DATE January 22, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Michael Patrick King discusses the writing of the HBO
series "Sex and the City"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. And it's good to be back after a bad
cold and laryngitis.
My guest, Michael Patrick King, is the executive producer of HBO's "Sex and
the City." He's written for the series since it started. He's also written
for "Murphy Brown" and was a consulting producer for "Will and Grace." Sunday
night, "Sex and the City" won its third consecutive Golden Globe as the best
musical or comedy series, and its star, Jessica Parker, won a best actress
award. "Sex and the City" is now completing its fourth season, and the four
women at the center of the series have gotten older and have changed.
Miranda, the lawyer, is still single, but she's very pregnant; Charlotte, the
former gallery owner, has married and separated; Samantha, the sex-obsessed
publicist has actually fallen in love; and Carrie, who recently got engaged to
her boyfriend, Aidan, decided on this week's episode that she's not ready for
marriage. She had the revelation after trying on a wedding dress and breaking
out in hives. Here she is with her three girlfriends.
(Soundbite of "Sex and the City")
Ms. SARAH JESSICA PARKER (As Carrie): My body is literally rejecting the
idea of marriage. Look.
Ms. CYNTHIA NIXON (As Miranda): Yeah, once you get a rash from a guy, it's
time to heave-ho.
Ms. PARKER: No, it's not him, it's me. I'm missing the bride gene. I
should be put in a test tube and studied.
Ms. KIM CATTRALL (As Samantha): It's not just you. I don't want to get
Ms. PARKER: Ever? Why do we even have to get married? Why? Give me one
good reason, aside from the not wanting to die alone thing, which is something
to think about, I admit.
Ms. KRISTIN DAVIS (As Charlotte): Well, for me, when it was good, it gave me
a sense of security.
Mr. PARKER: But I feel secure now. Things are great with us. And you know
what they say, `If it ain't broke...'
Ms. NIXON: Don't marry it.
Ms. DAVIS: What are you afraid would change?
Ms. PARKER: I don't know. Nothing. Everything.
Ms. CATTRALL: Every bride feels that way at one point.
Ms. PARKER: Well, why aren't they speaking up?
Ms. DAVIS: Carrie, I'm going to ask you an unpleasant question now. Why did
you ever say yes?
GROSS: "Sex and the City's" executive producer, Michael Patrick King, told me
why the writers decided to have Carrie get involved in a long-term
relationship in the first place.
Mr. MICHAEL PATRICK KING (Executive Producer, "Sex and the City"): If we
brought a new guy in, we'd have to go over the same, you know, defense
mechanisms that any character would have. Whenever you fall in love with
somebody for the first time, or you start dating, you get to delay the reality
of who you are for about six months, I think, and then the real stuff starts
to come out. And we thought, `Well, rather than bring another new guy in for
Carrie, let's bring Aidan back so we can really go beneath the surface of
where we've already gone and try to figure out what happens to her when
someone really starts to get close.'
GROSS: I'm going to stop you right there. That's very perceptive, what you
Mr. KING: Oh. Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...you know, that when you fall in love with someone new you can delay
the reality of who you really are for ...(unintelligible).
Mr. KING: You know, there's that philosophy that the real person doesn't
show up until six months in. Up until that--for five months, you're just
projecting who you think they are on them.
GROSS: Oh, and the other thing is you can do what Richard Price calls `the
wonder of me' for those first few weeks or few months...
Mr. KING: Yeah.
GROSS: ...where you tell all the great stories about yourself, as if for the
first time and...
Mr. KING: Yeah, the best of you.
Mr. KING: From your best CD of how you talk about yourself on a date. The
other thing that's also very effective is on the first couple of dates you
perform your one-man show, which is, `You're so interesting,' at them, which
makes a delay. All you know is you're falling in love with you when you're
talking to somebody else, because they're telling you how interesting you are.
So we thought, `OK, we've done all the initial bull that you do when you meet
somebody, and now we're bringing a guy into Carrie's house and into her life
and she has all sorts of baggage with him. And now it's like if it was a
creme brulee we can go right through the coating and into the goo and see
So the first thing we wanted to do in the season was bring Carrie right up
against her intimacy and her actual dreams of who she is as a person and what
she wants out of life. So we moved Aidan as close as we could physically and
emotionally to her. And also, we made pretty sure that Aidan was pretty close
to perfect, which then we gave him a couple of flaws. But we thought it would
be really great if she was the flawed one.
As with all the girls on this show, what we try to do when we're writing is
show that they're the problem. We give guys symptomatic issues, but how the
girls deal with them is fundamentally who they are. And that's the fun stuff
for us, is to point out the difficulties the women have in being with someone.
GROSS: Now what about Miranda?
Mr. KING: Well, the baby...
GROSS: Who decided to make her pregnant?
Mr. KING: God, the universe, us. We thought, `OK, what's the worst thing we
could do to Miranda? What's the most challenging thing we could think of?'
And we thought to give her a baby would be really challenging, because it
would bring up all the stuff that she couldn't write off with a man. And as
we wrote the--we're in the beginning of writing the fifth season now--we
struggled for a long time about what's Miranda and the baby going to be like?
What's that relationship? And we realized it's just another relationship with
another man. You know, sometimes she thinks, you know, `It's his stuff. I'm
there. It's all the baby.' And we thought if we brought a baby into Miranda's
life, the edges would have to smooth out, or she would go a little bit crazy.
And we thought she was the most stubborn and the most set in her ways, and
good storytelling would then hopefully lead to the fact that we would bring in
someone who would shake her to her core.
GROSS: And, you know, now that you've lived with these character for how many
years, four years?
Mr. KING: Well, four years. Four years.
GROSS: And now that they're in their mid-30s and not their early 30s...
Mr. KING: Right.
GROSS: ...do you feel like they have to be single in a different kind of way
than they were when they were younger?
Mr. KING: Yeah. The thing is, what we try to do, and, you know, this of
course added with the writer's imagination--but what we try to do is imagine,
you know, what a good story would be, but based on what might really happen to
these women in real life if they weren't on television. What sort of bold
steps would they make. And that's why we married Charlotte to Trey, because
she would be married. That character, looking the way she looks, with her
checklist of what she wants out of life, would just get married.
And so we thought, `Well, what would happen in life if Miranda did get
pregnant and she was 36? What would she really do?' She'd probably think,
`Ooh, this is maybe my last chance, I'--you know, Miranda has a weird ovary.
And so we just try to follow the impulse through.
And with Samantha, what we thought might be nice is if she risked the ultimate
for her, which would be love rather than just, you know, crazy, unbridled sex,
which everybody loves her for. And the thing that's so amazing about the
episode where she actually falls in love on a rooftop is that people really
responded to that. And the thing that I think is so amazing, is it took us
four and a half years to give her that moment...
Mr. KING: ...whereas sometimes on network television, they say in the third
episode, `She has to be in love. We have to know that she has the ability to
love. We don't like her. She's too surface.' Four and half years later she
finally maybe leaps into a guy's arms. You know what I mean? She tried fake
love, she had love with Sonia Braga, playing a lesbian character, but that was
just for us to make sure to show that it's Samantha who has a problem with
intimacy, not sexuality. But for her to fall deeply in love with somebody, we
thought, `OK, it's time.' And people seem to be ready for it. We were.
GROSS: Now Sarah Jessica Parker starts these new episodes engaged, but by the
end of the third episode she's realized she's not ready for marriage.
Mr. KING: Yeah. That was so difficult for us.
GROSS: Yeah, and when she tells Aidan that she's not ready to marry, then he
thinks the whole relationship needs to be ended.
Mr. KING: Right.
GROSS: He's not going to stick around if she's not ready to commit.
Mr. KING: Right.
GROSS: And that's like a real surprise for the viewers. I'm just wondering
what kind of conversations have been behind the scenes between the writers, in
making what for the character is a really big decision like that.
Mr. KING: Well, there's two--the Carrie thing was really huge, because the
year before we had Carrie in a situation where we had her have an affair with
a married man and have an affair on someone who deeply loves her and everybody
felt was a really good guy. That was a real trick. It was almost like a
Greek myth to get her into hell, and how do we get her out with people still
liking her? And there's very rarely been a woman hero who's done the bad
thing in television. So what was tricky for us was once we got her in there,
was how to get her out with people understanding that she made a mistake and
she's human and all that stuff. And because Sarah Jessica is so amazingly
luminous and likeable and real, she did a lot of the work, and then we were
able to sort of chart Carrie's own--we punished her.
And the really tricky thing this year was to get Carrie out of an engagement
to a man who she had already hurt. And trying to figure out in the room, with
all the women writers and myself--we're trying to figure out, `Do women want
to be married? Would they just go there? What is wrong with saying you're
not sure if you want to be married?' And that was the really huge discussion.
And whenever we hit like a hot button in the room like that, I always try to
chase it down. Because there's a--one of the writers, Julie, in the room has
been living with a guy for a long time and has no idea about getting married.
She gets red. And I'm sort of like, `What? You don't have to be with someone
in order to be fulfilled.' And then other women in the room were like, `No,
she should marry him.' So it was real excitement to try to figure out why she
wouldn't marry him.
And when we came upon the thing of giving Aidan the push when he starts
pushing her, and it was because he didn't trust her and he wanted to own her.
And we went up to our prop master, Travis, who is a guy married, and I said,
`What if she took the ring off her finger? What would Aidan say?' Because
Carrie wears the ring on a necklace; that was our first symptom that something
was wrong. She was trying to distance herself from traditional marriage by
making it jewelry rather than a commitment. And he said, `No, I wouldn't want
that ring on that finger, because I'd want to lock this down. I'd want the
world to know she's mine.' And when I heard that I thought, `OK, that's very
male, and a woman wouldn't want to hear that, maybe.'
GROSS: Well, why did she have to get out of this relationship in the first
place for the larger purposes of this series scripts?
Mr. KING: OK. Well, for the larger purposes of the series, I don't think
Carrie can be married yet, or ever. I mean, I think Carrie is the eternal
single girl. Carrie is the smart, sexy, funny, nice girl who can't get it
right, so that all the smart, sexy, funny, nice girls who watch the show
think, `Yeah, I get it. You're like me, yeah. I don't know what my problem
is either, but you're pretty good, so I guess I'm not a freak.'
GROSS: Now I kind of figured that this relationship couldn't last for too
long because John...
Mr. KING: Terry, did you?
GROSS: Now, wait, wait. Listen. No, John Corbett, who plays her boyfriend,
is always getting guest star status in the credits.
Mr. KING: Well, now that's...
GROSS: If he's not a permanent cast member, something's up.
Mr. KING: Chris Noth is always a guest star. None of the men on the show...
GROSS: That's true. That's true.
Mr. KING: ...will ever be stars on our show. They are stars in our hearts
and stars in stories, but guest starring, mm-mm. It's the one rare show where
the men are the revolving door. I mean, go back on television and look at all
the women, how they just go, `You're in, you're out. Get out. Next. Next.'
`OK, bringing a lovely woman in and she's done. Get her out. Get her out.'
So we're the, `Get a guy in and get out. Get out. Get out. We're done with
you.' I mean, the girls will always be the stars of our shows.
GROSS: My guest is Michael Patrick King. He's now the executive producer of
"Sex and the City" and writes episodes as well.
Mr. KING: And directs, Terry.
GROSS: And directs, yes. Thank you.
Mr. KING: Come on, give it up.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more.
Mr. KING: OK.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Michael Patrick King. He's executive producer of "Sex and
the City." He's also one of the writers and directors, and he's been with the
series since the start.
What are some of the conversations that you've had behind the scenes about how
to talk about sex on "Sex and the City." Because the four main women
characters talk about sex all the time, particularly when they meet at the
Mr. KING: Right.
GROSS: And also what kind of sex to show. Because you also show them in
pretty non-explicit ways having sexual relations.
Mr. KING: Right. We talk about sex because we--you know, my feeling is that
one of the reasons people are excited about seeing the show is that we say
stuff about a week before people say it. That's it, we're just like a week
ahead. If we were four years ahead, people would say, `They're crazy,' and
turn off the television. You know, there's no--when we do something like
tochislingus, which is self explanatory if you have a Yiddish dictionary near
you. If not, it's about attention to the bum. Is that polite enough for NPR,
GROSS: I think it's OK, yeah.
Mr. KING: We talked about it--now you said how do we talk about sex. Well,
the first thing is we decide we're going to talk about this topic because it's
in the air. We feel it's in the air and it's a little bit edgy and primarily
and foremost, it's relatable and then we can make it be funny. And the four
girls, if you notice, never talk about sex the same way, ever. When we want
to send up a firework, or really shock someone, Samantha opens her mouth.
When we wanted to show a really strong opinion about it, it's usually Miranda.
When we want to show the audience's reaction to it, the more conservative
reaction to, Charlotte will pipe in. And then when we want to show the people
that are sort of trying to figure out what they feel about what we're saying,
it's usually Carrie. Carrie's the listener, the sorter outer. So when we
say, `How do you write about these women talking about sex?' well, they talk
about it completely differently. There's like a very X-rated high school
debate at the coffee shop. I mean, it's like the pros and cons of this or
that or that.
And then how do we show it and why do we show sex? The primary reason we show
sex on the show is for a laugh. It's very, very rare to find a sex scene on
our show that doesn't have a laugh attached. You will find a romantic scene,
you will find a kiss, but when it gets into a sexual arena, or there's nudity
involved, usually it's for a laugh, to make fun of the actual shame of sex. I
think one of the great joys for me in writing the show is that we're able to
put some comedy energy, some positive light around these taboo, shameful
I mean, I never, ever had a sexual discussion in my family with my family at
all. My father took my sister, Eileen, and I into the living room once when
we let our dog out because we wanted her to get pregnant, because we wanted
puppies, and then we pretended we didn't know what we did. And he took us
into the living room, and he said, `Now I'm going to tell you the facts of
life. Girls, keep your skirts down; guys, keep your pants up.'
GROSS: That was it?
Mr. KING: That was it. Never had a talk. And I have discussions with my
mother now, who's 78 and Irish Catholic and living in Pennsylvania, about sex
that you cannot believe. The episode the other night where Samantha took off
her clothes on the rooftop, and Richard took off his clothes and it was our
first little glimpse of male frontal nudity on the show, she said, `Oh, I
loved the show up until the strip.' She said, `But, you know, my generation,
we don't like that stuff.'
But the reason we did the striptease was to show that they were evenly
matched. And we're always trying to show that the women on the show actually
meet their match. And if Samantha's going to drop her clothes, it would seem,
you know, just to cut behind him and show the pants falling, seems like a
GROSS: Now you said that you didn't talk to your family much about sex when
you were growing up, but what about with friends? Did you, you know--or at
Mr. KING: Do we talk like this?
GROSS: Well, after you came out, would you ever have a kind of conversation
with friends that the women in "Sex and the City" have with each other?
Mr. KING: Yes, but the catch phrase to that is that you only talk about
people that you're having sex with like that before you fall in love with
them. As soon as it seems like they might be able to go to dinner with your
friends, and suddenly you're all, you know, quiet. I...
GROSS: Well, that even comes up in "Sex and the City" because...
Mr. KING: Yes, it does.
GROSS: ...you know, there's...
Mr. KING: That is why it came up, because we were talking about it in the
room, because two of us--I'm in love right now, and so is one of the other
writers, and I notice I'm like, very quiet, very quiet. It's only good
afterwards, you know what I mean? It's only good at the other end of the
relationship when you're examining...
GROSS: When it's over and you're ready to dish?
Mr. KING: Well, when you're really ready to look at how ridiculous you've
been. The great thing about sex, what it does, is it brings up all--I guess
I'm speaking specifically for me; it brings up everything that you think
you've figured out that you really haven't. It brings up insecurities. And
the people may be naked on our show, but the really fun of doing this show is
that we make them emotionally naked, where they really don't know how to cover
up. They don't even know what they're saying because sex brings up stuff
you're not really prepared--you don't have a lot of pat answers about sex.
That's what's kind of exciting about writing the show and what gets people
excited--it seems fresh--is because really no one has talked about it.
GROSS: Now in an episode that you wrote, you know, right after Carrie's
boyfriend moves in with her, she's worried that she can no longer perform her
SSB, her secret single behavior.
Mr. KING: Secret single behavior.
GROSS: These are all the things that you do when you live alone that you'd be
really embarrassed to do in front of your lover.
Mr. KING: Right.
(Soundbite of "Sex and the City")
Ms. PARKER: I like to make a stack of saltines. I put grape jelly on them.
I eat them standing up in the kitchen reading fashion magazines.
Ms. DAVIS: Why standing up?
Ms. PARKER: It's weird, but it just feels great.
Ms. NIXON: I like to put Vaseline on my hands and put them in those
bourgeoisie conditioning gloves while watching infomercials.
Ms. DAVIS: Before I was married, I used to study my pores in a magnifying
mirror for an hour each night. I'm afraid Trey will just think it's weird.
Ms. PARKER: Well, he would. You can't do that stuff in front of men. What
about you, Lolita? Anything you do you wouldn't want a man to see?
Ms. CATTRALL: No.
Ms. NIXON: You know, I believe her.
GROSS: So you wrote this. Is this something you thought about a lot, all
those secret things...
Mr. KING: I think that...
GROSS: ...you do alone that you can't do with your lover around?
Mr. KING: Yeah. It's really interesting for me, and it seemed to be when I
started talking to the other writers about it, the idea that people who are
single, and have been single for a number of years, develop certain things
that they fall in love with, and they may be even aberrant. You know, they
may be just eating cereal in a bowl without breathing, just eating a lot of
cereal, which one of the writers told us that she did. She just likes to put
cereal in a bowl and eat it dry really fast. And it's just symptomatic of
when somebody moves into your life how suddenly you're visible. And it's
interesting in like a city like New York, where everybody's so in each other's
faces that when you close your door--and it can be in any city--when you close
your door and you're completely alone, there's a relaxed emotional side that
goes up like, `No one can see me do this. No one is seeing me do this,'
whatever it is.
And the secret single behavior we talked about on the show is all accurate to
each of the female writers that I was talking to. The gloves--putting on the
gloves with conditioning that Miranda does; and then, of course, the comedy
writer in me added `while watching infomercials,' but the actual idea of
looking at your pores for an hour--but all that stuff is really interestingly
idiosyncratic and personal, and somehow embarrassing. The most interestingly,
I think, perceptive, accurate thing I've written about myself is when Carrie
says at the end of that episode, to Aidan, `I know this is weird, but please
don't talk to me for an hour. I'm going to be behind here, you be over
there.' And then she doesn't need it. That...
GROSS: This is when she comes home...
Mr. KING: And she says...
GROSS: She's used to coming home alone and suddenly she comes home, and
there's a boyfriend there.
Mr. KING: Right. Because he's in there and he's talking to her...
GROSS: And she doesn't want to talk right away.
Mr. KING: ...and she doesn't know how to process asking for private space.
So the whole--you know, the thing about our episodes is sometimes it's a huge,
big deal over one tiny request. She didn't know how to say, `I need an hour
when no one talks to me,' because she's been single so long, she hasn't had to
ask for that. So when she actually does ask for it--and he has no problem
with it, of course, because it's her stuff, as soon as she gets it, she has
like 30 seconds and she's like, `I'm done. What are you doing?' And that is
accurate, I think, to who I am, the idea that you ask for something. And the
last line of the episode is, `That's the thing about needs. Sometimes when
you get them met you don't need them anymore.' And the only reason that is so
fun to write is because Carrie, in the series right now, with Aidan, is at the
point where she's burned through so much of her initial jour jour fancy
distraction magic tricks that she actually has to ask for 10 minutes alone.
GROSS: Michael Patrick King is the executive producer of HBO's "Sex and the
City." He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with Michael Patrick King,
executive producer of "Sex and the City." And David Bianculli reviews DVD
boxed sets of classic and current TV shows.
(Soundbite of music)
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Michael Patrick King, is the executive producer of "Sex and the
City" and has also written and directed many episodes. On Sunday, "Sex and
the City" won its third consecutive Golden Globe for best musical or comedy
series. Here's a scene from a recent episode. Carrie's fiance Aidan had
moved into Carrie's apartment with all his stuff and there was no room to
move. After he pressured her to make more room in the closets by throwing out
some of her designer clothes, she retaliated with a tour of his clutter.
(Soundbite of "Sex and the City")
Ms. SARAH JESSICA PARKER: (As Carrie) Just look at this bathroom. Look at
all your (censored) in my bathroom. Who needs five almost empty Speed Stick
deodorants? What are you, a crazy bag man?
Mr. JOHN CORBETT: (As Aidan) They're different smells.
Ms. PARKER: And musk. When have you ever worn musk? I mean, look at this
stuff. You got old razors, Rogai--Wait a minute. You use Rogaine? I didn't
know you needed...
Mr. CORBETT: It's preventative.
Ms. PARKER: Is your hair falling out?
Mr. CORBETT: I don't want to talk about it. This is my stuff. Don't be
going through my stuff.
Ms. PARKER: You were more than happy to go through my stuff.
Mr. CORBETT: Oh, your stuff. Your bathroom. You always do that. You never
want to let me in it.
Ms. PARKER: I don't always do anything and I have let you in.
Mr. CORBETT: You're fighting with me about a stupid (censored) outfit.
Ms. PARKER: Oh, shut up. It's Roberto Cavalli. I threw it away and I love
it. What more do you want?
Mr. CORBETT: Shut up? Shut up?
Ms. PARKER: Yes, shut up.
Mr. CORBETT: Shut up. You're telling me to shut up.
Ms. PARKER: Please, just shut up. I am so sick of hearing you talk and talk
and talk and--all the time. Don't you ever just shut up?
Mr. CORBETT: I'm going to take a walk.
Ms. PARKER: No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I'm taking a walk.
You can stay here with your boxes of (censored) and your shoe-eating dog and
you can knock yourself out putting on the Rogaine and the Speed Stick.
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with "Sex and the City's" executive
producer, Michael Patrick King.
Now I've been reading about you. Your mother, when you were growing up,
managed a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop...
Mr. KING: Yes.
GROSS: ...in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Mr. KING: That is correct.
GROSS: Now so many parents really try to keep their kids away from doughnuts
because they're really fattening and if a kid is prone to being chubby,
doughnuts aren't the greatest thing. So did you eat a ton of doughnuts? Did
your mother encourage or discourage the habit?
Mr. KING: I ate do--I would say we ate doughnuts every single day. My mother
worked the early shift, which means she got up at 5:30 and left. My father
worked at night so he was asleep and my three sisters and I would do our
morning routine which would be eat doughnuts, go to school and promptly fall
asleep from the sugar. You know, it would be fantastic. There is nothing
really better than a glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut. And the interesting thing
is that I don't eat any sugar at all now. I stopped eating sugar like 10
years ago as a rebellion. No, I am very affected by sugar. But, yeah, my
mother ran a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop and then hired all my three sisters to
work in it, did not hire me because I think the idea of me on sugar or around
sugar was too much for her. But my mother...
GROSS: Because of your behavior or your...
Mr. KING: Oh, yeah, I was very hyperactive. As a matter of fact, I'm
standing on the microphone table right now. No, the interesting thing is that
my mother--I would know my mother came home from work because I'd walk in and
see powdered white footprints across the dining room. And...
GROSS: Now you went to Catholic schools and a...
Mr. KING: I went to Catholic school, yes.
GROSS: ...and a Catholic college.
Mr. KING: Yes.
GROSS: Was your family pretty religious?
Mr. KING: Yes. They were very religious in the Irish Catholic sense of
Roman Catholicism, which is sort of piercingly hopeful and sweetly optimistic
that the Blessed Virgin was going to help, as compared to the like opera crazy
Roman Italian, you know, sort of punishing Catholic Church. I got the sort of
sweeter, holy family aspect of the Catholic Church. And then of course, the
nuns really did their job to make sure that everybody had very strong feelings
GROSS: Was part of it the Catholicism? Was that part of what made it
difficult to come out?
Mr. KING: You know, the funny thing is--yeah, the first thing, of course, is
to--I don't know if it was the Catholicism as much as admitting in an Irish
Catholic family that you actually have sexual feelings. You know, my sisters
would have to come out as straight people, I think. I mean, in order to say,
`I'm gay,' you have to also imply that I might have sex, so I think that was
the first wave of actually admitting that there was a sexual life. And then
the Catholicism. And then after a certain point when you've been perceived as
a certain thing for so long you're just afraid to come out because it makes
you feel like everything else you've told your friends will then be counted as
false, you know. But I really think, for me personally, it was an amazing
journey just to sort of choose myself over everything.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Michael Patrick King, and he's
the executive producer of HBO's "Sex and the City," as well as one of its
writers and directors.
Do you feel like you learned some of the things that you don't want to do,
things that have become cliches in terms of writing for TV, from getting
started working on other shows before you worked on "Sex and the City"?
Mr. KING: Oh, I know so much about how not to write TV, it's amazing. I had
a very blessed experience in that I started on--my first really good show was
"Murphy Brown," and that was at the height of when "Murphy Brown" was--I
started the year she got pregnant. And Diane English, who created that show
and ran it, was really spectacular. She had five writers that she respected,
and her job as the show runner, which is the executive producer, is to listen
to the voices in the room and find out what they think, and then incorporate
all those voices into one script. And so I had a really good experience
there, so I know what the target was to shoot for.
But, I mean, I've had really bad experiences where as soon as you start to
open your mouth to pitch an idea, they go, `Won't work, can't happen, not
likable, don't like the character. It's only 20 minutes long. You're trying
to do too much. What's the subtext about?' You know what I mean? I would
drive people crazy because I kept trying to weave stories underneath, and
they'd say, `Well, we're going to cut that whole section,' and then I'd start
going, `But then the end won't work,' and I'd be trying to write.
And the other thing that's really, really, I think, destructive in television
right now is there are very few shows that actually let writers write, where
you actually get a writer and say, `Oh, that's his voice. Let Michael write
that one. Let Julie write that. Let Amy write that.' Instead, they call
them gang-written scripts, where something goes wrong at the table read--these
are four-camera sitcoms I'm talking about. I really don't have any expertise
in dramas or other one-camera shows, which is what "Sex and the City" is,
which is like a little movie. But these are when you go in front of an
audience, and the audience is there and they're applauding, and they're
waiting to hear the big jokes. As soon as something goes wrong, there's a
tendency to go back to the writing room, throw out the last three months of
thoughts that you've all put into this idea, and just go like a pop beat--pop,
pop, pop, put this joke next to this joke next to this joke next to this joke.
What do you say? What do you say? And it works in terms of it makes people
laugh, but it doesn't really give you anything--in my opinion, it doesn't give
you anything to believe in or relate to. You're not tuning in every week to
see what happens to people. You're waiting to see the funny thing.
GROSS: My guest is Michael Patrick King, executive producer of HBO's "Sex and
the City." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Michael Patrick King, executive producer of HBO's "Sex and
the City." He's also written and directed many episodes.
Now you were a consultant on "Will and Grace"...
Mr. KING: Yeah.
GROSS: ...I think during the first season.
Mr. KING: We finished the first season of "Sex and the City." Darren and I
wrote all of them. It was just Darren Star and I. We did the entire season,
and then we were done before they were on the air. And we didn't know what
was going to happen. And Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, who created "Will and
Grace," asked me to come over, and I joined them for the first 12 episodes of
that series, which was really fun to start because it's an entirely different
muscle. And the writing room was really funny, and they're very smart, and it
was fun to help begin to shape a new show.
GROSS: In what sense is it a different muscle than "Sex and the City"?
Mr. KING: It's the Olympics. And for years after I--you know, "Sex and the
City" came back on the air and I couldn't be on staff of "Will and Grace," but
I would go over on show night, which is in front of the audience, and they
used me as punch-up, and I would put jokes in in the moment where you're
watching a show and you go, `Maybe if--boom,' and everybody's putting jokes
in, and you run up to the actors and say them and they say them back and the
audience hears them. It's really like a vault vs. like an Olympic swimming
event where you just have to vault, boom, off that horse and you have to hit
that mark and you know exactly right now if it worked.
GROSS: Now how do you do that without falling into the trap that you were
talking about before where it's just like joke, joke, joke, but there's no
real investment in the story or the character?
Mr. KING: It all comes into the individuals. I mean, joke, joke, joke can be
really good, too, if the jokes are based on character or the person pitching
them is unique and funny. But, you know, "Will and Grace" tells stories, and
they're a whole other thing. They're like a millennium Noel Coward or
something. I mean, they're all about dialogue and those four characters.
And, you know, the difference between a network sitcom and what we do on HBO
is that network sitcoms are 20 minutes long, 20 minutes, 21 minutes, and I can
have my show be 30 minutes, and that seems like only nine minutes, but that's
nine minutes of character, nine minutes of story. You know, you get to go a
little bit deeper because you have that extra nine minutes. It really doesn't
matter how important the story is, because it has to end at a certain time.
Whereas I can actually pick up the phone and say to HBO, `I need two more
minutes, I need two more minutes,' and then we debate about whether I need two
more minutes, and then I do get the two minutes.
So, I mean, it's just a different animal, and it's a great, fun muscle in your
head to write a four-camera show when it's really fun like "Will and Grace,"
because it's very sharp, and the mark is really high because the audience
needs to hear the laugh. And then the other thing, what we do on "Sex and the
City," which is the girls are sort of--they make jokes to make each other
laugh, you know what I mean? There are jokes that we say, `Well, that's too
big of a joke.' We did a joke about the Guggenheim Museum last year, which is
a wonderfully crafted joke between four writers. You know, when four writers
are making a joke, you know it's a joke. But we made a joke--it was an
episode where Charlotte hadn't looked at her vagina, and she says to Carrie,
`Have you looked at your vagina?' and she says, `I think of it like the
Guggenheim. Whenever I'm the neighborhood, I stop by and see what's on. But
I get confused and a little dizzy.' And, you know, we thought, `Oh, Carrie
comparing her vagina to the Guggenheim, it's brilliant.' And then when we
filmed it, we went, `Well, that's just about joke writers sitting in her head,
working her like a puppet. Carrie would never say that.'
GROSS: Right. So you took it out.
Mr. KING: And eventually, the joke eventually turned into, `Carrie, have you
looked at yours?' and Carrie said, `How'd I get involved?'
Mr. KING: And that seemed more right for our show because it's Carrie's true
attitude about it rather than `Look how we clever we are. We built a joke and
now Sarah Jessica's doing it.' And she did it perfectly, but she also did
look at me like, `Is that all right?' and I knew, `OK, it's a joke. We put a
joke in the show.' And the writing in our show is more about--we get to show
off a little bit. If on "Will and Grace," they get to show off in the jokes,
we get to show off in Carrie's column or the narrative, you know what I mean,
or our turns of phrases. We have our thing, too.
GROSS: I'm sure a lot of women say to you, particularly about the character
Samantha, that women don't care as much about the size of the male's anatomy
as Samantha does. So what do you say when viewers tell you that?
Mr. KING: Yeah. I think that there are some women who don't care that much
about how their living room looks, either. You know, there are some women
that are crazy and have everything in their living room turquoise.
GROSS: Yeah, right.
Mr. KING: And another woman'll walk in and go, `Why does she care so much
about turquoise? Why does the pillow have to match the couch? Why does the
rug have to match the wall?' And for Samantha, her living room may be a
GROSS: Right. So which character do you relate to most?
Mr. KING: I would have to say that I am Carrie and Miranda. I mean, the
interesting thing--Margaret Cho is on the show. She's a wonderful, wonderful
comedienne and actor and writer. And she says that she thinks every--she does
the "Sex and the City" zodiac. She says I'm Carrie with Miranda rising. So I
think they're all in there. I mean, when I'm writing them, I feel that Carrie
is the most difficult to write because she's the most integrated. And I would
like to think that what we're all shooting for is to be somebody who is all of
those characters, somebody who has a great healthy sex life, someone who
believes enormously in romance and tradition, somebody who is cynical and
funny as Miranda, and then someone with a completely warrior wide-open heart
that Carrie just keeps going for it and trying to make the world better for
herself and her friends and everybody.
GROSS: Well, Michael Patrick King, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. KING: Terry, it has been my pleasure.
GROSS: Michael Patrick King is the executive producer of HBO's "Sex and the
City." Our interview was recorded last week when I had a bad cold.
Let's listen to a recording by Peggy Lee. She died yesterday of a heart
attack at the age of 81. Her biggest hits were "Fever" and "Is That All There
Is?" We'll hear a track from early in her career, back in the mid-'40s, when
she was recording with a band led by guitarist Dave Barbour, who was then her
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. PEGGY LEE: (Singing) Don't blame me for falling in love with you. I'm
under your spell, so how can I help it? Don't blame me. Can't you see when
you do the things you do, if I can't conceal this thrill that I'm feeling,
don't blame me. I can't help it if that doggone moon above makes me need
someone like you to love. Blame your kiss, as sweet as a kiss can be, and
blame all your charms that melt in my arms, but don't blame me.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. LEE: (Singing) Blame your kiss, as sweet as a kiss can be, and blame all
your charms that melt in my arms, but don't blame me.
GROSS: Peggy Lee singing "Don't Blame Me."
Coming up, David Bianculli reviews current and classic TV shows now on DVD.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Current and classic TV shows now on DVD
TERRY GROSS, host:
Television series old and new are being released in an ever-increasing number
on DVD sets. From classics like "Your Show of Shows" to current series like
"Sex and the City," TV is finding its way into homes in a new format. TV
critic David Bianculli is all for it for personal, as well as professional,
I can remember being in college in the mid-'70s and becoming close friends
with one of the film professors. He had a 16mm projector and would lug it to
my apartment so that my friends and I could watch movies from his personal
collection. We projected them on a sheet I tacked on my wall. Boy, that was
A couple years later, I was a full-time TV critic, and Sony released the
Betamax, the first home videocassette recorder. It cost $1,700, which at the
time was one-tenth of my annual income. But I took out a loan and bought one.
It meant I could go out at night and watch the TV I missed when I got home.
Better yet, it meant I could watch one show and tape another. Best of all, it
meant I could compile my own library of films and TV shows. Who needs a film
projector? Who needs a professor? Boy, that was the life.
Videodiscs, the next popular video format, was overwhelmingly used for movies,
not TV. But now that the DVD is big business, big business has discovered
that it's the perfect format for TV fans. The first two seasons of "The
Sopranos," for example, have been released in separate boxed sets of four
discs each. Each boxed set is about the size of one videotape, which means in
the space on my shelf it now takes to hold two episodes of "The Sopranos" on
video, I can put 26. And they look and sound much better, and won't degrade
with time, and are easier to navigate from one scene to another, and have all
sorts of special features.
The only drawback is that what I'm gaining in shelf space, I'm losing in time.
Many of these boxed set releases feature alternate commentaries on the audio
track, so you have to watch them twice, once to see the shows and once to hear
the behind-the-scenes stories. Most of the boxed sets, too, have extras
tacked on at the end: deleted scenes, sample scripts and storyboards, special
interviews. You could lose an entire day working through the goodies on just
one of these sets. I know, because I have.
I've lost myself in "Twin Peaks," the first season of which, minus the
tele movie pilot, recently was released in one beautiful four-disc set. The
video transfer is so gorgeous the difference is noticeable from the opening
credits. Even the steam from the sawmill billows in pulsating ways I never
noticed before. And the sound and music, which David Lynch always obsessed
over, really come through beautifully.
The first season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was released last week, and
that's an especially fun show to revisit. So many people I know have come to
this show late or not at all, that grabbing the first year's worth of episodes
on DVD is the perfect way to get acquainted.
I've been amazed by the clarity of the digitally restored Sid Caesar DVD sets,
and grateful for the well-chosen segments in the Johnny Carson collection, and
happy to store so many "Sex and the City" episodes in one handy package.
And perhaps most of all, I'm thrilled to own the first season of "The
Simpsons." What a great show, and what a wonderful DVD package. All 13
episodes are included, without commercials, of course, and transferred so
crisply you can catch all sorts of formerly blurry hidden jokes. Each episode
features an alternate audio commentary, which often is as funny as the show.
Here are creator Matt Groening, co-executive producer James L. Brooks and
others whose conversation was recorded while screening one of the episodes,
"Some Enchanted Evening."
(Soundbite of audio commentary)
Mr. MATT GROENING: This is the show that almost killed "The Simpsons."
Mr. JAMES L. BROOKS: Whatever do you mean, Matt?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GROENING: Well, this--you know, we...
Mr. BROOKS: I remember that day.
Mr. GROENING: We had done 13 episodes, written 13 episodes, and had worked
with animators and had all of the episodes in the works before we had seen the
results of any of the writing. And all the layouts were done here.
Mr. BROOKS: Right.
Mr. GROENING: Everything was shipped off to Korea, so we really didn't know
what we were going to get. And so we had a...
Mr. BROOKS: Six months later. Now...
Mr. GROENING: Six months later, we saw the results of that first script,
which was this. And...
Mr. BROOKS: Well, not this episode, what we're seeing now, but...
Mr. GROENING: Not this particular episode, 'cause this is the fixed-up
version. But there's elements of the original episode in here.
Mr. BROOKS: Yes. Right.
Mr. GROENING: There's a couple jokes. What percentage of this would you say
Mr. BROOKS: I think about 70 percent.
Mr. GROENING: Seventy percent.
Mr. BROOKS: And anything that we had old--we actually had a new background,
too, because all the backgrounds were kind of...
Mr. GROENING: But we sat there and saw the worst version of "The
Simpsons"--well, you can't imagine. You can't imagine how bad it was. You
can be a little off and they became sort of grotesque, and everything was
BIANCULLI: Could the original animation of that first "Simpsons" episode be
as bad as they claim? It turns out you can judge for yourself, because that
very animation is included as one of the many boxed set extras. In my
opinion, it was that bad, as terrible as this first "Simpsons" DVD is
It doesn't surprise me that Groening is so savvy in taking advantage of this
new technological format. He's even savvy enough to make fun of it--and
us--in his written introduction inside the boxed set. `Welcome,' he writes,
`to the first of many deluxe, overpriced DVD sets of "The Simpsons." With
280-odd shows in the can and no end in sight, you might be able to complete
your "Simpsons" DVD collection just before the next format comes along.
Thanks for buying.'
He's right, you know, but it doesn't matter. For now, this is too much fun,
too convenient, too attractive, too addictive. For a few years at least, this
is the life.
GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.