LOS ANGELES – The jilted woman sits in front of the TV set and fast-food cartons, watching Judy Garland belt out "The Man Who Got Away" and wallowing in heartache.
There's an insistent knock on her door. It's him. A torrid glance, an embrace, the music swells. Fade promisingly to black.
For hopeless romantics, the destination of choice is WB's "Gilmore Girls (search)," which saw its ratings grow as the relationship between Lorelai and Luke heated up in the fifth season. The WB is a unit of Time Warner, as is CNN.
Lorelai Gilmore, sexy single mom to Rory, and Luke Danes, hunky diner owner, finally evolved from pals to lovers, only to break up and then get together again.
Meanwhile, aspiring journalist Rory has boosted the romance quotient, suffering through her own roller-coaster fling with fellow Yale student and newspaper scion Logan.
In its highly competitive 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday time slot against Fox's powerhouse "American Idol (search)," "Gilmore Girls" has repeatedly ranked No. 2 among its target audience of young adults 18-34 and young women.
The series also has seen a respectable increase in overall viewership, drawing 4.7 million total viewers for the season so far compared to 4.1 million last year.
As the finale approaches Tuesday night, the future is looking uncertain for Luke and Lorelai: New opportunities threaten to take her away from her tiny Connecticut town and love. There are hints, however, that other pressures may be building.
For Rory (Alexis Bledel), an internship with Logan's (Matt Czuchry) media tycoon father forces her to doubt her career choice and more. 'People love this show'
Scott Patterson, who plays Luke, doesn't need to track the ratings to know their direction. Viewer fervor is his measurement of interest in his on-screen fling with Lorelai (Lauren Graham).
"The kind of fan mail I get, the kind of response I get out in public is stunning," Patterson told The Associated Press. "People love this show. They think it's really happening. It's wild."
There's known danger when TV characters convert desire to action. Call it "Moonlighting" syndrome, a reference to the hit 1980s Cybill Shepherd-Bruce Willis series that fizzled after their characters gave in to lust.
"Gilmore Girls" benefited from the unfulfilled longing between Luke and Lorelai, Patterson said, but he wasn't worried that the show would "jump the shark" -- lose its way -- if they got together.
"I never thought that because I know how good the writing is. Now there's a new tension created," he said.
His confidence is based on the stellar talent of Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show's creator and executive producer (the latter title shared with her husband, Daniel Palladino).
Patterson's relationship with the show began slowly. He was cast in the pilot, then was offered two episodes, then four. Now he's been in just about every episode, playing the perfect square-jawed, big-shouldered hero, albeit a cranky one.
Among the show's delights is the clever repartee, the sort of rapid-fire banter that film buffs savor in classics including 1940s' "His Girl Friday" with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
The challenge for Patterson is to keep it real when Luke is confronted by motormouth Lorelai.
"The big trick, if there's any trick, is not to get caught up in her rhythm or in that fast-banter thing, because when you do you lose the character. That's not Luke." From baseball to acting
The 46-year-old Patterson, who grew up in New Jersey, turned to acting after seven years in minor-league baseball. He played in school, including Valencia Community College in Orlando, and turned down scholarships at Arizona State and USC when the Atlanta Braves drafted him.
Traded after three years to the New York Yankees, he says the four years he spent with that team's farm club ended up killing his dreams of a big-league pitching career.
"It was not a good experience, all in all, to be in that organization in the early '80s," he said, calling the Yankees' front office "asleep at the wheel."
An extended visit to Europe helped him shake off the disappointment, but the sour experience prepared him "for just about anything. ... I never take rejection personally."
He tried acting at the urging of a New York couple he'd met abroad and "fell in love with it. I found something I could train at, something that would challenge me. I could see I could take my work ethic and make up for a lot of lost time."
Supporting TV and movie roles led to "Gilmore Girls" and sudden celebrity. One reward is the chance to help charities, said Patterson, who focuses on those that serve ill youngsters and is helping raise money for Johns Hopkins children's facility.
The extraordinary bravery of the kids he meets lends perspective "if you ever complain that the hours (at work) are too long, or whatever you come up with."