If imitation is the best form of flattery, then HBO's smash-hit series "Sex and the City" should consider itself flattered — very, very flattered.
Ever since the four sexy yet distinctly different New York vixens left primetime TV, several shows have adopted the four-female formula that drove "Sex and the City," which won seven Emmys and seven Golden Globes, to success.
UPN welcomed back "Girlfriends," about four L.A.-based African-American women who are friends, for its sixth year. And let's not forget ABC's award-winning darling of 2004, "Desperate Housewives," which tracks the lives of four domestic divas (five if you count Edie, a supporting character on the show).
Even guys are getting into the act. NBC is taking its chances with "Four Kings," a mid-season line-up addition from the creators of "Will & Grace" about four men, which some critics are calling a men's "Sex and the City."
With such a formula becoming so prevalent on TV, one has to ask: Do four friends, usually female, always equal fans?
Nielsen's averaged ratings through Jan. 1 indicate no. "Hot Properties," which was the 87th most-watched network primetime show of the fall season, was axed last month by ABC.
"Related" came in at No. 141, and "Girlfriends," while it was the third-ranked show for UPN, at No. 109. And while "Desperate Housewives" is the second-most watched show in America, its soap-opera plots set it apart from the usual four-female formula.
Despite its lackluster ratings, the WB is continuing "Related." But experts are cynical.
"With ‘Related' and ‘Hot Properties,' these are characters you've seen before. It seems like a formula and in wake of ‘Sex and the City,' it seems like they're trying to rip it off," said Matt Roush, a TV critic for TV Guide.
Variety reporter Laura Fries agreed that these new shows don't measure up to Carrie Bradshaw and Co.
"I don't think ‘Sex and the City' killed the female-focused drama or sitcom. It just raised the bar too high," she said. "Viewers have not been able to identify with any other show in quite the same way."
The cast of "Sex and the City," which was on air from 1998 to 2004, did offer a little bit of everything for everyone: There was career-oriented Miranda, conservative Charlotte, sexually ambitious Samantha and the well-rounded Carrie, the "everywoman" of the New York singles scene.
Similarly, the ensemble cast of "Related," created by "Sex and the City" writer and "He's Just Not That Into You" co-author Liz Tuccillo, consists of responsible eldest sister Ginny, the common-sense Anne, the partying Marjee and the naïve Rose.
"Hot Properties" and "Girlfriends" also feature gals with four markedly different personas. But one element that sets "Related" apart from the other four-female shows is that it's actually about four sisters. And some fans have "related" to the show.
"I like seeing how the sisters relate to each other because they share the same dating problems that other shows focus on, but beacuse they're sisters, it puts a different spin on it," said Erika Walsh, a 26-year-old curator from Ohio. "It helps the show balance between sentimentalism and comedy."
There is another popular four-female show — in syndication. "The Golden Girls," the 1980s sitcom about four older women living together in Florida, also consists of four women with distinct personalities: Dorothy is the responsible daughter taking care of her mother, tell-it-like-it-is Sophia. Blanche is the sexually ambitious diva while Rose, sharing the name with the youngest "Related" sister, is forever naive and ready to blush at Blanche's escapades.
"One of the great things about 'Golden Girls' was that even though it had a large female following, they were mass appeal shows. Lots of people, even men, liked it," Roush said.
Corey Barr, a 26-year-old financial analyst in New York City, thinks "Related" has the same appeal.
"'Related' is campy and cockeyed with no pretense of artistic quality," Barr said.
Fries, however, thinks "Desperate Housewives" is the only current show that compares to "Sex and the City."
"You could argue that 'Desperate Housewives' comes close [to "Sex and the City"]. The writing is certainly clever, but it's really a glossy soap opera with touches of realism," she said.
But Roush thinks the next "Sex and the City" won't be easy to recreate.
"It's a scary prospect for anyone to develop the next ‘Sex and the City.' It has such major Manolo Blahniks to fill. These are incredibly intimidating spiked heels here," he said.
The one person who might be able to do it is the creator of "Sex and the City" herself. Candace Bushnell is taking her second stab at TV with a NBC primetime series "Lipstick Jungle," an adaptation of her book by the same name that focuses on three women, and their careers, in New York City. The series is slated for the fall 2006 lineup.