MIPCOM: Darren Star Talks Creating Iconic Characters, Diversity on TV

LISA O'CONNOR/AFP/Getty Images
Darren Star

The 'Sex and the City' creator says, in retrospect, he would add more diverse characters and praised 'Fleabag' and 'Insecure' for their strong creative voices.

Darren Star has created some of TV's most iconic shows. With Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and Sex and the City in his queue, he reflected on his career while speaking in Cannes.

He's drawn to writing female characters because of their emotional accessibility. “I feel like they're emotionally very open, they're very expressive, they're funny. I just think of the female characters as people,” he said. “If you put men in the same situation you just wouldn't be able to tell the same kinds of stories.”

The broad appeal of his shows comes down to the universal themes — defining self-worth on Sex and the City and dealing with ageism on Younger. In his latest, Emily in Paris, the titular millennial explores living life through an iPhone filter. The show's title is based on the Instagram account on which she starts to chronicle her life. “Instagram is a very big part of the series. It's also about how influencers and Instagram have sort of become arbiters of taste and what that means and she's dealing with that question in her work and in her life,” he said.

It's all very meta, the show's Insta-Emily exists and is updated regularly as part of the social media strategy. It's not due until next spring on the upstart Paramount Network.

Emily in Paris is the show he wanted to write since Sex and the City filmed some episodes in the city of light years ago. “TV has become so expansive that we can film an entire series here and that wasn't possible a number of years ago,” he said. It also reflects the mobility of the modern world, where people move from city to city throughout their lives.

Aside from Younger, his TV Land that show airs on linear, he said the prevalence of streaming influences his writing.

“From the time I started doing Younger I really thought about the fact that people are going to be watching us on a streaming service,” he said, joking about the binge-watching tendencies of the audience now. “Now it's instant gratification. It only matters how much one person can take in one sitting and it seems that people can take a lot.”

One could argue that Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag couldn't have existed without Sex and the City paving the way for how women can be portrayed onscreen. Star calls himself a fan of the BBC comedy, as well as Issa Rae's Insecure as modern iterations of his iconic Carrie Bradshaw. He heaped praise on the female creators' strong voices. “TV now is providing many more authentic voices because the pressure of making something that has got to appeal to everybody isn't there anymore,” he said.

Back when channels still had must-see TV, they were aiming for massive hits. “Networks wouldn't give shows a chance to build an audience, they made very, very quick decisions. Networks and network executives are going more with their gut because they have to give a show more time and the ratings metrics are so low,” he said.

Reflecting on the legacy of Sex and the City, which for all its broadness was short on minority characters, he said that's a change he would make in retrospect. “That's the one thing I probably would have liked to have done differently,” he said. “Hopefully it transcended that, but looking back, wow, that would have been another way to make it feel more groundbreaking.”

The show, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, has been recently criticized from a modern perspective for its lack of minorities in the multi-cultural New York City. “The show is very much a product of its time and I think the show is a time capsule. You can only think about shows as representing the time that they are being made,” he said. “TV has evolved in being much more inclusive and I think that people do now think about series that way.”