Last Thursday, on a cold and blustery January afternoon, the cast and crew of Lipstick Jungle, the new NBC series premiering Feb. 7, scuttled about the Ukrainian Institute of America on 79th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Bright lights illuminated the high ceilings, ornate moldings and chandeliers within the 1898 mansion, which was standing in as a billionaire bachelor’s New York City apartment. Banks of additional lights outside the building created artificial sunlight streaming through the windows. The grand staircase was covered in plastic wrap. At the top, Brooke Shields—tall, sleek and TV makeup-ready—waited in a puffy winter coat (heat, apparently, not high on the list of priorities) to be called in front of the cameras, and tried to placate her daughter, the 4-and-a-half-year-old Rowan, who wondered, insistently, how much longer. The blond little girl attempted to stare down her famous mother. The two heads came together for some whispered negotiations, before Ms. Shields pulled Rowan cozily onto her lap. “Sorry,” she said with the universal what-can-you-do mommy smile. “We had a little bit of a change of schedule today.”
There was something awfully appropriate about witnessing this scene, as Lipstick Jungle, based on the best-selling novel by Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell, tackles the subject of three high-powered Manhattan women juggling their big-time jobs, their relationships, friendships and—in Ms. Shields’ character’s case—kids.
With Lipstick Jungle, the powers-that-be at NBC are hoping to capture the millions of viewers whose longing for Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte has not been slaked by the reruns, DVD’s and sanitized TBS versions they have had to make do with since the hit HBO show went off the air in 2004. “It’s a jungle out there. Dress accordingly” is the show’s tag line; the trailers and adverts not-so-subtly suggest the show’s Sex and The City lineage, with glamour shots of high heels striding on sidewalks and the three female leads showing plenty of leg and cleavage. And the Jan. 31 premiere party would thrill Carrie Bradshaw: It’s being held in the shoe department of Saks Fifth Avenue.
But the creators of the show stress its move into new territory.
“In Sex and The City, the shocking thing was women talking about sex,” said Candace Bushnell, who created Sex and The City in the pages of The New York Observer in the 1990’s and is one of the show’s executive producers. “But today, women still have a hard time talking about ambition.” The blond and blue-eyed Ms. Bushnell, who is a dedicated presence on set, was perfectly coiffed and surprisingly delicate in dark jeans (and, yes, fashionably pointy high heels). “I mean, we have a woman running for president,” she said. “Sex isn’t forbidden—there are women having Tupperware parties with sex toys—but saying you want to be CEO or president of the United States? You’re not supposed to say that unless you’re 12 and then no one takes you seriously.”
“I like that it’s not only about the happily ever after,” said Brooke Shields. “What I love about these women is that the goal is not finding the man and having that be the only type of happiness. We spend so much of our younger years thinking that’s what you have to get: you have to get the relationship, you have to get the family. … Now when you’re actually in it, when you get what you wished for, how do you spend your days in it?”
The three main characters of Lipstick Jungle are Wendy Healy (Ms. Shields), a married movie mogul; Nico Reilly(Kim Raver), a Vanity Fair-like editor in chief, also married; and Victory Ford (Lindsay Price) a fashion designer who dates a billionaire named Joe Bennett, played by 80’s heartthrob Andrew McCarthy. (All three women are described in Ms. Bushnell’s book as being in their early 40’s; NBC describes them as “30- and 40-somethings.”)
The pilot opens with the information that all three women have made it onto a list of “New York City’s 50 Most Powerful Women,” as they convene for Victory Ford’s fashion show—which is slammed in the press the following day. The trio assemble to console Victory with alternating advice. (“You can use the house in Montauk,” says Wendy. “The freezer in the garage is stocked with Dove bars and weed.” Nico counsels her not to show defeat: “I find it offensive that women always feel that we have to apologize for our success. There is no luck, there’s just talent and hard work, and the ability to bounce back when you’re knocked down.” Quips Wendy, “And I always thought she just screwed her way to the top.”)