Created with the help of a consortium of advertisers, squirreled away on a tiny network aimed at teenagers, one of the most unlikely series in TV history ends its gentle, and surprisingly long, journey tonight at 8 on CW57.

With seven seasons, Gilmore Girls went further than such TV legends as Leave It to Beaver, Sanford and Son and St. Elsewhere, yet fans were clamoring for more, and the network seemed willing. But contract negotiations with the show's stars broke down two weeks ago.

Here was a series featuring teenage girls where brains mattered more than boobs, and the dialogue was richer than anything on television, including the bombast of Aaron Sorkin on The West Wing or Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer and Madeleine Albright made guest appearances, and when mother Lorelai, 32, mocking her gossipy daughter, feigned horror at the possible marriage of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, 16-year-old Rory countered with a reference to Edith Wharton.

Stars Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel both channeled a little Hepburn (Lauren-Katharine, Alexis-Audrey) for their roles, and one of the irrefutable proofs of the Emmys' inadequacy is its failure ever to nominate Graham for a statue. In its entire run, Gilmore Girls was nominated for only one Emmy, makeup, in 2004, which it won.

The show got its start through the Family Friendly Programming Forum, a group of advertisers including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Wendy's, which initially put up more than $1 million to help producers develop scripts without sex-charged comedy or dramatic violence, that depict real life with "cross-generational appeal," suitable surroundings for the companies' ads.

Ugly Betty and Friday Night Lights were among this season's shows that got boosts from the forum. Gilmore Girls was the first.

Nothing in the culture, high or low, was off-limits in the dialogue, and if you didn't get the reference to Oscar Levant, Joss Stone was waiting on the next page, which, the lore goes, had about twice as many words on it as a normal TV script.

There is an official Rory Gilmore book list of more than 120 volumes, ranging from Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, to Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, to Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, to Hamlet.

But Gilmore Girls was no arid PBS learn-a-thon. It bustled with energy, both serious - romantic heartache, academic challenge, the difficulty of negotiating a path through life - and zany. Home base for Rory and Lorelai was the fantasy town of Stars Hollow, Conn., where everyone was a kook, yet toleration was the watchword.

There was Kirk, whose social ineptitude was indescribable; intensely loopy neighbor Babette, who gave Sally Struthers a new lease on life, and onetime prima ballerina Miss Patty, noticeably filled out from her dancing years, whose academy of ballet, cheerleading, gymnastics, ice skating, baton twirling and modeling helped bring a little culture to the town.

Perhaps Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show's ebullient mad-hatter creator, who named her company Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions, was simply making a comfortable place for herself in the world.

It didn't last. She left the show last year, unable, reportedly, to pry a little more money out of Warner Bros. to make her show a little better. Viewers complained Gilmore Girls lost its way this season, but, even diminished, it was one of TV's best shows.

Headstrong Lorelai, pregnant at 16 and unwilling to marry her child's well-connected daddy, struggled to raise an independent daughter without relying on her own rich, judgmental and socially persnickety parents (played by Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann).

With silver spoon and sugary hometown behind her, Rory negotiated primo prep school Chilton Academy, where she met intensely driven archrival and good friend Paris Geller, and then Yale.

Rory broke up on Graduation Day with her dashing and insanely wealthy boyfriend last week, in a masterfully poignant scene. She didn't get the newspaper fellowship she coveted, either. Sad on both counts, loving Lorelai suspected both eventualities might be for the best, as they would make her daughter stronger.

We fans are sad, too, that things didn't work out for more episodes, but stronger for having spent seven years with Gilmore Girls. And most of us are also hoping that Lorelai and Luke, the world's most confused and curmudgeonly diner proprietor, will figure out, once and for all, that they're meant for each other.

Jonathan Storm |

TV Appreciation

Gilmore Girls

The series finale airs at 8 tonight on CW57

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