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The next ''Sex and the City''?

Ten years after viewers fell in love with ”SATC,” the TV industry is still trying to figure out what was so special about Ms. Bradshaw and Co. Can ”Cashmere Mafia,” ”Lipstick Jungle,” or any other knock-off ever get it right?

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ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN McCABE

Scene A: Three well-dressed women wander through a wonderland of designer shoes with three-figure price tags. They drool over spiked heels, platform wedges, patent-leather boots. One complains that she doesn’t have enough money, but asks the salesman for a few different pairs in her size anyway. Coos another, ”You’re in heaven, dude; smell the suede.”

Scene B: Four girlfriends gather for lunch at their favorite spot. One produces a huge engagement ring on her left hand to a chorus of squeals. Another whines about her own romantic struggles, having gone through an ambush breakup just that morning. ”Sorry,” she grumbles, ”I’m having trust issues with men right now.”

So tell us, readers: Are these snapshots from Sex and the City, or from 2008’s Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle? No matter which answer you chose, congratulations, you’re right! Although the dialogue comes from the new shows, the action — and sentiments — match scenes from Sex and the City as perfectly as a pair of Manolos. Four years after Carrie fled Paris for her New York City home in the series finale, Sex and the City suddenly seems to have more imitators than Samantha had lovers. ABC’s Cashmere is exec-produced by none other than Sex creator Darren Star, while NBC’s Lipstick (which debuted Feb. 7) is based on a novel by SATC author Candace Bushnell. These two examples of Sex-ploitation are merely the latest in a long line of knock-offs — none of which has generated even a fraction of the excitement of the original. Witness the frenzy over the forthcoming Sex and the City movie — since filming began last September, every paparazzi-fueled spoiler has been dissected (Dear Lord, is she wearing a giant scrunchie?) ad nauseam. It’s clear that viewers are more than a little Sex-starved. So we couldn’t help but wonder: In a post-postfeminist, post-Carrie Bradshaw world, will there ever be another Sex and the City?

It’s hard to remember given today’s copycat culture, but Sex and the City was, in fact, revolutionary when it premiered on HBO in 1998. ”It really was a turning point,” says feminist scholar Naomi Wolf. ”There hadn’t been women at the center of a quest narrative before. No one had ever thought women were that interesting.” Chick-centric programming at the time consisted of the slapsticky (Caroline in the City), the sentimental (Touched by an Angel), and the soapy (Melrose Place). Ally McBeal beat Sex to the single-girl punch by nine months, though all she got for her trouble was a TIME magazine cover accusing her of destroying feminism with her need for a boyfriend. Sex offered four ladies who wanted not only boyfriends, but lots of boyfriends. Copious nude scenes, awkward coital encounters, and graphic talk about vibrators followed. In August 2000, the ladies graced their very own TIME cover, but this one had an empowering headline: ”Who Needs a Husband?” ”There was this weird, palpable moment when we realized something was happening,” says former Sex writer Jenny Bicks, who went on to create and exec-produce ABC’s sex-in-the-Alaskan-wilderness dramedy Men in Trees. ”You’d hear people at the table next to you saying something like ‘Oh, my God, what he just did was so Mr. Big.”’

NEXT PAGE: ”If you go back to watch the pilot of Sex and the City, you get that show right from the beginning, and that is so hard. But it looks so easy.”

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