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Yesterday's TV, Today's Economy: Sex and the City


How would Carrie Bradshaw and co. fare in today's Manhattan?

Airing on HBO (TWX) from 1998 to 2004, "Sex and the City" came to embody the travails of the modern workingwoman. Torn between love and sex, the single life and marriage, kids and career, the show's four main characters reflected the struggles of a post-feminist generation trying to have it all. When we meet the ladies in New York City, Carrie Bradshaw is a struggling thirty-something sex-and-dating columnist for the New York Star. Miranda Hobbes is an ambitious lawyer who spews feminist politics and has plans to make partner. Samantha Jones is a successful publicist who spends her free time having sex with anything that moves. And Charlotte York is a WASP-y art gallery curator willing to give it all up-for the right rich husband.

So, how would Carrie and co. fare in today's economy?

According to Kat Stoeffel, who covers the media for the New York Observer-which published the Candace Bushnell sex column that became the Sex and the City book upon which the show was based-Carrie could forget about that expensive shoe collection and those fancy dinners. "Today's writers can't support that kind of lifestyle with print writing alone," says Stoeffel. Online content farms like Demand Media (DMD) and mostly non-paying web sites like the Huffington Post, newly purchased by AOL (AOL), as well as a shrinking magazine and newspaper readership and the decline of advertising spending since 2008, have driven down writers' fees to next to nil.

Instead, Stoeffel says, social-media savvy writers have to self-promote for free on Facebook and Twitter, "fashion[ing] themselves into a 'brand' that will resonate with consumers across other, richer media," hoping to land book deals, TV gigs, and paid speaking engagements. As for the sex beat, "I don't think sex columns are dead, but sex writing has certainly lost its glamour," Stoeffel says, and "if an aspiring Carrie wants to stay well-heeled, she would have to diversify." Stoeffel estimates that in 2011, Bradshaw would make around $30,000 annually to start and top out around $80,000-maybe more if she can turn her brand into a franchise.

Miranda, the redheaded lawyer, may do better. Marisa Kakoulas , a New York-licensed attorney and legal writing consultant, notes that while recent years have seen massive layoffs, the legal business is bouncing back. "Miranda may not be immune to the effects of this recession on law firms," Kakoulas says. "That said, she's a Harvard grad who is a workaholic, so being from a top-tier school and a 'gunner' gives her better odds." Despite a recent Wall Street Journal story on "Big Law's $1,000-Plus an Hour Club," most attorneys don't command those fees, Kakoulas notes. "According to, the average associate salary is $72,671 to $158,685. This doesn't include bonuses. For partners, it's between $172,411 and $326,568."

Miranda was able to make partner on "Sex and the City," but in the real world being a woman wouldn't help; in 2009, Kakoulas points out, only 18.47 percent of partners were women. If Miranda cut back her billable hours to raise the child she eventually had, she'd probably be forced to move to Brooklyn, as she did. Although, Kakoulas adds, "Brooklyn has been getting very expensive lately as well." Maybe Miranda could move to Queens?

Samantha was best known for her rapacious sex drive, but she was also a successful publicist who ran her own company. She hosted lavish parties at the city's hottest spots, lived in a chic loft in the Meatpacking District, and wore designer clothes. According to Anne Ishii, a New York-based publicist-turned-consultant, those days are over. Things have "irrevocably changed" for PR. "The crash of '08 […] forced unprecedented due diligence applied to the nebulous craft of 'pitching' and hence the 'expense account,'" Ishii says. Samantha would have to work that much harder on that much less to afford her swinging lifestyle. "If Samantha Jones was [having sex with] everyone for kicks in 2007 … she's only [having sex] for capital today," Ishii opines. At the same time, publicists' duties have expanded to include keeping celebrities sober and out of jail. "Samantha could command at least $100,000 per job if she had a team that did the whole 360: ideation, scouting vendors, organizing events, accounting, results," Ishii estimates. "Clients are being stingy but base prices don't go down. Just [the] increased list of deliverables."

As for Charlotte, the blue-blooded gallery curator and art dealer searching for Mr. Right, she may have been on to something. Nowadays, says Danielle Ezzo, a Brooklyn-based independent art curator and artist, "The blue chip galleries are still selling well," but "smaller galleries are struggling." Still, the Internet has "helped the industry tremendously," Ezzo believes. "The globalization of the art market encourages artists to sell internationally and enables galleries to utilize new means to generate revenue, making art more accessible to the public." Now, curators and galleries sell their art collections online and through online auctions, and brick and mortar galleries are almost becoming a thing of the past. On Sex and the City, Charlotte married well -- twice -- and left the art business behind her. Even if she was able to transfer her art-selling skills to the web, Charlotte could expect to make around $46,000 a year, says Ezzo, noting, "As a New Yorker, you'd be lucky to pay for a one-bedroom and health insurance with that."
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