TV tourism on the rise in New York
Fancy a cosmopolitan a la Carrie Bradshaw or titillation down the strip club favored by Tony Soprano? TV tourism is whipping up a storm in New York, where fans can live as their heroes. Twice a day, a Sex and the City bus fills up outside the posh Plaza Hotel with gaggles of young women desperate to tour filming locations, and to shop, drink and eat like their small-screen heroines.
Traveling around Manhattan, the bus plays clips of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha from the hit series and a guide narrates anecdotes and vignettes about the show and the city.
For three-and-a-half hours, delighted fans blur the line between fiction and reality, taking photographs at every stage.
The Plaza? It`s where Carrie froze when she saw on-off lover Big leaving with another woman, says guide Stephanie Schweitzer.
Tourists ride down Fifth Avenue on a Sex and The City tour run by On Location Tours in New York. (AFP photo)
The bus heads down Fifth Avenue, passing jewelers Tiffany and Co. "Who proposed to who?" asks Stephanie: the answer bursts out with an outbreak of giggles from the back of the bus.
In Greenwich Village, the bus stops at a pizzeria featured in the series, near a sex shop visited by Charlotte. Some fans want pizza; others come out of the shop with a little ribboned package.
`Coming to life`
"I don`t want it to end, I am completely obsessed with Sex and the City," says Kristi Tanghare, 28, an American nurse studying criminal justice and stationed in Germany with her husband.
"To me it`s coming to life now." She came as a treat for her friend Jennifer Hegarty`s birthday.
"So far we bought a toy in the sex shop, went to Juicy Couture, and bought a purse and a matching wallet and we are planning to get a cosmopolitan (cocktail) at the next stop, just like the girls."
"Sex and the City", starring Sarah Jessica Parker, has become a TV classic since first airing from 1998 to 2004, breaking new ground by tackling head on women`s sex lives without inhibition.
"Women can relate to it, it`s real," Jennifer says.
The next stop are the luxury boutiques on Bleecker Street.
Back on the bus, everyone`s given a cupcake like those that Carrie or Miranda sometimes consoled themselves with when their love lives hit a blip.
Frenchwoman Aurelie Maheux, 26, is one of the few women accompanied by a man. She said she had recently re-watched all 94 episodes of "Sex and the City" in just 10 days.
She is planning to have dinner in a restaurant featured in the series and says she loves her heroines because "they are modern women, free, who talk about sex with complete openness."
In recent years there has been a spectacular growth in specialised cinema and television tourism, particularly in New York, which has been a backdrop for countless shows and flicks.
Georgette Blau, 39, is the director and president of On Location Tours, which offers seven bus tours in New York devoted to cinema or television, including the "Sex in the City" itinerary.
Some offer guides speaking French or German. There are also versions of the tour by private limousine, and one tour in Boston.
"To be honest, I really started as a kind of a side weekend hobby. I was in publishing, my big dream was to write for television," Blau told AFP.
One of the company`s other popular draws is a five-hour bus tour through New Jersey for cult TV show the "Sopranos" that starred the late James Gandolfini as the depressed mobster.
Guide Marc Baron, a former extra on the series, narrates the tour, and even gives out little presents.
Among the fans are more couples than on the "Sex in the City" tour, and on one recent Saturday a noticeable contingent from Britain.
But they are just as passionate about the award-winning series, considered by some the greatest TV show of all time.
Highlights of the tour are Holsten`s restaurant where Gandolfini`s character Tony Soprano ate during the last episode and the "Bada Bing" strip club which in real life is called "Satin Dolls".
It is practically deserted in the middle of the day. Two young women, one of them in a thong and a sweatshirt, shimmy around without conviction. But the fans are delighted.
Blau says that around 90,000 people go on her tours each year, half of them from overseas -- most often Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
When she started in 1999, she says three companies in the world offered such tours. "Now there are over 100."