On this day in comedy on April 15, 1990 In Living Color premiered on Fox.
The relationship between Fox network and the Wayans family started off fine. Following his back-to-back box office successes of Hollywood Shuffle and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Keenen Ivory Wayans was approached to do a show for the network. He said he wanted to create a variety sketch comedy show. They said fine. He said he wanted black cast members. They said fine. Then when the show blew up based on the formula set up by Keenen and his co-creator, brother, Daman Wayans, Fox wanted to step in and run the creative side and to the Wayans that wasn’t fine.
In Living Color was a golden goose for Fox. Kicking off with a quick snappy welcome from Keenen the show featured the Fly Girls, a group of house dancers choreographed by Rosie Perez and that was a spring board for the careers of Jennifer Lopez and Carrie Anne Inaba. The sketches showcased the talents of Damon Wayans, David Alan Grier, Jim Carrey, Kim Wayans, Tommy Davidson, Kim Coles, Shawn & Marlon Wayans, Kelly Coffield and T’Keyah Crystal Keymah. Jamie Foxx came on the third season. An amazing cast which created indelible characters such as Homey D. Clown, a fully made up circus dweller with a nasty attitude; The Homeboys Shopping Network, two thieves selling boosted goods on public access TV; Ugly Wanda, Jamie Foxx as a disgusting chick; Venus D’Milo, Jim Carrey as a disgusting chick; Fire Marshal Bill, Jim Carrey as a disgusting fire marshal with the catchphrase, “Lemme show ya something” and Men on Film, two flamboyantly gay movie critics.
Wayans dream of a variety show had to include musical acts. There were plenty. Live performances were rendered by Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Public Enemy, Kris Kross, Eazy-E, Tupac, Mary J. Blige,3rd Bass, Father MC, En Vogue, Us3, Gang Starr, MC Lyte, Onyx, Arrested Development, Leaders of the New School and Jodeci. There were guest stars and recurring players: Rodney Dangerfield, Chris Rock, Marc Wilmore, Barry Bond, James Brown, Peter Marshall, Ed O’Neill, Reggie McFadden, Sherman Hemsley and Biz Markie. The show also had powerhouses behind the scenes: a solid comedy writing team headed up by Paul Mooney and Heavy D and the Boyz performed the opening theme.
From the very first show, In Living Color was praised for its rawness, inventiveness and edgy point of view. For two seasons it enjoyed immense popularity and public adoration. That’s about the time the tampering comes in and Fox was no different. With a proven winner in their laps they decided to stand up for their right to do the show their way. Big mistake. In those latter seasons executive interference was too much for the Wayans and they walked. The once brilliant television landmark went off the air on May 19, 1994.
Over its five season run, in Living Color amassed 2 Image Awards (Outstanding Variety Series. Outstanding Comedy Series), a PGA Most Promising Producer in T0elevision (Keenen Ivory Wayans), A People’s Choice Award, a Primetime Emmy and a TV Land Award for Groundbreaking Show.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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