The Women of 'Cashmere Mafia' Suit Themselves

Just call them Suits and the City.

Four years after the seminal singles series "Sex and the City" ended its run on HBO, another quartet of blunt, bodacious and bold ladies will stride through Manhattan in killer heels: ABC's "Cashmere Mafia," premiering Sunday (10 ET/PT) and then shifting to its regular slot Wednesday at 10.

This time, the focus shifts from the boudoir to the boardroom.

Mia Mason (Lucy Liu) is a publishing whiz with a shaky personal life, Zoe Burden (Frances O'Connor) is an investment banker with two kids she barely sees, Juliet Draper (Miranda Otto) works as a hotel executive while dealing with major marital issues, and Caitlin Dowd (Bonnie Somerville) is a marketing pro who finds herself attracted to another woman.

"Cashmere" and "Sex" share the same executive producer in Darren Star, as well as costume designer Patricia Field and location. But unlike "Sex," which focused primarily on the relationship exploits of its four stars, "Cashmere" zooms in on the cutthroat corporate side of Manhattan, where a family crumbles when the nanny quits and an executive vies with her fiancé for a promotion.

Liu, the marquee name in the series, describes the show as "an exploration of women in modern society. The idea of how you balance out and juggle what you want, and what is actually reality. How do you live your life and still have time for yourself -- and is there time for yourself?"

"Cashmere" has seven completed episodes, with production of the remainder of the season on hold because of the ongoing writers' strike.

On Feb. 7, the Cashmere clique gets major competition from NBC's "Lipstick Jungle," another series about a heavy-hitting trio of Gotham women starring Brooke Shields, Kim Raver and Lindsay Price. It is based on the book by Candace Bushnell, the author of the "Sex and the City" book.

And in May comes the holy grail of girl power: the long-awaited, just-wrapped "Sex and the City" movie, featuring the original foursome and hitting a cineplex near you after an endlessly chronicled shoot in Manhattan.

Talk to anyone involved in "Lipstick" or "Cashmere," and you hear the refrain: There's plenty of room on the small screen for two network shows about strong women.

"It's such a strange question," Liu says. "People ask, 'What do you think of these shows coming up, and is it your competition?' No! Why does it have to be your competition? Why can't there always be shows about women? No one asks a man if it's difficult to have another show about men."

Timothy Busfield, producer of "Lipstick Jungle, "dismisses any rivalry with "Cashmere." "Our competition is going to be "Without a Trace" (on CBS) and whatever else ABC puts up against us on that night. There can be a couple of shows about women in New York."

Plus, if there's enough room on TV for multiple hospital and police dramas, "we'll be all right," Busfield says. "I don't know what competition is all about. We are appearing somewhere along the same time. And we both have beautiful women."

Yes, but aesthetics don't guarantee a hit. One show doesn't cancel out the other and both could thrive, says Variety TV editor Mike Schneider, as scrubs dramas "Chicago Hope" and "ER" both did when they premiered in 1994. But, he says, the long-term outlook is questionable, because "it's a landscape where few shows survive beyond the first season. And are people exhausted with the whole concept of single women living in the big city?"

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