Digging Into The Subversive Power Behind That Little Show About Sex, Cosmos, Shoes, and So Much More
The bestselling author of 'Sex and the City and Us' explores what a big impact this series made -- on the culture and individuals like her -- when it hit the zeitgeist 20 years ago.By Abby WestJul 20, 2018 9:08 AM
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Twenty years ago a little show about a group of single women trying to live their best lives in New York City went on air, leaving us all forever obsessed with cupcakes, and shaping television's view of female friendships. Pop culture journalist Jennifer Keishin Armstrong brought all her skills to bear in her narrative history of the hit show, Sex and the City and Us, just in time for the anniversary of Sex and the City. Armstrong, who I worked with at Entertainment Weekly and who wrote the best-selling Seinfeldia, stopped by Audible to talk about her great interviews for the book, the prevailing themes from the show that remain relevant, and why she needed to be the one recording her very personal intro.
Abby West: Hi everyone, this is Abby West here with Katie O'Connor ...
Katie O'Connor: Hi.
AW: ... your Audible editors, and we have a special guest today. Her name is Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, and I've got to make sure that I say that right.
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong: Keishin.
JKA: Keishin like vacation without the "va."
AW: I've never said your full name before. I just realized that.
JKA: I appreciate you including it though, because a lot of times people just try to go right around it, and I'd rather have it wrong than not included.
AW: All right, [Laughter] I wanted to give you the opportunity to correct it.
JKA: Yes. [Laughter]
AW: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, who has a new book coming out that I'm pretty excited about. It's Sex and the City and Us, which is kind of amazing because I think Katie and I can agree, we're all obsessed with Sex and the City.
KO: I mean, is it sad to say that I still drink Cosmos because of the show?
AW: That's amazing actually. We're going to go with super amazing. I know. It is.
KO: I mean, I've modified it slightly, I now do orange vodka instead of just regular vodka to give it a little citrus twist.
AW: Interesting. I like it.
KO: But it's still, when I'm feeling festive, and I like to credit the girls for that.
JKA: Yes. We were very lucky. And people really like to talk about Seinfeld, hopefully as much as they like to talk about Sex and the City.
AW: Well, especially now, with Cynthia Nixon running for office, I think that people are going to be talking about it a lot.
JKA: Yes, it's been a weird thing because you would never think, this is coming after the 20th anniversary, so you wouldn't really think that there'd be constant breaking news that you're worried about incorporating into this book, but it's been kind of crazy, and I was lucky. We ran a tight deadline, so in a weird way that turned out great, because we just did the final pass-through, the final proofs, and I was actually able to add the fact that Cynthia was running ...
AW: Oh, that's amazing.
JKA: ... which is incredible because it's just because we had such a tight schedule that we were able to do that. And I really thank her from the bottom of my heart for doing this. I was like, that's so nice of her to go to all this trouble to promote my book.
JKA: What I will say is that one thing I really like about it specifically, not just that she's in the news, but, I'm going to steal someone else's joke from Twitter, someone said: This is the ending to Sex and the City we deserve.
AW: Love it.
I feel like my big theme for this book overall was the idea of the power of women telling their own stories.
JKA: And it makes me happy because it really turns the focus to kind of the smarter elements of the show, and the more empowering elements of the show, and oh my God, Miranda, who has sort of secretly become everyone's favorite character over time -- we all used to say we were Carrie and now we all are like no, I'm a Miranda. And it turns out we've all been thinking that the whole time, we just didn't talk about it until now. So it's this really wonderful moment when so many women are running for office, and so is Miranda.
KO: Yeah, I'm, although I have to say, I've always thought and I still think I am a Charlotte.
JKA: That's nice.
KO: I'm just a little too naïve at times.
AW: You're too snarky to be naive...
KO: Well, I appreciate that. I've always felt a little green.
JKA: Yes. I'm sorry that was ... I know it's handful.
AW: It's a mouthful.
JKA: I know it is. Later I was like we're not doing that strategy for titling again. Yeah. I like that progression, and I also do feel not surprisingly almost like the Sex and the City book is a sequel to the Mary Tyler Moore Show book. My big inspiration for Mary Tyler Moore Show besides just that it's the Mary Tyler Moore Show is that it was the first show with multiple women on staff. Like not just one token, but that they hired tons of women. They did it on purpose to use their own experiences so that it felt realistic. That's extremely similar to what happened with Sex and the City. That it was two men who ran it also the same as the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Two men who ran it and created it, but it was an all-female staff, which, at that time, 20 years ago-
AW: That's a big deal.
JKA: Even 10 or 5 years ago, it was a big deal.
AW: We're still talking about Ava DuVernay having all female directors for Queen Sugar right now, in 2018.
JKA: I feel like we're just getting there now where it seems normal, but it's really exciting. Yeah, Jessica Jones just did that, too. Transparent has a mostly female writing staff. There are those now, but it's pretty extraordinary to see nothing but women there. They really were all literally just coming into work every morning with their dating stories from the previous night and putting them into scripts.
AW: I love that. You come by way of your pop culture and TV love, and knowledge, and skills pretty honestly, having spent how many years at Entertainment Weekly?
JKA: I was at EW for just under 10 years. I covered mostly television, mostly women in television. I really covered like the rise of Tina Fey. That was one of my big things. Again, that feels, too, appease with this and women in comedy.
AW: My question to you before was going to be what made you choose Sex and the City [to write about], but it feels like, as you said, a kind of a progression of your interest and background.
JKA: Yeah, definitely. I would say that it's funny because when I left EW to write The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I already had the Sex and the City idea in the back of my head. I wasn't the main person on the Sex and the City [beat] at the time, but I had helped out with some reporting as it went on and had talked to the writers and knew these stories about how difficult it was to date, for instance, when you would say, "I'm a writer on Sex and the City." I thought that was so interesting.
I didn't do it right away because I felt like maybe we should do something a little different for the second one. This is always in the back of my mind. Then the other part for me is this is probably my most ... Hey, this sounds like a cliché. This is my most personal book. Because I wrote about TV shows, they're not usually personal, but this one, Sex and the City was super important to me. I, in fact, wrote the introduction in the first person because it felt like there was no way I could write about this topic without first saying that. The first line of the book, spoiler alert, is "I left my fiancé for Sex and the City."
KO: What a great opening line.
JKA: The minute I knew I was going to write this book, I was like, I don't care what happens. That is the first line. That I will fight to the death for this. That's the first line. I tell the story about, obviously, it wasn't just Sex and the City. I'm not an idiot. I wasn't like I have to leave now.
There were other things going on, but Sex and the City was my guidebook out to a new life. I was living in New Jersey with my fiancé, realized things were going wrong when we had moved to the city area very recently, and I started hanging out in the city working at Entertainment Weekly. Suddenly, I was like, "Oh, there's a bunch of stuff I haven't done" because I had been with my college sweetheart, and I had been with him for about 10 years at that point. I, just in time, realized "Oh, I can't just nail this down."
I was new to the city. Sex and the City, was on at the time. I would literally watch it--it's embarrassing--then be like, oh, they went to Sushisamba, we have to go to Sushisamba.
It's also important to remember this is before Yelp. I just didn't know where to go. When you're new in New York City, there's actually too many options.
AW: It's over all the place. Yes.
JKA: I know there's plenty of places to go, but there's too many options. This way, I had a girlfriend that I had recently met. She was single. We basically would play Sex and the City. You know what I mean? We get ready at her place in the city and we'd watch it sometimes while we were doing that. Then we'd go to these places that we're in it. It was really both that and the bigger issue of just showing me this other life that could happen where men could come and go, where you could have just your girlfriends, where you could be independent and successful, and in the city. That really helped me. My life didn't look anything like that ... you know what I mean?
Part of Sex and the City's revolutionary quality is actually the fluffy fun because it's the only way they were going to get past everything into the mainstream.
AW: No cool apartment?
KO: No storage closet of Manolo Blahniks?
JKA: No. I had my first apartment after that where the shower's in the kitchen. I had a mouse, and I literally moved above an Indian restaurant, so everything smelled of curry all times and two Indian men from the restaurants would stand at my door at all times trying to get people to come in to the restaurants. It's like having a doorman. I couldn't afford those clothes or shoes or anything, and I'm not really a heels girl anyway. I think that my experience is very similar to a lot of other women's, which is something a lot of men are skeptical about. Did you really think you're living the Sex and the City life? I don't know how to explain to you, but yes. It looked nothing like it, and yet spiritually, it felt like I was doing that. It felt like I don't know if I would have known how to do that without those women.
AW: I think it's weird because at the time, to be a strong woman, so many strong women would say, "I don't have girlfriends. Women are so hard to be friends with." That was a very prevailing narrative at the time. It's weird to think about it now. It feels like duh. At the time, it was a really big deal to say your girlfriends were that important.
JKA: The origin of "squad goals."
JKA: It's total squad goals. That's another one of those things. You just said, too, it's one of those things that's duh now. I feel like there's a list of 5 to 10 things from Sex and the City that it's like part of my job here is to explain to people back in the day in 1998, children, this is how life was. We would get in our horse and buggy. It's really true. We didn't even have that many "strong" female characters-- I have come to hate that terminology even because it's like how about just normal?
On top of that, the fact that they made their friends their family was huge because, first of all, being friends with multiple other women.
AW: Multiple, yeah.
JKA: Then, also, the friends is a family thing. It sound like a cliché now, too, but that's really important because it showed that why they were able to be independent of men is because they didn't need to build that family immediately to survive in the world. They didn't need to get a husband and immediately have children to prove their worth or to just get through things.
So there some of these beautiful moments, one of my favorite episodes is where Miranda's mother dies, and they go to support her at the funeral. There's that moment where all the other siblings, Miranda's siblings are walking down the aisle after the coffin with their spouses. They were also concerned about who she was going to walk with. Then the girls come up and grabbed her hand and walk up with her. That's really big for the show to the point where they barely even showed the women's families, which is weird. They're perfect.
It's okay. That's okay. They actually, apparently, did that on purpose. You don't even notice that's not there until it's pointed out to you. The point is that they made them feel like really each other's people.
AW: I think you just recently mentioned it to me that you're going to be recording that first, the intro because it's the first person, and it's so personal. How are you feeling about approaching the studio?
JKA: Yeah, I'm really excited. I'm actually doing it in three days. I'm very excited. It's weird. I didn't know it was a thing that I'd be excited about, but I have ... yeah, all of my other books have been audiobooks, but I've never been the one to record it.
JKA: In fact, I feel like sometimes if they ask you, it's like a courtesy, like are you interested? I was like, No. I feel like I am aware that that is a really special skill. I actually know people who do it. I'd rather just let them do their thing. I'm going to do just the first part, just the introduction because that's in the first person, which does make sense because it'd be so weird to hear my story in someone else's voice. I'm excited about it. I'm interested to see how it feels.
AW: Well, you sound great. It's a bonus.
JKA: Thank you. Thank you. They probably know me by now. They know I can function at a basic human level. I don't know if they would have asked me otherwise. Yeah. I'm excited about it because I don't do a lot of readings. At my events, I feel like people don't really want to come watch a person read a book necessarily, especially, when it's non-fiction. Also I have a secret weapon, which is that I can show clips of my shows and talk about them.
JKA: My joke is always I'm going to let the funny people at Seinfeld make my job much easier. Here you go. People love that. This is an opportunity for me to actually work aloud for once. It's my own story. As you can imagine, this is one of the defining stories of my life. I have actually written about it. I've told it several different ways, from different angles a couple times now as my life has gone on. I thought about writing a novel based on it at one point. Now, I'm glad I didn't.
JKA: Yeah. This is enough reliving of it. I don't need to get too far into it. I do think it will be really fun to do. It will be cool to have as well.
AW: I think that was still fairly recent when we met. Just full disclosure, Jennifer and I worked together at Entertainment Weekly. I think I met you around 2004.
JKA: That's exactly when it was happening. Our original wedding date was in 2004. It was November of 2004. It was right when it was happening. I was probably "postponing my wedding" at that time. Yeah.
AW: I think we'd have these conversations about potentially writing about it. It's interesting to hear that the intro was enough to be cathartic.
JKA: Yeah. Now, it is. I'm good. Do you know what I mean? I did enjoy telling it this time, and it was fun to tell it in this context. You know how there are certain stories, too, that you told enough in your life, that you also go, "Do we have to do this again? It was a really ... It was one of the biggest moments in my life. It was a huge turning point in my life. It's fun to be able to use that. Because of the women on the show, the writers used their own stories, I feel like it's a nice full-circle moment. I feel like my big theme for this book overall was the idea of the power of women telling their own stories because it also ... we need to remember, it started with the book. It actually started the newspaper column, which turned into a book, by Candace Bushnell.
It really starts with Candace Bushnell telling her own story. That was another part that I really loved doing because I felt like her story had been told, but I didn't feel like it had been told in its entirety. It became this like the way it was told was always where was Candace Bushnell in that? Do you know what I mean?
KO: Right. I feel like even these days, you hear Darren Star's name more.
JKA: Right, exactly. I felt so lucky that I got to talk to her because this was one obsession of mine when I started this book. I get specific obsessions in little corners of my topics. This is one where I was like I want to know what the real Carrie Bradshaw's life was like. Part of it was I was very driven, and you see this throughout the book. I was also very driven by this idea of their lives being "unrealistic," which is obviously true. I'm not trying to say this was a grittily realistic depiction. I don't think it's supposed to be. I felt like certain things had gotten blown out of proportion like this idea, like Carrie can never live this way?
It's like sure, of course, to some extent but I don't think that that it's exaggerated to say like a friend's or something. I really wanted to talk to her, like "What was your life like? Did you feel like a celebrity when her column first started and everyone is reading it. She really talks a lot about, yes, it was a big deal when it happened because you remember, this is even before Sex and the City was on the air, so it was even bigger deal. She was a local celebrity. The other thing is that she did sleep on a pull-out sofa in her friend's apartment while simultaneously going out and wearing Dolce & Gabbana, which I love. We all have our priorities.
JKA: Even later as the show is getting made and stuff, she's still sleeping on that sofa bed, going to tape her own VH1 show and wearing Dolce & Gabbana and then going home to her friend's apartment. She just made, let's say, spending choices because there were other things, too. She had connections. She could borrow stuff. People gave her stuff. She's a beautiful, thin blond, who's a little famous in New York City.
AW: Sample sized.
JKA: It's not that she used to write for Vogue sometimes. She met Darren Star while writing something for Vogue. I think that's right, might have been Details. Anyway, it doesn't matter. One of those Condé Nast magazines. It's not so crazy. It seems crazy, especially, outside of Manhattan, but Manhattan is a weird place where if you knew how to get stuff done, you can [work it]. She was an operator. That's even how she started the column, which I love. She was broke and she was like, "Well, I know a lot of rich, famous people. What if I wrote about them?" That was her thing. It turned out to be a great decision.
AW: Great decision, yeah. What other books about pop culture have you read or interested in?
JKA: I read tons of non-fiction in general, and then there's ... I have tons of inspirations. I have all kinds of different things going on. I know that Easy Riders, Raging Bulls was one thing that I read, and I went. That was before I wrote The Mary Tyler Moore Show book. Believe it or not, I know that it doesn't look like it, but it was the idea, the style, this narrative non-fiction about pop culture that I was like ... It's smart and no one is like, "What did you do that? That stupid."
Peter Biskind was a huge inspiration for me. Also the book, Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. That's about Breakfast at Tiffany's. I remember seeing that in the bookstore and going like, "What if I do that for The Mary Tyler Moore Show essentially?" I remember having that moment. I love Live from New York, the Saturday Night Live is this huge thing that we can all .. It's like we didn't even know we couldn't ... No one could figure out for the longest time after that book, so it was so good, that you didn't have to do an oral history style.
It was so funny because we were all like, "No, we just have to write this one kind of book." I read that, and then I read these other more narrative ones. I was like, "That's what I want to do. I want to be able to actually write it and tell stories and bring together a bunch of different contexts and analysis and stuff like that." You can really only do that if you do it narratively. Those are some of my big inspirations, if you will, and that I'm always reading depending on what my next topic is or whatever. Or sometimes I would just read them. It's crazy.
KO: For pleasure.
JKA: I know. It is. I'm reading Roxane Gay's Hunger right now. I love Roxane Gay in general. I'm often seeking out those feminist elements.
AW: Might I just say that that is one of the books that is somehow elevated by the audio. She did the audio for the book. It's so amazing.
JKA: I've been thinking about it. I have.
AW: It's one of my favorites.
JKA: While I'm reading it because I know what she sounds like and I have heard her, I listen to her in Fresh Air and stuff. She read little bit because they always make you read from your book on that show. I just keep thinking that while I read it now. She has such a strong voice, both speaking and writing, that it makes sense that, that it would be amazing.
AW: Also Live from New York has great narration.
AW: I'm just [plugging away here].
KO: Do you work for Audible?
AW: I might work for Audible. That one has a really great one, too.
JKA: How did they do that? I'm sorry.
AW: It's a multi-cast.
JKA: Okay. That makes sense then.
KO: I have question.
KO: What's the show that's on TV right now that you think is most helping to shape the cultural landscape?
JKA: Oh my gosh, that's so hard because it's like, I almost feel like the thing that's shaping the cultural landscape is that there's so much freaking TV. I feel constant anxiety about this.
KO: About being behind?
KO: I know.
JKA: It's insane. I would like punt it a little and say how all three of the major streaming services have big shows now and all of their breakthrough shows were made by women. So Orange is the New Black on Netflix. Even though I know House of Cards was first, let's face it, Orange is the New Black is the reason everybody ran out and got their subscription in the end. Tansparent on Amazon, and now, TheHandmaid's Tale on Hulu.
KO:Handmaid's Tale, yeah.
JKA: That's staggering to me. It's like each one went through the same exact thing, which is like they just showed up on the air. Everyone went bananas. Everyone's like, "Crap, I got to watch this show." They all subscribed and then they win all the awards at the next Emmy's, and then we move onto the next thing. What's funny about something like Orange is the New Black, which is still technically being made. I say that only because I've realized how fast things have moved, and it makes it seem like that first season of Orange feels like forever ago.
JKA: It's because that show did so much, that it feels like everybody was able to do so many different things because that show succeeded-- the multicultural cast, the huge cast. I know the first season we really needed the white girl to be our guide into the scary world, but that's everyone's least favorite character now. We don't need her.
KO: They've been having a transgender star on that show ahead of Transparent. It's a big deal.
JKA: Isn't that crazy? It feels so quaint now that, that was all shocking at the time, and that we had to spend so much time with Piper and Larry.
AW: Oh my gosh, I totally forgot about him.
JKA: Yeah. I think that there's this big thing happening. It's huge. Especially because the earlier revolution in television, The Sopranos, Mad Men, and all of that. It was white male driven that to see this now, and then there's the Shonda Rimes juggernaut, anyway. What's gonna happen when she goes to Netflix. That was not a singular answer to your question, but I think that there's just really actual exciting things finally happening for women on television in a way that does feel different than even like Mary Tyler Moore Show or Sex and the City. We're so successful. Total surprises because no one ever thinks ... All of the white men don't ever think that a show about women is going to work. It's always a surprise.
Then there's a huge trend where everybody tries to make things like it. They're terrible and then it's over, whereas this feels like this just gigantic wave. Then we've got MeToo happening as well, which, I think, is pushing this far because do we really need more white men right now?
AW: Yeah. The other shows felt like unicorns and this is more a ... I'm about to say the M word: movement.
JKA: Movement. Yeah, it is. Yeah. They're also different. Look at how those shows are versus a Sex and the City. I'm all for fun, the fun of Sex and the City, too. I keep making this argument-- and I will probably continue to-- that part of Sex and the City's revolutionary quality is actually the fluffy fun because it's the only way they were going to get past everything into the mainstream. They're like, "Look over here, Cosmos." They're like, we're also really into sex, and we don't need men. Anyway, Cosmos! It makes the men feel like, "We'll just be over here shopping." It's like we're all going shopping, and then secretly planning the revolution at the store and then coming back and going like, "I got shoes." They're like, "Cool." That's how I see it.
It had its issues. I'm not trying to pretend it didn't. A thing that I say a couple times in the book is like the previous main vision of a single woman in pop culture at the time was like a Cathy comic strip.
JKA: Ack! Remember that? Chocolate!
AW: My life's a mess.
JKA: Blah, I eat a lot. Chocolate, chocolate, ack! It's just sad. Did she have cats? I don't even remember. That was the idea, that was out there, is the Spinster: A Cat Lady and/or Cathy, if you don't count her as that. The switch was big and fast, that it went from everybody thinking if you were a single woman at that time, that your life was like Cathy to suddenly ... I've recorded numerous moments of people talking about their annoyance with this, that you'd go back home to Minnesota from New York, and they'd all be like, "Is your life just like Sex and the City?" It is annoying even though I thought my life was, but then I would go home, and people would say, "Come on. No. That's stupid." That is better than people thinking [it was like Cathy]. It's better to make it this enviable lifestyle rather than this derided lifestyle.
I think in that sense, that's how that worked. Now, we had Handmaid's Tale instead so...
AW: Which we love.
KO: Different type of reality.
AW: I know.
JKA: I love it. I love all of those shows that we were just talking about. Look at the difference between Sex and City and prison is pretty big. The kinds of stories they could tell, very different ... or even I think of a Broad City, which is obviously a lot closer to Sex and the City spiritually, but it's hilarious because it's like anti-Sex and the City. It's the inverse. It's like they do not have a glamorous life. I always think about the episode where Ilana has a bike chain stuck to her the whole episode. That is not what would happen in the Sex and the City. That's what I'm trying to say.
KO: No way.
JKA: One of them gets stuck in porta-potty that gets lifted up by crane. That is definitely not about to happen on Sex and the City.
AW: Well, it feels like it's a games by inches. They made it okay for women to be messy in a different kind of way, to have agency, sexual agency. That led to where women on TV could be really messy. That wasn't even a thing before.
JKA: Right, yeah, absolutely.
AW: And still be considered strong.
JKA: Yeah. Everybody has figured out that Carrie is terrible. I feel a little different toward her at this point. She was not perfect.
JKA: She was not Mary Tyler Moore, but also even, there's just things like ... It's a really big deal during the first season, there's an episode where she freaked out because she farts in bed with Mr. Big. She's like, it's over. I think that's really relatable early in a relationship, at any time, really, but definitely early in relationship. I can imagine we had seen that before in television. Then there's also the big discussion on the first season that shocked everyone was the Mrs. Up-The-Butt conversation, which by the way, I only noticed when I wrote this book, that Charlotte's the one that gets more of the kinky stuff than you realize. I guess because it's fun when she's shocked.
AW: And she's so uncomfortable with it, yeah.
JKA: Some dude is always wanting to have anal sex with her. There's a couple different times this happens to this woman.
AW: Charlotte, who wants to just settle down and have her Upper Eastside apartment?
JKA: She just wants to settle down, and people want to lick her face and have anal sex with her. She's like, "I'm just trying to find Kyle MacLachlan."
AW: I was going to say for the record, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to put anal sex anywhere on anything we do.
JKA: This is the challenge of talking about Sex and the City.
KO: Maybe for the romance package.
AW: Which Katie's the editor of. We'll jump back over to this. Did you get to interview Cynthia Nixon for the book?
JKA: Not Cynthia.
JKA: I think it's because she was already planning her [run for office].
AW: She knew where she's heading.
JKA: Yeah. It makes sense. It's weird because things that did not make sense to me at the time have all come to make sense to me in retrospect, but I did talk to Sarah [Jessica Parker]. I worked pretty closely with her. I talked to Kristen [Davis] as well, who was the sweetest.
KO: She just every bit as sweet as you think she is.
JKA: Both of them are. I actually liked Kristen even more than I ... I don't know how ... that sounds weird, but what I mean is she has the Charlotte qualities, but she's also a little more fun and honest and straightforward. She's the only one who would say like, "My feet are still messed up from those shoes." She hated at first ... She grew to love it, but I love that she talked about this, that she hated the fashion element at first because she felt insecure about herself. She was like, "I'm not supposed to be in high fashion. That's not for me, that's not for my body. I'm not a heels girl." She just wants to live in the Hollywood Hills and do yoga and be with her dog. That's literally what she wants to do.
AW: I'm feeling you're really connected with that Ms. Zen Buddhist.
JKA: Yeah, exactly. I got that. I understood that. She was the only one who got to the point where Darren Star had to take her aside and be like, "Listen, I need you to get on board with Patricia Field's fashion. She's genius and you need to go with it because it is true." She really does still feel like her feet are messed up whereas Sarah was, obviously, driving that fashion element. She was way more hands-on with it. She had already been like that before. She was into shoes and high-fashion before that. That part of the show was a huge contribution of hers to the show.
AW: Did you talk to any other of the ladies?
JKA: No. That's the other one where I was like, "I understand also now." I was going hard on that one. I could ... I had made a big play... like we followed her in Twitter. I don't understand. I think she was already feeling like maybe she didn't want to perpetuate the Sex and the Cityness of her life.
AW: Why don't they accept you can never walk away?
JKA: It's hard. I know, I get it, it's really, really hard. The thing is that I have found with my multiple books is I talk to as many people as I can. It's weird to say this. The central people, they've talked so much that you can get most of their story from reliable interviews they've done. There's always some uncut video out there. I feel bad with something like that versus not gonna pull stuff from the Inquirer. There are so many good sources out there with them telling their stories. I talked to all the writers, Darren Star, who created the show; Michael Patrick King who'd took over and ran the show in the second half and did the movies. Everyone was really generous.
I talked to several of the directors who worked on the show. It was one of these rotating director shows. They wanted this filmic approach, so they did a lot more of that. They would hire people known for their indie film. One of the interesting things about it is, especially early on because, no one really understood HBO was yet. It's hard to believe that.
AW: Yeah, that's true.
JKA: To a person, everyone who I talked to said, "I signed on basically because I was like, 'this isn't going to go anywhere.' Who's gonna watch HBO? Isn't that where they do like boxing and whatever. No one understood what was happening. Darren Starr liked it there just because he finally wanted to do something artistic and wanted that freedom after 90210 and Melrose Place.
KO: God, he's done so much.
JKA: Isn't that crazy?
JKA: He had this vision adorably of like, "I just wanted to make something I was proud of. I wanted to make like a little indie movie every week." One of my favorite facts that I didn't really realize until I got into this was that Susan Seidelman directed the pilot. She is the director of Desperately Seeking Susan.
AW: Get out.
JKA: I like died seven times when I found out... I was like, "Oh, I obviously, immediately need to watch Desperately Seeking Susan again as research."
JKA: It was even better than I remember. It's so good everyone go watch it. You see that once you know. They actually wanted this. If you look at the fashion, it's the same. They actually wanted this downtown, cool ... Patricia Field, the customer. She's a genius, first of all, but she's a punk rock icon. When you know that, you actually can see it in the fashion, that banana's fashion, that they did sometimes. She was like a downtown legend like Patti Smith used to go buy clothes from her store. She's cool. This was not some dumb, fluffy. This was not supposed to be that.
AW: Operating [crosstalk 00:38:31] boutique.
JKA: Which is exactly, wow, it ended up being perceived. It's just like, "Yey, Cosmos, Manolos, the end." I think if you ask most people on the street, what that show is about they'd say shoes. Also I'm wearing my nameplate necklace.
KO: Well, speaking of the shoes, I did have a minute when I was planning my wedding where I thought my wedding shoes need to be those blue Manolo's from the movie, which it did not happen.
AW: Double down.
JKA: They only, fairly recently, there was a really good knockoff version made.
KO: I was gonna dye them red.
JKA: That would be cool. That's actually a cute idea. I like that. It's actually interesting because there's still so much that goes on, that just a few years ago, I can't remember who did it. I wanna say it was somebody, some English-based department store or something had the knockoff shoes. So much still goes on all the time. People are still so into this. Do you know what I mean?
JKA: People are still so ... "Let's go get the cupcakes and the Cosmos and do the thing." That's partly why we felt like this could be a book that people would want. It's extraordinary that it keeps going on.
KO: I still relied on pop culture. Instead of my Carrie Bradshaw heels, I went with Annie Banks Mackenzie sneakers, so I'm Father of the Bride [crosstalk 00:39:53].
JKA: Oh my god. I love that.
AW: I did not know that. That's pretty amazing.
JKA: Yeah. I know exactly what those look like. That's crazy to me. You just said that and my brain pulled that. That's amazing.
KO: Immediate visual image.
AW: I'm gonna need these pictures. I haven't seen the pictures.
JKA: That was probably more comfortable.
KO: It was amazing.
AW: We're going to start to wrap it up. Do you have a short answer for the question, does pop culture drive TV or TV drive pop culture?
JKA: That's so interesting. I honestly feel like, especially at this point, it's a little bit of those, which is a like cheat cancer. Especially what I'm thinking of is the Internet and the way fandom has emerged as the ... I think it's the biggest force, first, obviously in pop culture. It sounds dumb, but what I mean by that is that fans are able to drive so much more of what happens versus it used to be a one-way street the other way. Now, it's this feedback loop.
AW: Yeah. Two more questions. You've mentioned an audiobook that you wanted to get into?
JKA: Yes. I am very, very excited because I just found this out, that there's Claire Danes version of TheHandmaid's Tale. I feel like that book is so great to go back to if you've started watching the show. I feel like so many of us were forced to read it at some point. I wanted to go back to it, then when I looked it up, I found that out. I was like, "Yes, that sounds perfect."
AW: We can talk about that one.
KO: Our boss and dear friend is obsessed with TheHandmaid's Tale. This is her favorite book of all time. We now have in our store The Handmaid's Tale special edition. This was actually her brainchild because the book ends on this cliffhanger. She said, "Well, what if we added something where we had questions actually go back and forth with the professor at the end?" Margaret Atwood said yes. This great, new addition was born and we were able to release it right before the show came out.
JKA: It was right before. Okay. I thought it was right around. I am obsessed now, too. It was like not slow, but it's the thing when you're like I don't know if I want to get into this because it's so harrowing. I don't know. Something just clicked all of a sudden. Then it felt so ... I was like, I just care what happens now. It's beautifully done. I'm very into it.
KO: Yes, great new addition.
AW: I'm gonna hazard a guess that you're gonna love it.
JKA: I'm seriously going to go home and start listening because especially the bonus material is really ... I need to tell you it's such a brilliant idea because that's the thing that makes you extra want it. Claire Danes is cool and there's bonus material. I love that Margaret Atwood is so down. I've read enough about of her now that she seems very open to these things, where I think so many other authors are like, this is my thing. She really seems like she likes to share this thing with the world, which is nice.
AW: I think she understands the importance of having it as a living breathing part of culture.
JKA: That's one that really is in a really weird way, if there's a relationship to Sex and the City because I think both keep getting reinterpreted as women stories over time. The sad part about Handmaid's Tale is how relevant it still is. It was written out of extreme relevancy in the '80s and sadly felt like almost sickeningly relevant when it started last year. I think it's really interesting. I'm writing something about this now. I think it's really interesting that now it's coming back like post MeToo. It's like another level where it's like it just keeps being relevant. I would love us to then create a world where it's just like Handmaid's Tale was crazy.
AW: Well, I think you may have answered my last question about if you wanted to tease whatever you might be working on next.
JKA: Well, we'll see. We're not sure yet. I am working on some ideas.
AW: Cool. Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us today.