What does it take to get this man to blush? Try a story line in which Samantha sets out to seduce a 72-year-old millionaire—before being turned off by the sight of his wrinkled derriere. "After we got the shot, I slipped the guy a hundred bucks," the show's creator Darren Star says, "because I thought whatever he was getting paid, it wasn't enough!"
Besides, the 39-year-old Star knows what it's like to have, um, bottomed out. After successes with Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place, he watched as his prime-time soap, Central Park West, flopped. But with the 1998 debut of Sex and the City, says writer and co-executive producer Cindy Chupack, Star—the oldest of three children raised in Potomac, Md., by a journalist mother and orthodontist father—found a way of "proving to the world that he could do great television." Unfortunately, his latest projects haven't fared well: Last season's The Street and Grosse Pointe were both canceled.
Still, Star—who is gay and shares homes with sitcom director Dennis Erdman, 39, in Los Angeles and New York City—remains undaunted: This season, he is scaling back his Sex duties to pursue other projects, including a film based on the book Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War, about the exploits of a photojournalism "It's the trap of television," Star says. "No matter how successful you get, you always have to keep going."
MICHAEL PATRICK KING
It was during his boyhood in Scranton, Pa., that executive producer Michael Patrick King got his first taste of showbiz. The only son in an Irish Catholic family, headed by a custodian father and a mother who worked in a doughnut shop, recalls "using my-three sisters to stage religious epics in the backyard." By the time he started writing for Murphy Brown and Will & Grace, however, King had switched his focus to "the journey to and from sex," he says, impressing colleagues like Murphy creator Diane English with his ability "to go from comedic to poignant." It helps that King, 42, who lives alone in a New York City brownstone (he also owns a house in Los Angeles) is willing to share—and laugh at—his own humiliations. Case in point: After workers at his local Chinese restaurant mocked him for placing the same order every night, he used the incident for a Miranda story line last season.
JENNY BICKS AND CINDY CHUPACK
Since they started writing for a show about relationships, consulting producer Jenny Bicks (left) and co-executive producer Cindy Chupack have seen their own relationships—romantic and otherwise—take a turn for the weird. When it comes to dating (both women are single and split their time between Los Angeles and New York City), "every guy either is worried he'll end up as a character on the show—or he wants to end up a character in the show, so he starts trying to be really funny," says Chupack, 36. Other encounters are just plain creepy. "People want to tell you their stories," says Bicks, 35. "You learn things about your friends' sex lives that you don't necessarily want to know!" And the education in intimacy doesn't stop there, says Chupack, the younger of two daughters raised in Tulsa, Okla., by an accountant father and homemaker mother. "One time my dad said to me, 'I thought that "Threesome" episode was really good,' " she recalls with a groan. But both Bicks, a Williams College grad who'd previously written for Seinfeld, and Chupack, an alumna of Northwestern University and Everybody Loves Raymond, agree that working on Sex and the City does come with at least one major perk. "Our jobs give us an 'in' to every celebrity we've ever wanted to meet," says Bicks, one of four children raised in New York City by a teacher father and lawyer mother. She points to a particularly meaningful encounter at this year's Golden Globe Awards: "Cindy walked up to Benicio Del Toro. I turn around, and she's got her arms around him. People are taking pictures, like they're a couple. She actually said out loud: 'Hmmm, me and Benicio Del Toro.' "
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