Sarah Jessica Parker and Candace Bushnell
Photo: Michael Loccisano (Getty Images)

All week, people have been sharing their thoughts and remembrances of Sex And The City, the game-changing HBO show that brought female friendships to the forefront and brought a bunch of conversations about female sexuality to prime time. But rather than debate whether Carrie should have ended up with Big, what’s the least-woke thing Charlotte ever said, or what’s the best recipe for a Cosmopolitan, The New York Times celebrated the 20th anniversary of the show’s premiere by looking back at the woman behind its creation, Candace Bushnell, whose experiences and writing provided the template for the characters we know and love.

“Whenever she was paid for a piece, she would be more likely to buy a pair of $800 shoes than go out and stock the fridge,” says former New York Observer editor Peter Stevenson, who briefly dated Bushnell when she was barely scraping by as a freelance writer in New York in her mid-30s. A fully stocked closet being a bigger priority than a fully stocked cupboard sounds like something out of the pilot episode of SATC, and proves Bushnell was walking the walk as much as she was talking the talk.

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As she continued to write and gain popularity, Bushnell was offered a weekly column—“Sex And The City”—in the Observer, which still didn’t pay great but made her a known entity in the early-’90s socialite scene. Just like Carrie on the show, she’d recount the trials and tribulations of single women butting up against social expectations and attempting to live fabulously. Of course, Bushnell would always change the names of these young party-goers, leading many to believe they were the inspiration for characters in both the articles and the show.

“There are quite a few women who thought they were Samantha,” Bushnell tells the Times. “There’s a Carrie in every town and there’s a Samantha in every town—and I’ve met them all.”

Eventually, Bushnell was offered the chance to turn the column into a book. She negotiated that deal in, of all places, the Bowery Bar in Manhattan with a little help from former Vogue publisher and then-boyfriend Ron Galotti—the inspiration for Mr. Big. A couple years later, that book was optioned as TV show for HBO, which at the time was a bit of an outlier in the TV landscape. No one expected Sex And The City to be a hit, just like no one expected the column to take off like it did. But Bushnell’s honest, unflinching representation of women’s lives and relationships struck a chord with audiences, and it’s why, twenty years after its premiere, we’re still talking about it.

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You can read the whole oral history here.

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