“Sex and the City,” the groundbreaking HBO series that ran for six seasons and still remains in syndication today, premiered this week in 1998.
Set and filmed in NYC, the series chronicled the lives, trials, and triumphs of friends Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha – four single, 30-something professional women. The series’ production process differed dramatically from network norms, and SATC (as nicknamed by fans), defied expectations about both the popularity and commercial viability of a series produced by and for a subscription cable network.
Executive producer and creator Darren Star, already a proven success with earlier hit series “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Melrose Place”, chose HBO for the series’ home, over an offer from broadcaster ABC. Star opted for HBO for several reasons, including that the series’ stories were unlikely to be told in basic cable in the same unfiltered manner as they could be on HBO. The series is credited with jump starting HBO’s popular awareness.
As a premium subscription network, HBO relies heavily on its programming and its viewers’ willingness to pay for premium programming. The channel’s success comes from offering a number of programs that target the tastes of a wide range of audiences, but does not provide too much programming for any one age or demographic group.
SATC, with its specific appeal to young, upscale, professional women, was an ideal addition to the HBO schedule. No other series on TV precisely addressed this group. And much of HBO’s schedule, such as live boxing, and the magazine series “Inside the NFL” appealed to men.
The later syndication success of the series was not likely at the series’ start in 1998. Though the series generated buzz for HBO, the audience size was small, and only about one of three US homes subscribed to HBO. It was this limited exposure that gave HBO high syndication value, due to the potential to reach new audiences once the series left HBO.
The series was sold to advertiser-supported TBS for a second run. A few years later, HBO sold a second package of re-airs to E! and Style. Interest in the series has also been rekindled by two SATC movies. And thanks to its devoted female fans, SATC has made millions of dollars not just for HBO, TBS, and E!, but has also created a product placement and fashion economy of its own.
From beverage makers such as Skyy Vodka and Glaceau VitaminWater, to purse and shoe companies, Forbes has reported on businesses continuing to cash in on ”SATC” enduring appeal.
When HBO sold the rights to SATC to fellow Time Warner cable outlet TBS, it was for $750,000 an episode. The show is syndicated in over 200 countries. HBO’s online store sells 74 SATC-themed items. HBO has said it made “hundreds of millions of dollars” from subscriptions, syndication, and licensing related to the series.
In this 2016 ad for AT&T TV, which features iconic TV and movie scenes and characters, 23 seconds in, a woman in a white dress is splashed as a bus goes through a puddle with a familiar song in the background: