'Sex and the City' gets set to call it a night

Times Staff Writer

HBO is preparing for life without "Sex."

The pay cable network has announced that the upcoming season of "Sex and the City," about four single women living and loving in the Big Apple, will be its last. An extended 20-episode curtain call for the series will begin production at the end of March, and is scheduled to start airing in June. A typical season for the HBO comedy lasts an average of 16 episodes.

The Emmy-winning comedy, along with "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under," has been one of the key building blocks transforming HBO in recent years into a powerhouse for original series. HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht praised the show on Monday in a news conference for television writers, calling it a hallmark for the network.

HBO executives said they and the show's producers jointly agreed to end the show on a creative high note.

"It's hard to gauge, it's almost immeasurable the significance of what 'Sex and the City" means to HBO," said Carolyn Strauss, executive vice president of original programming for the network. "The series created its own kind of form, where comedy and drama could be together, and where these characters related directly to our audience."

Following up "Sex and the City" is a priority for HBO, and the network already has several series in development that could fill that void. Strauss said, "What we're doing now is what we always do -- look for people who have great stories to tell and the wherewithal to tell them."

Series being developed include "Deadwood," a western from "NYPD Blue" co-creator David Milch; "Carnivale," about a traveling circus; and "Good in Bed," a comedy from "Sex and the City" writer Jenny Bicks.

The future of "Sex and the City" had been questioned for several months. Star Sarah Jessica Parker recently gave birth, and co-star Cynthia Nixon had indicated last November that the coming season would be the last, although HBO said at the time that no decision had been made. The possibility of securing an additional year beyond the coming season was a possibility.

Since its June 1998 premiere, "Sex and the City" has stirred buzz with its raunchy dialogue voiced by four female characters. The center of the series was columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Parker) and her newspaper column, Sex and the City, which explored how men and women experienced relationships differently. It was inspired by writer Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City column, which was formerly published in the New York Observer.

Carrie's highs and lows were shared by her three close friends -- sexually insatiable Samantha (Kim Cattrall), idealist Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and realist Miranda (Nixon).

The series became a popular and industry favorite not only because of its provocative stories and frank approach toward sex, but also for its showcasing of the fast-lane life of Manhattan with its all-night parties, flashy restaurants and eye-popping fashion. The series also earned kudos for keeping its comic edge while dealing sensitively with life in New York City following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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