Candace Bushnell and Darren Star. In fact, without this one routine assignment, the Sex and the City we know would never have come to pass. Star was branching out on his own without Spelling, and the critics would be watching to see if Star was the real deal.
Soon after the two met for the piece, Star moved to Manhattan, and Bushnell swept him into her orbit to show him around the area—for Central Park West research, of course. He had never met anyone more fun. They commemorated their friendship in ultimate Hollywood fashion: Star—a handsome gay man with brown, spiky hair—connected with Bushnell as a fellow suburban kid made good. He spent his childhood in Potomac, Maryland, a middle- to upper-class DC suburb full of politicians, ambassadors, and their families.
Young Darren took film classes in high school and hoped to work in the movie industry as a writer and director. He used his bar mitzvah money to get himself a subscription to the show business trade publication Variety. While other kids partied or played sports, he made his own movies with his Super 8 camera. After graduating high school, he moved to California to study writing and film at UCLA, from which he graduated in Degree in hand, he took the classic first step toward a Hollywood career: He became a waiter.
He soon, however, got his first industry job. Star was working as a publicist for Showtime when he sold his first screenplay to Warner Bros. He could now quit his job to write screenplays full-time. Stupin asked if Star would write a high school show, given his teen-oriented script experience. So at age twenty-eight, he moved right back to Los Angeles to make a show with Spelling. The gamble paid off. Together, Spelling and Star created a series called Beverly Hills, , which followed the melodramatic lives of a group of wealthy Los Angeles teenagers.
With the money Star made on the pilot, he paid cash for a Porsche. The show premiered in October to unimpressive ratings, but Fox executives decided to air the second season in the summer, when there was minimal competition for audiences. Teenagers home from school for the season fell for it by the millions in July But good fortune brought with it a heavy burden: This made for an insane production schedule; the staff had almost no hiatuses to break up long seasons of twelve-hour workdays.
For the television season, Star created another show for Fox, the young-adult drama Melrose Place, which featured even more unapologetic sex and sensational plot lines about twentysomethings. Fox once again followed its supersized strategy and ordered thirty-two episodes of Melrose each of its first three years. In short, Star spent the early s becoming rich and successful, and working too hard to notice. Because he was in his early thirties, this streak hit at the perfect time in his life; he had energy and ambition to burn, with few other responsibilities to distract him.
Bolstered by his success, he moved again to New York, this time to make a show about the city: He and his golden retriever, Judy Jetson, settled into a three-floor apartment owned by model-turned-restaurateur Eric Petterson. Finally living in his dream city, Star took lunches and breakfasts at 44, a restaurant known for its publishing-industry clientele, so he could get a better feel for the magazine world he planned to depict on his new series. He went to charity benefits and book parties for further research.
After meeting Candace Bushnell for that article, he had more material than he ever dreamed possible. As he hung out with Bushnell, he got to know her friends, including her paramour, Ron Galotti—a.
He admired how she mixed journalism and her own personal stories. He told Bushnell that he wanted to be the one to option the column. He thought it might make a great follow-up project to Central Park West someday. A broadcast network like ABC seemed so sanitary.
HBO seemed so niche and male-centric, with its signature boxing matches and standup comedy specials. She had no idea what a movie company might do with her work. But Star was her buddy. After all of the mid-Rollerblading courtship and Media Beach cajoling she had been through, she decided this was the answer. I needed to make it more accessible.
He had long wanted to make a glamorous show set in New York City. Star aimed to bring the posh world of New York media, of glossy magazines like Vanity Fair, to television audiences. New York City itself had entered a time of transition with the election of Rudy Giuliani as mayor in It was no longer the crime-ridden New York of the s, not yet the theme park New York of the s.
A smoking ban in restaurants. An Old Navy discount chain store in the hip gay haven of Chelsea. Neighborhoods were transforming faster than many residents could stand. But the changes also indicated a shift toward a Manhattan that was more inviting to the rest of the country—that is, the majority of television viewers.
Darren Star invited columnist Candace Bushnell, author Bret Easton Ellis, and publisher Ron Galotti to his apartment on the evening of September 13, , to watch a little television. They watched as a sultry Latin beat and crooning saxophones played over the opening credits. Central Park West lasted thirteen episodes before the network stopped production, tried to retool it, and then dumped the remaining episodes onto the schedule the following summer.
Central Park West closed down for good. Star was disappointed that his first show about New York City, and his first show without Aaron Spelling, had failed. Done correctly, he thought, they could make for a great, honest movie about sex and relationships from a female perspective, with a New York sensibility.
Perhaps this, instead, could be his ticket to a respectable solo career. He liked the idea of returning to film. He wanted nothing to do with it anymore. Central Park West had broken him. Sex and the City could show the world he could make it without Spelling, and do so in the more prestigious world of film. But momentum pushed him back in the television direction.
HBO, on the other hand, seemed so New York; it was based there and would be more likely to produce the show there. In his meetings with HBO, Star explained to vice president of original programming Carolyn Strauss that he saw Sex and the City as a modern, R-rated version of The Mary Tyler Moore Show—a series about sex and relationships from a female point of view.
In the end, Star gave it to HBO. In fact, he specifically did not want commercial success. He wanted to make something special that he could be proud of. Tarses had lost, and she understood why.
From there, she went into the production side of television, where she could create the shows she liked best; her credits would include acclaimed singles-focused comedies My Boys and Happy Endings. HBO executives would search for series that met their own quality standards, thus ensuring that artistic merits came first.
In evaluating a show, they asked whether it was good and whether it would get attention—not whether everyone in America would watch.
Broadcast networks, which run on advertising dollars, had never cared about quality as much as they cared about ratings. Their business model had to prioritize commerce over art.