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Lipstick Jungle’ highlights slate of new shows

Cassie Belek | Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha are the women of the past as “Sex and the City” grows up in Wendy, Nico and Victory of “Lipstick Jungle” – the new hour-long NBC series based off of Candace Bushnell’s book of the same name. The show’s promos say it all: They’re not looking for Mr. Big. They are Mr. Big.

“Lipstick Jungle,” which premieres Thursday at 10 p.m., follows three high-powered New York City women as they balance family, friendship and careers. It goes beyond “Sex and the City” as it focuses less on the politics of sex and more on the everyday struggles of working women. Brooke Shields stars as movie executive Wendy Healy, Kim Raver stars as editor in chief Nico Reilly and Lindsay Price stars as fashion designer Victory Ford. Much like in “Sex and the City,” the central component of the show is the characters’ friendship, something they lean on to get through just about everything. “Lipstick Jungle” is a departure from “Sex and the City” yet it still draws inspiration from its predecessor.

“The women are a little older, a little wiser but sort of equally as flawed,” NBC development executive and Notre Dame alumna Katie O’Connell said by phone Monday. O’Connell, who developed recent dramas “Chuck” and “Bionic Woman,” convinced Bushnell to bring “Lipstick Jungle” to NBC. “I knew Candace and I had read her book over the summer and I loved it and I thought that it lent itself so cleanly to a television series,” O’Connell says.

O’Connell got the ball rolling on the series two and half years ago when she started a development department for NBC in New York City. After hearing that Bushnell had almost closed a deal with another network, O’Connell sent the “Sex and the City” author a giant basket of lipsticks and had a fortuitous run-in with her at fashion designer Cynthia Rowley’s wedding. In the end, O’Connell convinced Bushnell that NBC was the network for “Lipstick Jungle.”

Bushnell isn’t the only big name attached to the project. The most notable leading lady is Shields, the popular star who had another series with NBC in the late 1990s – “Suddenly Susan.” O’Connell first met with the actress about “Lipstick Jungle” when she was starring as Roxie Hart in “Chicago” on Broadway. By the time the show was ready to cast for the pilot, Shields was pregnant, but thanks to the pushing back of production, she was able to do the series after all.

“She’s always loved the book and she’s always been kind of the prototype for us for the Wendy character,” O’Connell says of Shields.

O’Connell also praises executive producer Timothy Busfield, who has acted in series such as “30-something” and “The West Wing” and is a co-executive producer of both “Without a Trace” and “Ed.” “I think he’s really captured a tone that I haven’t seen in television in a long time,” she says. It’s a tone that Busfield has said he brings from “30-something” and it’s a tone that, according to O’Connell, sets “Lipstick Jungle” apart from new ABC rival “Cashmere Mafia.”

The two series have already drawn endless comparisons even as they try to set themselves apart from one another. “Cashmere Mafia” comes from the creative mind of Darren Star, who created a cultural juggernaut with Bushnell in HBO’s “Sex and the City.” O’Connell recognizes that the shows are rather similar on the surface, but she adds: “Our cast is completely different, our tone is a little bit more grounded and it feels a little bit more relatable.”

As an NBC executive, O’Connell says that she relates to the struggles of the characters in the show, which she says is one of the reasons that she has been so involved in the development of the series.

“What we’ve endeavored to do is really explore for each character a robust personal life and a robust professional life,” she says. Wendy, Nico and Victory get through their professional and personal lives in each episode through the strength of their friendship. “It’s really a celebration of successful women and the benefits that come with and also the challenges that come with that,” O’Connell says.

Starting tomorrow, three new fashionistas will navigate the jungle of New York City with careers, friends and family, and they’ll do it wearing perfect lipstick and stiletto heels. They just won’t need Mr. Big.