It was the fairytale finale that millions of Sex and the City fans had secretly hoped for. But the romantic kiss between Carrie Bradshaw and Mr Big on a moonlit Parisian bridge was almost replaced with a less heart-warming ending.
In New York yesterday the silence that had surrounded the closing scenes of the show was broken and details of the three possible endings to the show which for six years satisfied transatlantic voyeurs with tales of orgasms, sex aids and the perils of asparagus-tasting semen were revealed.
Such was the level of secrecy surrounding the denouement of the final programme of the series about the sex lives of four Manhattan friends that producers filmed the extra endings and even kept its stars in the dark about which they would ultimately use.
Speculation and gossip about their contents has persisted since the airing of the final hour-long episode in March this year, in which the main character, newspaper columnist Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, finally got her man the previously commitment-phobic banker, Mr Big, played by Chris Noth.
However, the nature of the story lines has since remained stubbornly elusive. But now HBO, the American cable channel which made Sex and the City, has decided to seek one last pay day from the programme by including the "secret" endings in a set of DVDs to be released after Christmas.
The other endings, leaked to the New York Post, were all set in a Manhattan coffee shop in the aftermath of her sojourn in Paris, where Carrie had gone to live with her Russian artist lover, Aleksandr Petrovsky, played by the Latvian-born ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. But the tales Carrie tells her three friends Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) were very different.
In the screened ending, watched by 4.5 million Britons on Channel 4, Carrie breaks up with her ballet dancer after he slaps her across the face during a fight. She then meets her brooding banker who has flown across the Atlantic to declare his love. In a scene on a moonlit bridge designed to send viewers reaching for their tissues or sick bags, Mr Big declares: "It's taken me a really long time to get here. But I'm here. Carrie, you're the one."
But it now seems she very nearly was not. The third of the three other endings, understood to be the one which the producers would have chosen if the screened version had been rejected, shows Carrie explaining how Mr Big had travelled to Paris but decides at the last moment that he cannot make a lifetime commitment and rejects her once and for all.
In the ending, entitled Final Coffee Shop Version C, Charlotte says: "But Big told us he loved you." Carrie replies: "Exactly, the boy who cried love."
Samantha says: "He went all the way to Paris to choke?"
Miranda replies: "I'm going all the way to Napa to choke him."
A more uplifting conclusion was provided in Version B, where Carrie asks her friends to be maids of honour at her wedding that week to Petrovsky.
The other ending, Version A, was an extended version of the screened ending in which Carrie explains that, having made his declaration of love in Paris, Mr Big is moving back from California to be with her.
With its New York-style contempt for taboo topics, from the etiquette of oral sex to pubic wigs, the 94-episode run of the programme was credited with making sexual manners a pub topic for men and women alike. The proportion of male viewers for the show stood at 40 per cent, while 54 per cent of women polled by Time magazine in 2000 claimed it was realistic portrayal of single life.
It also proved more than lucrative for its stars and producers, with Sarah Jessica Parker finally "making it" in Hollywood and Kim Cattrall currently earning large sums from product endorsements.
HBO, part of the Time Warner media conglomerate, has enjoyed a lucrative return from its initial investment in a 1998 pilot show based on the newspaper column and fictional novel by Candace Bushnell, a New York writer.
Despite spending an average of £16,000 per episode on Carrie's wardrobe, the cable network last year made $626m (£390m). Sales of the DVD containing the other possible endings, as well as deleted scenes and on-screen errors, are expected to be in the millions.