A New Sex and the City? Paramount, I'm Waiting for the Call

If recent reports are correct (per DEADLINEHarpers Bazaar, and other media sources), Paramount TV is developing a television series that is a direct follow-up to Sex and the City. The new show will be based on the yet to be released book Is There Still Sex in the City? by Candace Bushnell. Reportedly, both the book and the show will pick-up where the original series left off. In other words, a generation of former thirtysomethings, who are current fifty-somethings will be able to read and then watch issues relevant to their current lives play out publicly once more.

So why does this 70-year-old psychologist care? Because Sex and the Cityoffered my first professional platform for communicating with and educating the public—and on a personal level, I enjoyed certain social benefits from it.

In June 2000, I was contacted by a company HBO had hired to help them promote the already successfully launched series. (For millennials requiring a history lesson, Sex and the City was an extremely popular, if not iconic, romantic comedy-drama series created by Darren Star and aired by HBO from 1998 to 2004.) HBO wanted to recruit a licensed therapist willing to provide online answers to viewers' questions about issues in their own lives related to the topics the show’s fictional characters encountered each week. This Q&A forum was to be hosted on AOL, which at the time was the social medium platform providing the greatest viewership and most popular medium—a “Chat Room.” It was to be called some variation of “The Analyst Is In.”

Why might HBO wish to offer this “service"? The concept of “going viral” was not yet part of the vernacular. However, HBO, as the longest continuously operating premium cable network, wanted to be “up to the minute” in its efforts to promote Sex and the City and grow its viewership. (Until that time, media efforts at building an audience frequently used the type of “fan magazines” found at supermarket checkout lines.) Sex and the City was broadcast every Sunday night, and a rerun was scheduled for Wednesday nights when the Q&A portal would be a promotional bonus available to viewers immediately following the rebroadcast. 

I was intrigued by their solicitation and already well aware of the program, especially as a New Yorker whose practice is on the Upper East Side. Location shots for the show near my office had garnered much excitement and social conversation among both patients and friends. However, as a conscientious mid-career professional, before committing, I first reviewed the “Telemedicine Report to Congress, January 1997" as well as the 1997 NBCC’s “Standards for the Ethical Practice of Web Counseling." While interested in finding ways to educate the public about psychology and the benefits of both psychotherapy generally and sex therapy specifically, I was not willing to be misperceived as attempting to practice psychotherapy across state lines or risking anyone’s mental health and/or my own license. 

I decided to accept the assignment, provided the following condition was met: HBO must establish a proper protocol for any audience member's potential emergency situation and post a disclaimer within the “Chat Room,” whereby all audience members were notified immediately when and how to seek proper emergency medical assistance, as needed, instead of waiting in a queue for a question to be answered by me. Once those requirements were met, we agreed on my own responsibilities, and soon this image appeared on the internet:

An early HBO posting of Sex And The City AOL Chat Room Discussion Site. Source: Used with permission of the MAP Education & Research Foundation

An early HBO posting of Sex And The City AOL Chat Room Discussion Site. Source: Used with permission of the MAP Education & Research Foundation

Initially, it was fun and interesting. At my request, every week, the HBO staff would messenger a packet to my office with a VHS video of the next episode. That allowed me to anticipate what viewers might “type in” as questions for me to answer online. 

Audience questions first went digitally to a producer in California who would read them to me quickly over the phone so I could identify a few to answer. The answers were to be detailed and hopefully both entertaining and educational. However, I needed to be careful that a question was sufficiently generic, and my answer general enough, to ensure that “therapy” was NOT being provided to any given individual across state lines. I would dictate answers which appeared as my own typed responses almost as soon as the questions were actually posted by the producer to AOL.

To provide some flavor below is the actual transcript from an early broadcast:

Dr. Perelman: First, I would like to remind our webcast audience that this broadcast is for purposes of education and entertainment only.  In addition, I want to apologize in advance if there are any technical difficulties as my comments are coming to you from Dallas, TX tonight rather than New York.  I am here to address the American Academy of Family Physicians on sexual counseling for their male and female patients.  Which leads us directly to our first question.

Was Charlotte's suggestion that Trey considers taking Viagra a valid one, especially if Trey's problem is more emotional than physical?

Dr. Perelman Answers:  Yes, the suggestion is a valid one, as Viagra often does have capacity to help restore sexual health for men suffering from a psychologically induced erectile dysfunction, though the timing of Charlotte’s suggestion leaves something to be desired.  

Trey did mention a family history of heart problems when he erroneously noted that “Viagra is a killer.” Viagra is not inherently dangerous in and of itself… however, Viagra can be deadly if combined with nitrates, which may have been prescribed for someone with a "heart condition."  Never combine Viagra with Nitrates!  Importantly, what is true, is that the risk factors for heart disease are also risk factors for organically caused erectile dysfunction.  Therefore, whatever causes are present in Trey's father's family… heart disease … may be adversely affecting his erectile functioning.  Depending on his answers when evaluated by a well-qualified sex therapist, he may also require consultation with a urologist/primary care physician who specializes in erectile dysfunction; who in turn may refer him to a cardiologist for further evaluation in terms of next steps. 

Finally, on a more obscure note, what if as implied it turned out that Trey's father "died in the saddle" of a heart attack as a famous politician reputedly did.  While in reality that is a highly unlikely scenario, but if true, it might certainly explain a fear of sex and subsequent avoidance of helping Charlotte with her "itch."  Statistically speaking performance anxiety and more conscious inhibitions would be more likely underlying culprits. 

Therefore, in summary, Viagra may turn out to be an appropriate treatment, but it would be best if that is done in combination with sex therapy to help him with his avoidance behavior as well as dealing with the couple’s relationship difficulties. Let's take the next question."

So, if the experience was so much fun and so educational, why did I resign from this consultation after a couple of years? Despite the benefit of being perceived as a more interesting dinner partner for my wife’s friends at parties, like many things in life, it simply grew “old.“ There were definite pressures and discomforts in being required to be “standing by” at a certain hour every Wednesday night for entire television seasons. The final straw was finding myself in my 10-year-old niece’s bedroom the day before Thanksgiving, holding her pink "Princess Telephone," and missing a family dinner while waiting for the only functional computer in that home to ever so slowly “dial up” the site.

That said, after almost a 20-year hiatus, I am once again ready, willing, and... waiting for Paramount's call to audition.