Sex and the City and The Sopranos are often considered among the handful of shows that ushered in the so-called golden age of television. They had more than that in common: They both aired on HBO during many of the same years, and they also took place just miles apart, in New York and New Jersey. Recently, Eliza Cossio found herself asking a question all TV fans have probably asked themselves: How could HBO have missed this crossover opportunity? Last summer, despite the minor inconvenience that both shows have been off the air for years, Cossio decided that she would correct this cosmic chasm herself. And because she’s a TV writer by trade—for HBO, in fact, on its late-night comedy show Problem Areas—the script turned out pretty darn well. (It’s available for download via Twitter.) Slate couldn’t help but wonder if Cossio would answer a few of our questions … and the interview has been condensed and edited for clarity, capisce?
Slate: What made you realize this needed to be written?
Eliza Cossio: This summer I had time off from work and so I watched Sex and the City, actually for the first time, from the beginning to the end. I had only ever seen reruns on TBS.
I was having a lot of writer’s block. I feel like I was doing things just to do them, ’cause you have to have an original pilot script and you have to have this and that. Once I came up with this idea, it was so much more fun to me than just going through the motions of something else. I kind of just was like, I’m gonna do this for fun, and it’s clearly just a joy exercise for me to kind of shake things up so that I don’t feel like I’m writing just to write.
I was told this wouldn’t be a good writing sample, when I came up with the idea. I couldn’t help but disagree. I think it is, but knowing that the industry might feel that way, I was kind of like, well, this is just for me.
You said you hadn’t seen Sex and the City in full until the summer, but what was your relationship with The Sopranos?
It was actually the first show I completely binged. It was maybe four years ago now, but it was the first show where I felt like, “Oh, my God, this is why everybody goes crazy about a TV show.” I came to it late, but I fell in love with it. Really, it was on my mind because this summer I wrote and directed and acted in a short film, and it was my first time directing. I was trying to rewatch things I remember liking and looking at them with a directing eye instead.
I watched The Godfather and a bunch of other movies like Goodfellas, so I kind of had the mob movie in my mind as well. I was really studying mob movies and rom-coms this summer basically. That’s kind of how it was in the back of my mind. Then, when I was watching Sex and the City, there’s an episode where the girls go to Atlantic City, and I tweeted some joke about how it was like an insanely missed opportunity for a crossover episode. As soon as I tweeted it, I was like, “Oh, shit. That’s actually a good idea and maybe I should delete this tweet so nobody else does it.” But it’s still up there.
And when you were done with the script, you decided to put it up online.
I didn’t know where else it would go, you know? It could never happen, I couldn’t walk in and pitch it to somebody. Obviously not just because of the Sarah Jessica Parker/Kim Cattrall feud. James Gandolfini isn’t alive, and all of those reasons. I wanted to put it out because I like it. I was also inspired by the Seinfeld 9/11 script that Billy Domineau wrote a couple years ago, and how he just posted it online and it got traction that way.
What were your impressions watching Sex and the City for the first time through a 2018 lens?
Parts of it were definitely dated. There were things in it that I don’t think would fly in a show right now. It was of course a very white, hetero show, and I think if it were on now, that wouldn’t be the case. But for its time, it was a show that helped normalize women talking about sex, and I think that is great. And it’s really, really fun to watch.
The format of your episode is more like a Sex and the City than a Sopranos episode.
I thought it’d be easier for comedy. The Sex and the City format is really fun. I felt like it would be the best way to see this as an actual episode of one of the shows. It really gave me a structure that I could rely on a lot. That’s how the comedy came out, from the structure and following the form. I didn’t want to make fun of these shows. I really treasure these shows.
An early version of this script was just very, very wacky. The Sopranos theme music would play in the middle of a scene, Big was shot right in front of Carrie, and Carrie didn’t care. A lot of it was not really rooted in what the shows’ realities were. It was like a complete satirical thing. I got a really good note from my friend when I was in the early stages. He was just like, “Follow the form of the show.” That really is what opened up the writing process for me and made me handle the shows’ fragility a little more, like I wanted to be careful with these shows.
You’re from California, so how did these shows influence your impression of New York?
Watching both of these shows later in my life, when I was already in New York, I actually felt like Sex and the City and The Sopranos were part of my initiation into being a New Yorker. To me, they felt like they were very much East Coast culture. When I moved here, I didn’t get why everyone would make fun of New Jersey. I actually love New Jersey! And it took moving out here to fall in love with Springsteen and The Sopranos and summer tomatoes.
You had Paulie falling in love with Carrie in your script. Why did you decide that they were a good match?
I think it felt too obvious to have it be Tony. I also just didn’t want to do that to Carmela in this fake universe. I really didn’t want there to be problems, more problems, for Carmela. I wouldn’t wanna put Carrie against Carm—that would not be good. I just feel like Paulie’s a fucking crazy character. I thought he would be fun as a contrast to what Carrie normally goes for, but then also, I could kind of see her falling for somebody like him. She didn’t have the best taste in men sometimes. It also opened up space for Christopher to exist in it, and I wanted to write for Christopher.
How did you go about perfecting the dialogue style?
I say things out loud, and I act them out. I feel like I’m kind of a crazy person in the room at a certain point, but I say them out loud. Having an acting background, I think about what’s easy to say, what doesn’t sound like too much of a mouthful, and what’s too wordy. With writing, word economy is always really important, even more so with dialogue. I also have the benefit of these incredible characters—not just these incredible characters, but these incredible actors that I know again, in my mind, can lift dialogue up and make it sing.
I would work on this script while having episodes of The Sopranos or Sex and the City on in the background, to try to soak in the cadence of the actors. Sometimes I’d hear a line and just change it a little bit, or work it in in a different way.
I also listened to a lot of interviews with the Sopranos actors—they just did a lot for the 20th anniversary—about what they liked about the show. One thing that stuck with me was Edie Falco saying that to her, The Sopranos was a show about a marriage. I really tried to make that part of this script.
The redemption of Miranda has become a bit of a cliché in discussing Sex and the City—like, why was Miranda friends with the other women? Do you agree that she got short shrift sometimes?
Yeah, I would agree with that. Her part in this was also kind of a vestige of an earlier, crazy version of the script where they didn’t hear her talk. She was just completely nonexistent to them. Also in that version, Carmela and Miranda ended up hooking up. It was too crazy.
I don’t know if you saw that Sarah Jessica Parker revived her character for a Super Bowl ad, with “the Dude” from The Big Lebowski? What did you think?
I feel weird answering for them ’cause as an actor, a job is a job and all of that, but as far as it as a plot line, it’s not great. I hope Carrie falls in love with Paulie Walnuts before she has a Stella. But of course, I fucking love Sarah Jessica Parker and feel she can do no wrong.
If you had to pick a favorite character on each show, who would it be?
I go back and forth on Sopranos. Actually, the first thing that came to mind was Adriana, but I don’t know. I love Carmela; I loved Meadow. I feel like I really related to Meadow a lot. I would say somewhere within those three women.
Then, for Sex and the City, I love Carrie. She has such a spark. As far as Carrie’s best boyfriend, for a while I was all about Aidan, but then I feel like he pushed her too much. He kind of put her in uncomfortable positions, so he wasn’t that great. I like that he called her “Pop-Tart.”
Do you think you’re a Carrie?
I’m for sure a Carrie/Miranda. When I was watching it on TBS, I felt like I was a Miranda/Charlotte. Then, when I watched the whole series on HBO, I was like, “Oh, no, I’m a Carrie/Miranda.”
I want to be Samantha. I’m a Carrie/Miranda who wants to be a Samantha.