'And Just Like That...' producers on making modern 'Sex and the City'

Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky are writing partners who have been close friends for over 40 years, since they met in an acting class for kids in Philadelphia when they were nine years old.

 THE STARS of ‘And Just Like That...’ (photo credit: Craig Blankenhorn/courtesy of HBO Max and Hot)
THE STARS of ‘And Just Like That...’
(photo credit: Craig Blankenhorn/courtesy of HBO Max and Hot)

One of the big reasons the fascination with the groundbreaking HBO series, Sex and the City, and the buzz surrounding the reboot, And Just Like That... (currently airing in Israel exclusively on Hot) continues to this day is that these series show that women could have intense friendships that nurtured them in a way that their relationships with men often did not, and many viewers particularly related to this theme. 

So it is fitting that two of the writer/producers behind both the original series and And Just Like That... – Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky –  are writing partners who have been close friends for over 40 years, since they met in an acting class for kids in Philadelphia when they were nine years old. “We had this really immediate bond that has lasted a lifetime,” said Rottenberg.  

While they had various jobs after college – including, for Zuritsky, a stint in the features department of the New York Post – they were always writing scripts together. Their big break came when they were hired as story editors on Sex and the City and they eventually moved into writing scripts and producing the show. They were nominated for several Emmys, including for two of the series’ best-loved episodes, “My Motherboard, Myself” (which includes one of the most moving moments of the series, when Miranda’s mother dies) and “The Ick Factor.”

They have also collaborated on a number of other female-centric series, such as Divorce and Odd Mom Out. While they have occasionally worked solo as well, their partnership has been the biggest part of their working life. 

When I interviewed them this week on a Zoom call from their apartments in Brooklyn – audio only, and we all bonded about the hellishness of trying to look half-decent in Zoom video – I had to keep checking the boxes on the screen to see who was speaking. They have that finishing-each-other’s sentences intimacy that comes from years of friendship and collaboration and they are so articulate and literate and speak to each other with such affection and respect, it’s almost as if Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet heroines were TV rom-com writers. 

 WRITERS AND producers Julie Rottenberg (left) and Elisa Zuritsky.  (credit: Ben Rubin) WRITERS AND producers Julie Rottenberg (left) and Elisa Zuritsky. (credit: Ben Rubin)

The new series has come in for both praise and drubbing for its themes of death and loss (a major character passes away in the first episode), which are more prevalent now that the characters are in the their mid-50s, and as well as for adding diversity in the form of African-American, Indian and trans characters and including discussions about changing political, cultural and sexual norms. 

At the beginning of the interview we all chatted a bit about buying home antigen tests in Jerusalem and Brooklyn – typical mom talk for 2022 but then they started to talk about whether it was nerve-wracking or a dream come true to revisit such a successful series so many years later.

Zuritsky said that after Michael Patrick King, one of the show’s creators, called and asked them to work on And Just Like That..., “I think it was very, very exciting... that we were bringing the story up into the present day.... There was an awareness of the pitfalls and the scrutiny that the show would have by daring to come back... and nerves that enter the picture, that feeling of wow, whatever we do, we will probably upset someone or some group, and that feeling we can’t please everyone, no one ever can and no show ever can and that was always walking alongside the thrill for me.”

Discussing reactions the reboot has received, Rottenberg said they run the gamut from: “’Thank you, you are saying what I wish I could see people saying on TV’ and ‘You’re horrible, you ruined my life’ and ‘I would never say that my friends and I would never say that’ and it basically just speaks to the power of the series, it is both iconic and incredibly personal for so many viewers.”

Added Zuritsky: “Anything that people watched and engaged with so passionately, it means people care and people are connected and feel passionate enough to engage in these arguments, and to me, that means we are doing something right.” 

Another aspect of working on And Just Like That... that is interesting for them is that when the original aired, both were single and childless, while they are now married moms. Said Zuritsky, “We both crossed that threshold [of motherhood], and there were so many times when over the years when we said, ‘I can’t believe we were writing Miranda as a mother before we were mothers.’” 

Given that this is an interview for The Jerusalem Post, I asked them about the show’s Jewish quotient. We all know that in Sex and the City, Charlotte (Kristen Davis) converted to marry her husband, Harry, and ended up taking Judaism more seriously than he did, but I had to ask: In spite of her not particularly Jewish-sounding name, is Carrie Jewish?

“We did talk about it in the episode in the series where they’re making challah and she says, ‘You don’t have to halla [holler].’ I feel like that answer to that is early on before we joined the show... she’s dating Big and he’s going to church with his mom and he doesn’t want her to meet his mom and Carrie has a line like, ‘I belong to the church of being nice to people,’ so that was [the] only direct religion address that the show has made for Carrie. 

“I think people can read in what they want. Sarah Jessica [Parker] is half Jewish and I think comes across that way and has such a New York Jewish vibe that you can pretty much project whatever you want to on Carrie... If Israelis want to claim her as a Jew I think that’s perfectly fine.”

For those interested in the Jewish aspects of the show, Rottenberg said, “Stay tuned because there is more Jewish fun coming up in episodes nine and ten, via Charlotte,” which will air in a couple of weeks, which gives us something to look forward to as we shop for antigen tests these days.