Girls" helped establish the WB Network, now known as the CW.

INSKEEP: ABC Family is about to start the winter season of her new show, "Bunheads," a name taken from the nickname for ballerinas.

MONTAGNE: As part of our series Watch This, Amy Sherman-Palladino joined us from NPR West to talk about what she watches. That includes shows she watches while writing.

INSKEEP: You know, it's hard for me to imagine concentrating with the TV on right in front of me, but that is exactly what she does.

AMY SHERMAN-PALLADINO: I can't write in silence. Too many voices in my head. It gets very - it's a battle.

INSKEEP: So more voices is the answer to that.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Yeah, to drown out the other voices. I don't know, it's a big voice thing. There's something about rhythm. I write a lot of rhythm 'cause it's fast and yappy. And there's something about having Woody Allen - very, very familiar Woody Allen going on in the background that it's somehow - it's music to me.

INSKEEP: Well, let's go through some of this list. One of the movies on here is Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters" from 1986. It's been years since I've seen this. What's it about?

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: It's one of his classic, some say his best, about a group of sisters and their loves, lives, and it's just classic vintage Woody Allen at his like top, top of his game. And these sisters who are so deeply - their lives are so intertwined and yet there's a lot of jealousy and a lot of resentment. And it's just delicious.

INSKEEP: And when you talk about dialogue that has a rhythm to it, there's great, great Woody Allen dialogue.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Brilliant. In addition to the really wonderful female characters that he writes, he writes just great jokes. I really appreciate that.

INSKEEP: You flagged for us what you describe as perhaps your favorite joke of all time.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Yes. The joke with Max von Sydow when he's been watching TV, and Barbara Hershey comes back and she's just been having an affair with Michael Caine - and he's an artist, he doesn't leave the loft. And he's got a joke about Jesus that is just - I can listen to that. -I think I use it on a Christmas invitation once.

INSKEEP: Well, it's short enough to fit on a Christmas invitation. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HANNAH AND HER SISTERS")

MAX VON SYDOW: (as Frederick) If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up.

(LAUGHTER)

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: It's great. It's just great, and it doesn't get better than that, 'cause it's real. It's a joke that's funny on its own. But the backdrop of the scene, you know, she's just come in and she's thinking, do I tell him that I've just been sleeping with my sister's husband? And he's just rambling on about wrestling and TV and the ridiculous - what people watch and what they do. And it's just genius. It's genius.

INSKEEP: Now, you have also put on this list a couple of television programs that are not comedy, although they have their funny moments. Both of them police dramas: "The Wire" and "NYPD Blue" Season 1.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Season 1.

INSKEEP: OK, why Season 1?

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: 'Cause it was the best season of the show.

INSKEEP: Dennis Franz, David Caruso, OK.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: It was just great. It was before Caruso knew he was Caruso. It was Dennis Franz at his most screwed-upness. You know, I mean he gets - he sleeps with a hooker and gets shot in the pilot. Enjoy. But it had a lot of - again, because the characters were so strong - there were such great things going on - it had a lot of comedy in it, weirdly.

You know, I think the best dramas always have great, great comedy in it.

INSKEEP: Now, when we think of vivid and realistic characters, this leads me directly into the next item on your list, a Mel Brooks/Carl Reiner comedy routine called "The 2,000-Year-Old Man."

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Best comedy album ever. The jokes in that are just so - there's runs in that that just are hysterical.

INSKEEP: Well, when you talk about a run, let's listen to one of these runs. And this is Reiner, who's interviewing Mel Brooks, who's playing this 2,000-year-old man.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY ALBUM, "THE 2,000-YEAR-OLD MAN")

MEL BROOKS: (as 2,000-Year-Old Man) I'll be 2,000 October 16.

CARL REINER: (as Interviewer) You'll be 2,000. When were you born?

BROOKS: (as 2,000-Year-Old Man) We didn't have formal years and names and writing. We didn't know.

REINER: (as Interviewer) I see. And what...

BROOKS: (as 2,000-Year-Old Man) Nobody kept time. See, we didn't know. We didn't write. We just sat around. We pointed in the sky and we said whoaaa...

INSKEEP: You know, that has a kind of Bob Newhart quality, where the pauses and the searching for the word are as funny as anything that he actually says.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Yeah, my father was a Bronx/Catskills comic. And I grew up with a lot of voices in the backyard, eating and smoking funny cigarettes and making each other laugh. And it was those rhythms that are in that album that to me are like - that's what makes me laugh.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, let's just go right to some dancing then. Let's listen to some of this and then we'll talk about it. This is another item on your list, a 1948 American musical, "Easter Parade," Judy Garland here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "EASTER PARADE")

JUDY GARLAND AND FRED ASTAIRE: (as Hannah Brown and Don Hewes) (Singing) We would drive up the avenue but we haven't got the price. We would skate up the avenue but there isn't any ice. We would ride on a bicycle but we haven't got a bike. So we'll walk up the avenue. Yes, we'll walk up...

INSKEEP: Let me make sure I get this right. She's with Fred Astaire there, right?

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: She's with Fred Astaire.

INSKEEP: And they're kind of dressed like bums. They live on - unshaven bums.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: They're dressed like bums, yeah. You know, Judy Garland - who I am completely obsessed with, I love her - she had great comic timing. She was actually a very funny lady. For all of her unbelievable singing, her comedy is incredible. She makes me laugh all the time.

INSKEEP: Since we've talked about rhythm, maybe it's appropriate that we're going to go out here now on music. You have named a soundtrack. What is it?

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: I got into this weird rhythm of - the final pass through any script on "Gilmore Girls," I would listen to the "Gosford Park" soundtrack.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: It's a movie I loved. And there was a feeling that the music sort of hung in the air in my office. And it sort of allowed me to just do that fine - I don't know, that final pass through.

INSKEEP: It was just music that helped you crowd out those other voices.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Yeah, I don't know. I just - I love that soundtrack.

INSKEEP: Well, Amy Sherman-Palladino, it's been a pleasure talking with you.

SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Well, thank you, sir. It's been a pleasure talking with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Amy Sherman-Palladino is the creator and executive producer of "Bunheads." The show has its winter premiere tonight on ABC Family.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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