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New female-centric shows for ABC, NBC

Chuck Barney
Contra Costa Times (MCT)
CASHMERE MAFIA - 10 p.m. Sunday - ABC

Ever since "Sex and the City" left the air, television programmers have been trying - mainly in vain - to fill the fancy Manolo Blahniks of Carrie Bradshaw and her gal pals.

Those efforts take on heightened attention during the next few weeks with the launching of two female-centric shows about sexy, powerful women in New York City.

First up this weekend comes "Cashmere Mafia," a drama pegged to four women, including Lucy Liu ("Ally McBeal"). Then, on Feb. 7, NBC is scheduled to introduce "Lipstick Jungle," a drama about three girlfriends that counts Brooke Shields among its cast members.

Interestingly enough, both shows revolve around a group of women who bond over drinks and lattes and support one another as they try to balance their personal lives with their very demanding, high- powered careers. And, of course, they look absolutely fabulous in doing so.

Another intriguing wrinkle: Both shows have "Sex and the City" bloodlines. Darren Star, who created the HBO mega-hit, is the man responsible for "Cashmere Mafia." Meanwhile, Candace Bushnell, the original "Sex and the City" columnist, is the brains behind "Lipstick Jungle." And get this: TV Guide recently reported that the suspicious similarity of the two premises may have created a rift between the former collaborators. So we've got the possibility of some juicy off-screen drama to go along with the on-screen shenanigans.

None of that will matter, however, if the shows fail to resonate with the public. And while I have yet to see "Lipstick Jungle" and only two episodes of "Cashmere Mafia," my hopes for the latter aren't very high.

The first woman we meet in the "Cashmere" pilot is Liu's highly ambitious Mia Mason, whose hand has just been adorned with a big, sparkly engagement rock. But just one problem: Both Mia and her fiance are battling for a key position in the publishing field and neither one is giving an inch. Can one possibly be happy with the other in the dominant role?

The other members of this estrogen-laden "mafia" are Zoe Burden (Frances O'Connor), an investment banker, wife and mother who finds herself locked in the proverbial struggle to have it all; Juliet Draper (Miranda Otto), the chief operating officer of a major hotel chain whose husband is apparently cheating on her; and Caitlin Dowd (Bonnie Somerville), a top marketing executive for a cosmetics firm who, after dating men all her life, is getting the idea that she just might be gay.

"Cashmere Mafia" has its intriguing moments - just not enough of them. The early plot lines don't have a whole lot of fizz to them and are pretty predictable. And, surprisingly, Starr has failed to invest them with the kind of clever humor that made "Sex and the City" such an enjoyable experience.

The biggest problem is that the women populating "Cashmere" seem to be more caricatures than characters. It's as if Starr was trying to fill out the roster of a reality show with stock types - and various hair colors - and forgot to make them warm, interesting and/or engaging. In fact, the only one who had some distinctive appeal after two episodes was Somerville's Caitlin, who brings some emotional oomph to her dating dilemma. As for Liu, she basically plays the same take-charge character as she did on "Ally McBeal," but without all the fun and sassy dialogue.

Ah, but perhaps there is hope. I always thought "Sex and the City" took a while to gel, so maybe Starr is just a slow starter. On the other hand, Bushnell and the people behind "Lipstick Jungle" can take pleasure in the fact that he hasn't exactly set the bar very high.

After debuting Sunday night, "Cashmere Mafia" will settle into its regular time slot at 10 p.m. EST Wednesdays.

___

ANOTHER SHOT OF `TEQUILA': To absolutely no one's surprise, MTV has announced that it has ordered a second round of "A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila." Followers of the wildly offbeat reality dating series know that Tila, the sexy MySpace star and self-described bisexual, chose Bobby (a boy) over Dani (a girl) and declared she had found the love of her life. It was a finale that scored big ratings for MTV and sparked a feisty discussion on my TV Freak blog (www.ibabuzz.com/TVfreak).

Funny how things work out. Tila and Bobby weren't so compatible, after all, and now MTV is gleefully rounding up a new group of suitors - both straight guys and lesbians - to vie for Tila's heart. Ten new episodes are slated to debut in the spring.

Now can we all stop pretending that these shows are even remotely about finding true love?

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