Stefania Owen, left, as Dorrit and AnnaSophia Robb as Carrie in "The… (Giovanni Rufino / Warner…)
NEW YORK — For all her designer clothes and lavish amounts of closet space, Carrie Bradshaw always sorely lacked one thing: a back story.
Over the course of "Sex and the City's" six seasons, it often seemed as if Carrie had been hatched in a lab on the Upper East Side — and that was precisely the point. Carrie was the princess in the contemporary fairy tale of "Sex and the City," and wondering whether she had any family or friends before age 30 was a little like asking how she managed to pay for all those Jimmy Choos on a journalist's salary. It was a great way to destroy the fantasy.
Enter "The Carrie Diaries." Premiering Jan. 14, the new CW series is an attempt to tell the origin story of one of the most recognizable female television characters of all time — to do for Carrie Bradshaw what "Smallville" did for Clark Kent. Set in 1984, it stars AnnaSophia Robb as 16-year-old Carrie, a Connecticut high school student reeling from the recent death of her mother, falling hard for a dangerous new transfer student named Sebastian, and discovering the excitement of New York City for the first time.
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"For me the prequel became very exciting for me to explore the one piece I didn't get to explore on the original series," says creator Amy Harris, also a producer on "Sex and the City."
Despite (or perhaps because of) the enduring popularity of its predecessor, "The Carrie Diaries" is not a guaranteed success. There is, of course, the inherent difficulty of finding an actress as capable as Sarah Jessica Parker, who won two Emmys for her performance as Carrie.
"Nobody is going to replace Sarah Jessica Parker. That should not be our job here because we'll fail and it will be a total disaster," says Harris. More than 500 young women auditioned to play the young Carrie, some of them dead ringers for Parker. But it was Robb — who most recently starred in the inspirational drama "Soul Surfer"— who best captured Carrie's combination of intelligence, warmth and vulnerability, according to Harris.
The other great challenge is how to attract fans of the original series — women now well into their 30s and beyond — while also appealing to a new generation of younger viewers more familiar with Katniss Everdeen than Carrie Bradshaw.
To that end, Harris tried to focus on personal, deeply relatable stories about familiar adolescent themes: sex, love, drugs and, of course, fashion.
"My hope is that the 'Sex and the City' audience will come to enjoy a story about a character that they love and the younger audience will feel, 'Those are the things I'm thinking and now someone's actually saying them out loud,'" Harris says.
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Robb, who was just 11 when "Sex and the City" went off the air in 2004, came to the part with fresh eyes and watches a few episodes of the show a night as "a wonderful kind of homework." While she's striving to create her own version of Carrie, it's helpful for Robb to know the kind of woman her character will become.
"Carrie is very accepting and curious. Instead of forcing her own opinions on other people, she's kind of questioning the general truth and how she fits in with it. It's just a beautiful quality to have," she says.
While it remains to be seen if the teenage Carrie Bradshaw will be as influential as her thirtysomething counterpart, Harris claims the show already has one surprising admirer: "[CBS President] Les Moonves said to me, 'I know this is going to sound crazy because I'm a 60-year-old man, but I so relate to Carrie's journey. I literally felt like I was Carrie.'"