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The Last of the Red Hot Mamas

As they head into their final season, the single and fabulous women of HBO’s SEX AND THE CITY take a look back at the hoopla, the heartbreak, and the haute couture

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Oh, so you just get to walk away?”

It’s a gorgeous, camera-ready May night in the Village. Street lamps illuminate quaint brownstones. Tree blossoms flutter down to the damp pavement. And the Sex and the City crew is hard at work filming Sarah Jessica Parker (as love-challenged Carrie Bradshaw) huffily hoofing away from Ron Livingston, who, as latest boyfriend Jack Berger, is calling after her in exasperation. Parker plays out the emotional merry-go-round scene convincingly, but the perfectionist in her isn’t pleased with her performance and she asks for a redo. ”Make it go away,” she says of her last take, scrunching her face and waving her hands like she just downed a four-alarm chili pepper. ”Make it go away….”

Soon enough, it will. Ever since HBO announced last January that its flagship comedy, which debuted in 1998, would call it quits after this season, millions of Sex fans have been weeping and rending their Prada pencil skirts. Here are a few tidbits about season 6 to tide you over: Samantha bags a beau in twentysomething waiter Jerry (Jason Lewis); Charlotte ponders converting to Judaism for her attorney boyfriend, Harry (Evan Handler); Miranda falls for an opposite-of-Steve guy; and Carrie gets busy, first with writer Jack and then with a legendary European artist (the role will be cast soon). Big and Aidan pop up again, and Sex exec producer Michael Patrick King teases, ”There will be a wedding or two.”

As Carrie & Co. primp for their final hurrah — the first half of the season begins June 22; the second half kicks off in January — we offer a sneak peek ahead and a lusty look back at what made Sex the funkiest, spunkiest comedy on TV.

I: Foreplay

The big bang theory begins with a single star — Darren Star, who created Fox hits Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place before heading to New York City to launch CBS’ 1995 glitzy miss Central Park West. It was there that Star befriended Candace Bushnell, author of a titillating column for The New York Observer called ”Sex and the City.” And he couldn’t help but wonder: What if he turned her column into a TV series that explored sex and relationships from a female perspective?

DARREN STAR In the summer of ’96, I had conversations with a couple of networks. I met with ABC, and my question to them was ”Could you even call it Sex and the City?” I’d been a big Larry Sanders fan, and I envisioned a single-camera film comedy that wasn’t a sitcom and would be really adult in tone. I knew HBO was the only place that would allow that kind of freedom.

CAROLYN STRAUSS (HBO executive VP, original programming) He pitched it as Mary Tyler Moore for the ’90s, but with sex. Our ears perked up. And I think he was on the phone from the Hamptons, so obviously we were jealous.

II: Cruising for Chicks

In spring 1997, Star began casting the colorful quartet: hard-edged lawyer Miranda; uptight optimist Charlotte; Samantha, a flashy publicist who samples men like finger food; and Carrie, our charming, bumbling columnist-narrator…