The Sex and the City opening credits: A 5-minute oral history
The “do-do-do-do,” the tutu, the New York City skyline — this was how we first met Carrie Bradshaw, long before the heroine ever busted out an “I couldn’t help but wonder.” Nearly 20 years later, the collective brains behind the six-season phenomenon think back on creating that indelible main-title sequence.
As a first step, Sex and the City creator Darren Star looked to classic female-fronted series.
Darren Star: I was really inspired by the That Girl main title, which told the story of Anne Marie [Marlo Thomas] coming to New York, and I thought about The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I wanted to give a sense of the character, tell a little bit of a story, and let the audience know that Carrie was never going to take herself too seriously.
Before scenes were shot, composer Douglas Cuomo took a crack at what would become the famed main-title Sex and the City theme. Star asked for something sexy and sophisticated, to let the audience know it was okay to laugh.
Douglas Cuomo: I was given a rough storyboard — it was a cartoon where the women went from brunch to shoe shopping and, later, an art museum. I went to Virgin Records and found the “Space-Age Bachelor Pad” music section and thought that might work, so I hired a drummer and saxophone player for the demo and had about 10 days to do it. The music had sections because of the scenes in the storyboard, and right before I played it in a meeting with Darren, he said, “Oh, we’re not doing that anymore!” The song was 37 seconds, but it seemed like it took an hour to play through — I was very nervous. When you’re playing music for someone, you have no idea whether it’s the greatest or worst thing ever. After Darren heard it once, he said, “You hit a home run.” That almost never happens. His only note was to make it a little longer, so I made that little climbing part at the end a little longer, which made it more effective.
Star: I wanted a Latin, cocktail-themed vibe, and I loved Doug’s song the second I heard it. It’s very, very infectious. It captured exactly the feeling that I wanted.
Cuomo: For the real song, I had a bass player, drummer, saxophone player, percussionist and pianist. We recorded the song near the Empire State Building.
Star: You know, the show really wasn’t that popular the first season — it was kind of slow to catch on. I remember driving around L.A. playing the theme song in my car and wondering if anyone was going to recognize it. [Laughs]
Cuomo: I heard that it was Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s ringtone. [Laughs]
With the music nailed down, Star came up with a new premise: Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker (now on HBO’s Divorce), walks around Manhattan and gets splashed by a bus bearing an ad for her own newspaper column. The opening was filmed in March 1998 on Fifth Avenue near Manhattan’s Plaza hotel; the pilot premiered in June.
Star: The series was always about four women, but the viewer’s way into the show is through Carrie. It was important to establish this young, single woman who’s writing a column exploring sex and relationships and, in the process, learning about life. And part of learning about life is getting splashed by a bus. She has this moment of glory that ended very quickly.
Sarah Jessica Parker: I thought it was a very smart way of doing the pie in the face before anybody else could do it. I hadn’t [yet] been Carrie Bradshaw for a long time. If we had shot it a year later, I would’ve understood exactly how she walks. But that was part of figuring it out that day. And the point of view was strong enough that I didn’t need as much information as I might’ve needed for a scene. It’s a really tight sequence, but if you look at the amount of footage covered, it’s not a great amount of mileage.
Star: I think we got it on the first or second take.
Parker: Someone was throwing buckets of water at me. Well, not buckets, but enough for me to have to avoid it. Prop people are always going out of their way to make the water warm, but there’s not a lot they can typically do to control it when you’re working on the street. If I was cold, I survived. It’s so little to ask of me.
Star hired costume designer Patricia Field for the opening sequence. The two continued to work together for all six seasons, on both film spin-offs, and on Star’s current project, Younger, for TV Land. Field found Carrie’s iconic tutu in a $5 bin on a showroom floor and re-created four versions of it.
Patricia Field: It was very difficult for the producers to understand the tutu. Sarah Jessica and I were fighting for it, and Darren said, “Okay, but I want other outfits as possibilities.”
Star: I remember thinking, “Wow, a tutu?” But Pat and Sarah Jessica were very committed to it. I would say it was one of many times where they’d have a wardrobe and I’d look at it and say, “I don’t get it, but go for it!” We did one pass where Carrie’s in a beautiful blue dress, but she doesn’t get splashed. Instead she trips when she sees the ad.
Parker: I tripped a lot that day! It was not a fancy tutu, and we doubled the tank top because it was see-through and Pat didn’t want me wearing a bra. I remember the shoes — they were leopard-print and strappy. I wore them throughout the first season — we really asked a lot of that shoe. I wore makeup in the opening that I didn’t wear in the show, and I don’t think she ever wore that hairstyle, either, so it felt like this sort of lifted thing that existed on its own. It nodded to a person but wasn’t reflective of everything we knew her to be. But I just thought the whole thing was right.
Field: I told Darren that if the show was a hit, we’d need something completely original — not of that season or a certain time. In the end, the tutu won.
Star: It was such a brilliant choice because in a way, Carrie’s dancing through her life in New York.
Sex and the City