ABC courted Star and “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell to greenlight the series about four single women — played by Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis — seeking love in New York City.
“I wanted to do a show that felt more like an independent film made for TV — R-rated and adult, very frank and honest about sexual relationships,” Star said in new book “It’s Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO,” by Felix Gillette and John Koblin, out now.
Author Bushnell remembered running into Jamie Tarses, the then head of ABC’s entertainment division, in Bridgehampton while on rollerblades. “Candace!” Bushnell recalled Tarses yelling from her car. “We really want to buy this at ABC. We really do. Who’s your agent?”
However, Star had reservations about returning to network TV. “It’s Not TV” states that while “under normal circumstances, Star and Bushnell would have chosen Tarses and ABC,” Star was wary of venturing back into the network TV landscape, especially when ABC was then recently purchased by the Walt Disney Company in 1996 and boasted a lineup of sitcoms like “Ellen” and “Home Improvement.”
“Star had lost interest in doing a standard comedy in front of a live studio audience with canned punch lines and an aggressive laugh track,” Gillette and Koblin wrote in “It’s Not TV.”
“He was pissed off at network television,” Bushnell added. “He was angry [after CBS canceled his series ‘Central Park West’].”
Star remembered how it was a “traumatic experience dealing with sex on ‘90210’” and the pushback he received for wanting a homosexual character in West Hollywood-set “Melrose Place.”
“I asked them, ‘Are you even going to be able to call the show ‘Sex and the City?’” Star said of ABC. “I do feel like it would have become ‘Love, American Style’ over there.”
And burgeoning network HBO “really pursued it hard. Like, they wanted it. They really wanted it,” Bushnell said of the “Sex and the City” deal.
She continued, “I didn’t even own a TV. The literary world wasn’t even keen on movie adaptations. There was a feeling that they didn’t want to sully the work. The HBO guys were part of the world socially, but not creatively. It was books. It was literature. It was going to Elaine’s.”
Star had pitched the adaptation of Bushnell’s work to HBO’s then-president Carolyn Strauss as a modern version of 1960s series “That Girl.”
“The characters in the book were fantastic,” Strauss said. “And it was that kind of aspirational thing. It was irreverent. It was funny.”
Ultimately, “Sex and the City” landed at HBO and ran from 1998 to 2004, garnering seven Emmy wins and spurring the revival series “And Just Like That.” In a full circle move just three years after “SATC” wrapped, HBO president Strauss passed on a “SATC”-inspired drama called “Desperate Housewives,” which instead went to ABC.