For Showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino, the Ladies Always Lead

Here, she shares the personal backstory behind the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, ahead of its fourth season, as well as some of the other iconic female characters in her ouvre.

Leading with Ladies
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel ’s Midge Maisel. Photo: Courtesy Prime Video

I never intended to be a writer. My father was a comedian, and my mother was a dancer, so instead of going to college, I threw myself into dance auditions and improv classes. And as I was eating Ding Dongs and figuring things out, my friend Jennifer [Heath] suggested we start writing together. We wrote a couple of spec scripts, and she brought them to her day job teaching traffic school. Because it was L.A., everybody there was working in show business, so she forced our scripts on these poor people who had run a red light. And, somehow, we landed a writing job on the show Roseanne.

Coincidentally, I got a callback at the same time for the musical Cats. As I agonized about what to do, Jennifer reminded me that this was the No. 1 sitcom in America, which 30 million people watched every week. It was an amazing opportunity, so I somewhat reluctantly gave it a shot.

Roseanne was a huge hit, but it was a tumultuous show. All the writers were men, and they were re-staffing because, well, the show was called Roseanne, so they realized they should hire somebody who has menstruated. I didn't love it. And there's nothing that ruins a well-trained balletic ass faster than sitting in a writers' room all day. It was a battlefield — you had to come in armed and be ready to take it. I almost quit to teach ballet. But in my second year, we wrote an episode [which got nominated for an Emmy] where one of the teen characters, Becky, wants to go on birth control, so things slowly started to click.

The mantra on Roseanne was "make the small big and the big small." I learned it's the little things that are the most relatable, not some over-the-top plot. And what keeps people coming back are characters you can really root for.

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Gilmore Girls ’ Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. Alamy Stock Photo

This came into play later when I pitched my own series. I had optioned a story from L.A. Magazine about a Philippine girl who was raised in America with very traditional parents. I had pages of plot, and they said, "Interesting. Anything else?" Out of nowhere, I said, "Well, there's this idea of a mom and a daughter, but they're more like friends." And they said, "Great, we'll buy it!" And that's how Gilmore Girls was born.

It was the same with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. When I met with Amazon, I thought of my dad, who had these tales of the comedy world in the 1950s. It was a germ of an idea. But I knew I wanted to bring those stories to life. And I knew I would turn my dad into a girl — sorry, Dad — but it was going to be a more interesting journey for a woman in the '50s to be a comic than a Jewish dude from the Bronx.

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Bunheads ’ Michelle Simms. Adam Taylor/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty

Female protagonists have just always been my jam. All my leading ladies are sharp, smart, and funny, with strong points of view. But they're very different too. Lorelai Gilmore [Lauren Graham] was dealing with not knowing how to let people in. Michelle on Bunheads [Sutton Foster] was the classic "I had a chance, I fucked it up, now here I am." Midge Maisel [Rachel Brosnahan] had the life she wanted; then she discovered an ambition that preempted everything else. Susie Myerson [Alex Borstein] has the filthiest mouth, yet there's such vulnerability behind it. A woman doesn't have to be an FBI agent with a gun in her hand to be a badass chick on TV. To me, it's more about barging through life and putting the world together on your terms.

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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel ’s Susie Myerson. Courtesy Prime Video

I'm not on social media, so I don't typically see how people react to my characters. But I do run into fans, and I'm always shocked by the love. Whenever a girl comes up and says that Rory Gilmore [Alexis Bledel] was the reason she went to Yale, god damn it, that gets me. It's amazing the life that my shows have had. If you get that once, you're golden. But I've had it three times, and I feel so lucky. It almost takes the sting out of the fact that I lost my youth and any semblance of a good figure.

Sherman-Palladino is the creator of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, returning Feb. 18 on Prime Video.

For more stories like this, pick up the February 2022 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Jan. 14th.

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