Aha Moment: Jane Austen & Clueless

Studio 360

Gina Fattore has always been a fan of romantic comedies --- especially ones by Jane Austen. She liked to write too, but growing up, she wasn't sure she could turn that avocation into a vocation. So she supported herself as a newspaper copy editor. Then one day in 1995, she saw the movie Clueless, Amy Heckerling's Beverly Hills adaptation of Austen's Emma.

"That really helped crystalize why the Austen novels always had so much meaning to me," she says, "because everything in them is so applicable to the present day." The frustrations around "courtship and hurt feelings exist not just in high school but virtually in every aspect of society."

Four years later, she was writing for television, drawing on Austen novels for inspiration --- and sometimes even lines of dialogue. The books are "serialized drama about the minutia of who likes whom," Fattore explains. "Things happen, but then the action stops and people talk about what happens, and you get to know the characters. This is basically how we'd structure Dawson's Creek episodes."

Fattore went on to write for Gilmore Girls, Californication, and Parenthood, among other shows. But she doesn't see herself as an Emma Woodhouse --- or a Cher Horowitz, for that matter. "I didn't think, 'wow, Mr. Knightly, he's the real prize," she says. "Literary immortality, that's the prize. I just wanted to be Jane Austen."

(Originally aired May 2, 2008)