'Sex' offers interracial romance

— Miranda's new squeeze in "Sex and the City" is handsome, successful and charming. He's also black -- notable for a show that has been almost uniformly white in its casting.

The series about four single New Yorkers is finally allowing the city's ethnic diversity a central role.

Blair Underwood, introduced in Sunday's episode, plays Dr. Robert Leeds, the New York Knicks team physician.

The series about four New Yorkers, starring Sarah Jessica Parker (who's also an executive producer), Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon, is in its final season. (It's a divided year: 12 episodes are airing through Sept. 14, and then the series is to return in January 2004 with eight concluding episodes. Underwood is appearing through the end of the first batch.)

"We all of us, and no one more than Sarah Jessica, had lobbied for this for a long, long time," Nixon, who plays Miranda, said in an interview. "I'm a huge fan of the show, but if we had area in which we really could use improvement, it's certainly this one."

The comedy only lightly has brushed up against New York's diversity before.

Cattrall's character, bed-hopper Samantha, had a handful of flings with minorities and a romance with a Hispanic lesbian (Sonia Braga).

But the inner circle of friends and serious boyfriends remained steadfastly white. Like "Friends," another New York-set series, "Sex and the City" came under scrutiny for painting the town one color.

"It's about time"

photo

AP Photo

Blair Underwood, left, and Cynthia Nixon star in a scene from HBO's "Sex and the City" in this undated publicity photo. In the series, Nixon begins a romance with Underwood after he moves into her co-op building. The show airs at 8 p.m. Sundays on HB0, Sunflower Broadband Channel 400.

Last season on "Friends," a black love interest (Aisha Tyler) was introduced in a story line that, like the "Sex and the City" plot featuring Underwood, ran for four episodes.

"I think Candace Bushnell, who wrote the original columns (on which 'Sex and the City' was based), the world she writes about is extremely white," Nixon said. "And (series creator) Darren Star would say, 'I know these people. I move in these circles. It's a very white circle."'

"That's an argument to be made," Nixon said. "But it is six years later now, and I think it's irresponsible. I think it's about time."

The storyline

Miranda, a single mother and lawyer who's been moping about lost chances with Steve, her child's father, meets Leeds when he moves into her building. She's on the co-op board that vets potential buyers.

Here's Nixon's take on the encounter: "There's a sense Miranda is trying to push him because, A, he's a great candidate, he's a doctor, he earns a lot of money, he's very personable; B, a little diversity would be nice; and C, she's trying to hide the third thing that she thinks he's utterly adorable and would love to have him in the building.

"She's masking her attraction to him in political correctness, which I think is funny."

Underwood has been a television groundbreaker before. In 2000, he starred in the CBS drama "City of Angels," a TV rarity with its predominantly black cast. The series was canceled because of low ratings.

Underwood expressed satisfaction with the colorblind story, which barely takes notice of the ethnic difference between his character and Miranda.

"It's a nonissue," he said. "I think that's more current in this day and age, when it's not a novelty to see interracial dating on television anymore."

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