The show's main focus is on the relationship between single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory, who live in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, a small fictional town filled with colorful characters. The series explores issues of family, romance, education, friendship, disappointment, and ambition, along with generational divides and social class, the latter themes manifesting through Lorelai's difficult relationship with her high society parents, Emily and Richard, and Rory's experiences at an elite high school and later on at Yale.
Sherman-Palladino, who served as showrunner for the majority of the series, infused Gilmore Girls with distinctive fast-paced dialogue filled with pop culture references. After season six, when the series moved to its new network, Sherman-Palladino left the show and was replaced by David S. Rosenthal for the final season. The series was produced and distributed by Warner Bros. Television and filmed on the studio's lot in Burbank, California.
Television critics praised Gilmore Girls for its witty dialogue, cross-generational appeal, and effective mix of humor and drama. It never drew large ratings but was a relative success for The WB, peaking during season five as the network's second most-popular show. The series has been in daily syndication since 2004, while a growing and dedicated fandom has led to its status as a cult classic. Since coming off the air, Gilmore Girls has been cited in TV (The Book) and Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest television shows of all time. In 2016, the main cast and Sherman-Palladino returned for a four-part miniseries revival titled Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, which streamed on Netflix.
The series has two protagonists: witty "thirty-something" mother Lorelai Gilmore and her intellectual teenage daughter Rory. Their backstory is established early in the show: Lorelai grew up in Hartford with her old money parents, Richard and Emily, but always felt stifled by this environment. She accidentally became pregnant at age sixteen and left home a year later to raise Rory in the close-knit town of Stars Hollow. Lorelai found work and shelter at the Independence Inn, where she eventually progressed from maid to executive manager. Lorelai and Rory develop a very close relationship, living like best friends, and Lorelai is proud of the independent life she has formed away from her parents. In the pilot episode, she is forced to go to them when Rory is admitted to Chilton Preparatory School, but she cannot afford the tuition fees. Emily and Richard agree to provide a loan, so long as the girls join them every Friday night for dinner. This sets up the show's primary conflict, as the Gilmores are forced to face their differences and complicated past. The contrasting mother–daughter relationships of Emily–Lorelai and Lorelai–Rory become a defining theme of the show. Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has summarized the core of Gilmore Girls:
"I think the theme was always family and connection. I always felt like the underlying thing about Gilmore was that, if you happened to be born into a family that doesn’t really understand you, go out and make your own. That’s what Lorelai did. She went out and she made her own family. The ironic twist in her life is that then this daughter that she created this half family for, likes the family that she left. It was a cycle of crazy family."
The series also focuses on both girls' ambition: Rory to attend an Ivy League college and become a journalist, and Lorelai to open an inn with her best friend Sookie St. James. The romantic relationships of the protagonists are another key feature; throughout the series Lorelai has a "will-they-won't-they" dynamic with her friend, local diner owner Luke Danes, while also harboring unresolved feelings for Rory's father, Christopher Hayden. Rory has three boyfriends during the run of the show - local boy Dean Forrester, mysterious, well read bad boy Jess Mariano, and wealthy charismatic Logan Huntzberger. The quirky townspeople of Stars Hollow are a constant presence. Along with series-long and season-long arcs, Gilmore Girls is also episodic in nature, with mini-plots within each episode - such as a town festival, an issue at Lorelai's inn, or a school project of Rory's.