Hark. What's that sound coming from Madison Avenue, as loud as a million pairs of Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks clicking on steel and cement? As loud as the slurping of a million Cosmopolitans at a thousand trendy nightspots?

It's the sound of buyers at media agencies salivating at one of the greatest TV sponsorship opportunities ever: the chance to advertise during Sex and the City.

During its six-season run, the hit sitcom about the lives and loves of four Manhattan career women has appeared exclusively on HBO, the American pay-cable network that doesn't carry commercials. As a result, the show, along with The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, has become symbolic of the quality divide between the series available to sponsors on broadcast and basic cable TV and those off limits because they run on ad-free pay-cable networks such as HBO and Showtime.

The enormous buzz generated by Sex and the City despite its availability in only about a third of US households, plus the nearing of the end of its run on HBO, led HBO to consider selling rerun rights to all 94 episodes, to begin appearing after the series finale in April 2004. Two separate deals have been signed, one with the basic cable network TBS Superstation, starting in June 2004, and the other with the Tribune Company, starting in September 2005 on its 26 local broadcast stations in big markets such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

What has transformed Sex and the City into the kind of pop-culture phenomenon agencies and advertisers crave, the way its cast members live for shoe sales? The sex, natch. Racy, salacious, bawdy, frank, provocative - haul out the thesaurus and you still won't find enough synonyms to cover the subject. It's appointment TV because it presents women talking about - and having - sex as if they were men.

Needless to say, that won't be every advertiser's cup of tea. Smoothing the way for sponsors, however, is HBO's decision to offer the reruns in edited versions. Not bowdlerised, mind you, just cleaned up enough to satisfy the stricter standards that apply once you leave the anything-goes precincts of pay-cable.

HBO, it turns out, had arranged during the production of Sex and the City to shoot additional or alternate footage, which now can be inserted to smooth over any rough moments produced by the scissoring of material too profane, explicit or lascivious for broadcast or basic cable. That ought to go a long way to mollify marketers who are eager enough to consider buying commercial time during the reruns, to reach the demographically desirable younger viewers they will attract, but worried if Sex and the City will, as the saying goes, play in Peoria.

Executives at media agencies who aren't already brainstorming buys are getting help from the TBS sales force, which is designing sponsorship packages extending well beyond traditional ads to include promotions and tune-in reminder spots. Given what Sex and the City has done for the shoes sold by Choo and Blahnik, not to mention the suave Cosmopolitan cocktail - all plot points to establish the characters' lifestyles rather than product placements - imagine the benefits sponsors will reap from close association with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda.

It's *#dollars @%!&*% incredible, as they might say in a pre-edited episode.

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