On September 11, Sex and the City had just finished editing its fourth season, six episodes of which were slated to start in January. But once the immediate crisis subsided, the producers knew they had a problem: Images of the World Trade Center were all over the footage, a ghost in the glamour machine.
The first episode set to run in 2002 ended with Samantha and her boyfriend dancing by a rooftop pool, the Towers framed in the background. The next episode led with an even more alarming shot: the camera diving into, then over, a souvenir snow globe, which contained replicas of the Towers. In the final scene, Carrie’s voice-over played. “That’s the thing about relationships: Sometimes they look prettier from the outside. And what’s inside can be different than what it seems.” The camera drifted to the globe, where glitter floated. It was intended to look like snow, but when I watched it that January, I thought of ashes.
Beyond these scenes, executive producer Michael Patrick King was struck by the accidental resonance in many episodes, particularly the finale, in which Carrie’s monologue after Big leaves New York—she reflected on losing people, on cities changing, and on plane trips—felt so current that many viewers assumed it was added after the events [S3]. But when it came to the Towers, King advocated erasing them, including from the credits, where they were superimposed with Sarah Jessica Parker’s name. The show took place in present-day New York, he said, where there was no World Trade Center.
“Like the rest of us, I had had all sorts of mixed feelings about the Twin Towers,” said Parker, who watched them collapse. “But once they were gone, they were beloved. I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ ” But King was firm. The Towers were removed from the dancing scene. In the credits, the Empire State Building was subbed. They kept the snow-globe sequence, a more “nostalgic” image.
Still, by October, when writing began on season five, the writers were still shaken up, unsure whether it was even possible to refit their stylized sex comedy to the new environment. “Would people want to see their four ladies having fun, or be sad with them?” recalled writer Elisa Zuritsky, who remembers cathartic venting, with writers pitching Bush-era puns (“We’re going to smoke men out”) and talk about post-9/11 promiscuity.
King argued that the series should provide escapist pleasures, not debates about bin Laden over brunch. But to acknowledge the events subtly, he opted to write an episode, “Anchors Away,” that King describes as having a “military, shop-downtown, USO vibe.” The goal was not to be “pat in a jingoistic way,” said writer Cindy Chupack, “but to reflect something we were all feeling: very bonded to New York.” Incorporating a story from writer Liz Tuccillo, King wrote an episode in which a newly single Carrie goes on a failed “date” with New York, then gets invited to a Fleet Week party. There, Samantha scores ecstasy, Charlotte goes half-wild by showing one breast to an officer, and Carrie rejects a sexy Louisianian after he insults the city. “I can’t have nobody,” she said, “talking shit about my boyfriend.”
There were a handful of references to 9/11: Carrie suggested the girls should “throw some much-needed money” downtown, and there’s a punch line involving “manthrax.” But because the episode approached the city’s trauma sideways, “Anchors Away” was an affecting start to the show’s melancholic fifth season—controversial at the time, though it holds up as one of the show’s most interesting. As the season began, all four characters were single. And while there was no “terror sex,” no sirens headed downtown, there was a mood of anxiety about change, and loneliness, and the delicacy of human relationships.
“Perhaps if we never veered off course, we wouldn’t fall in love, or have babies, or be who we are. After all, seasons change. So do cities. People come into your life and people go. But it’s comforting to know the ones you love are always in your heart. And if you’re very lucky, a plane ride away.”