In Living Color is an American sketch comedy television series that originally ran on Fox from April 15, 1990, to May 19, 1994. Keenen Ivory Wayans along with his little brother Damon created, wrote and starred in the program. The show was produced by Ivory Way Productions in association with 20th Century Fox Television and was taped at stage 7 at the Fox Television Center on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
The title of the series was inspired by the NBC announcement of broadcasts being presented "in living color" during the 1960s, prior to mainstream color television. It also refers to the fact that most of the show's cast were black, unlike other sketch comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live whose casts are mostly white. It was controversial due to the Wayans' decision to portray African-American humor from the ghetto in a time when mainstream American tastes regarding black comedy had been set by more upscale shows such as The Cosby Show, causing an eventual feud for control between Fox executives and the Wayans.
Other members of the Wayans family—Kim, Shawn, and Marlon—had regular roles, while brother Dwayne frequently appeared as an extra. The show also starred the rising stand-up comic/actor Jim Carrey alongside previously unknown actor/comedians Jamie Foxx, Tommy Davidson, David Alan Grier, and T'Keyah Crystal Keymáh. Additionally, Dancing with the Stars judge and choreographer Carrie Ann Inaba and actress and pop music star Jennifer Lopez were members of the show's dance troupe The Fly Girls, with actress Rosie Perez serving as choreographer. The show launched the careers of Carrey, Foxx, Davidson, Grier, Keymáh, Inaba and Lopez, and is credited with bringing the Wayans family to a higher level of fame as well. It was immensely popular in its first two seasons, capturing more than a 10-point Nielsen rating; in the third and fourth seasons, ratings faltered as the Wayans brothers fell out with Fox network leadership over creative control and rights.
The series won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series in 1990. The series gained international prominence for its bold move and its all-time high ratings gained by airing a live, special episode as a counterprogram for the halftime show of U.S. leader CBS's live telecast of Super Bowl XXVI, prompting the National Football League to book A-list acts for future game entertainment, starting with Michael Jackson the following year. In 2018, a history of the show, Homey Don't Play That! by David Peisner, was released by 37 INK, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
Following Keenen Ivory Wayans' success with Hollywood Shuffle and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Fox Broadcasting Company approached Wayans to offer him his own show. Wayans wanted to produce a variety show similar to Saturday Night Live, but with a cast of people of color that took chances with its content. Fox gave Wayans a lot of freedom with the show, although Fox executives were a bit concerned about the show's content prior to its television debut.
In announcing its debut, Fox described In Living Color as a, "contemporary comedy variety show". In its preview, the Christian Science Monitor warned that its, "raw tone may offend some, but it does allow a talented troupe to experiment with black themes in a Saturday Night Live-ish format." Keenen Ivory Wayans said, "I wanted to do a show that reflects different points of view. We've added an Asian and a Hispanic minority to the show. We're trying in some way to represent all the voices. ... Minority talent is not in the system and you have to go outside. We found Crystal doing her act in the lobby of a theater in Chicago. We went beyond the Comedy Stores and Improvs, which are not showcase places for minorities."
The first episode aired on Sunday, April 15, 1990, following an episode of Married... with Children. The first episode was watched by 22.7 million people, making it the 29th top show for the week.
The Miami Herald said the show was as "smart and saucy as it is self-aware" and "audacious and frequently tasteless, but terrific fun". The Philadelphia Inquirer called it "the fastest, funniest half-hour in a long time". The Seattle Times said it had "the free-wheeling, pointed sense of humor that connects with a large slice of today's audience". The Columbus Dispatch described it as a "marvelously inventive" show that has "catapulted television back to the cutting edge".
The sketch comedy show helped launch the careers of comedians/actors Jim Carrey (then credited as "James Carrey"), one of only two white members of the original cast, Jamie Foxx, who joined the cast in the third season and David Alan Grier (an established theatre actor who had worked in Keenen Ivory Wayans' 1988 motion picture I'm Gonna Git You Sucka).
The series strove to produce comedy with a strong emphasis on modern black subject matter. It became renowned for parody, especially of race relations in the United States. For instance, Carrey was frequently used to ridicule white musicians such as Snow and Vanilla Ice, who performed in genres more commonly associated with black people. The Wayans themselves often played exaggerated black ghetto stereotypes for humor and effect. A sketch parodying Soul Train mocked the show as Old Train, suggesting the show (along with its host, Don Cornelius) was out of touch and only appealed to the elderly and the dead. When asked about the show's use of stereotypes of black culture for comedy, Wayans said, "Half of comedy is making fun of stereotypes. They only get critical when I do it. Woody Allen has been having fun with his culture for years, and no one says anything about it. Martin Scorsese, his films basically deal with the Italian community, and no one ever says anything to him. John Hughes, all of his films parody upscale white suburban life. Nobody says anything to him. When I do it, then all of a sudden it becomes a racial issue. You know what I mean? It's my culture, and I'm entitled to poke fun at the stereotypes that I didn't create in the first place. I don't even concern myself with that type of criticism, because it's racist in itself."
For the first episode, an exotic-looking logo was used for the opening credits. However, after the band Living Colour claimed in a lawsuit that the show stole the band's logo and name, the logo was changed to one with rather plain-type letters of three colors. The show title itself is an homage to the NBC Peacock tag line, "The following program is brought to you in living color" from the 1960s when television was transitioning from black & white to color TV.
In the first two seasons, the opening sequence was set in a room covered with painters' tarps. Each cast member, wearing black-and-white, played with brightly colored paint in a different way (throwing paintballs at the camera by hand, spray painting the lens, using a roller to cover the camera lens, etc.). The sequence ended with a segue to a set built to resemble the rooftop of an apartment building, where the show's dancers performed a routine and opened a door to let Keenen Ivory Wayans greet a live audience.
For the third and fourth seasons, an animated sequence and different logo were used. Cast members were superimposed over pictures hanging in an art gallery and interacted with them in different ways (spinning the canvas to put it right-side up, swinging the frame out as if it were a door, etc.). The final image was of the logo on a black canvas, which shattered to begin the show. The fifth season retained the logo, but depicted the cast members on various signs and billboards around a city (either New York or Chicago), ending with the logo displayed on a theater marquee.
The hip-hop group Heavy D & the Boyz performed two different versions of the opening theme. One version was used for the first two seasons and remixed for the fifth, while the other was featured in the third and fourth seasons.
In Living Color was known for its live music performances, which started in Season 2 with Queen Latifah as their first performer (appearing again in the third season). Additional musical acts who appeared were Heavy D, Public Enemy, Kris Kross, En Vogue, Eazy-E, Monie Love, Onyx, 3rd Bass, MC Lyte, Arrested Development, Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Tupac Shakur, Father MC, Gang Starr, Us3, and Leaders of the New School.
The show employed an in-house dance troupe known as the "Fly Girls". The original lineup consisted of Carrie Ann Inaba (who became a choreographer and judge on Dancing with the Stars), Cari French, Deidre Lang, Lisa Marie Todd, Barbara Lumpkin and Michelle Whitney-Morrison. Rosie Perez was the choreographer for the first four seasons. The most notable former Fly Girl was future actress/singer Jennifer Lopez, who joined the show in its third season.
The Fly Girls would sometimes be used as extras in sketches, or as part of an opening gag. In one sketch, they were shown performing open-heart surgery (in the sketch, the girls are dancing in order to pay their way through medical school). Another routine featured the three original female cast members dancing off-beat during the introduction of the show, when it was revealed that the regular Fly Girls were all bound and gagged and breaking through the door where Keenan Ivory Wayans enters.
Three of the Fly Girls also appeared in the eleventh episode of Muppets Tonight's second season in 1997.
Keenen Ivory Wayans stopped appearing in sketches in 1992 after the end of the third season, over disputes with Fox about the network censoring the show's content and rerunning early episodes without his consultation. Wayans feared that Fox would ultimately decrease the syndication value of In Living Color. Damon went on to pursue a movie career, though he made occasional return appearances in the fourth season. During the fourth season (1992–1993), Keenen appeared only in the season opener, though he remained the executive producer and thus stayed in the opening credits until the tenth episode. Marlon left shortly after Keenen resigned as producer; and Shawn and Kim both left at the end of the fourth season.
Fox censorship of scripts increased after In Living Color produced a live Super Bowl halftime special (branded by the network as The Doritos Zaptime/'In Living Color' Super Halftime Party). During the "Men on Football" sketch, Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier ad libbed a suggestion that Richard Gere and track and field star Carl Lewis were homosexuals, much to Lewis's dismay. The programming stunt lured 20 to 25 million viewers from CBS' telecast of the halftime festivities during Super Bowl XXVI on January 26, 1992. Also, the originally-aired version of another sketch unrelated to the Super Bowl special ("Men on Fitness" – February 7, 1993) included a simulation of Damon Wayans's character Blaine enjoying receiving facial ejaculation while being sprayed with a water bottle. These two segments were initially cut from reruns, but have been airing on the Centric cable channel. The DVD releases have the Gere and Lewis references cut but retain the facial ejaculation simulation.
Reruns of the program on BET have questionable words and phrases (such as "ho" and "bitch") muted. One line ("drop the soap") during the second "Men on Film" sketch was muted out by Fox censors before ever airing on TV for its implications of prison rape. The DVD releases have the language intact (except for the "drop the soap" line), but have numerous sketches edited to remove song lyrics and music video parodies due to copyright and licensing issues (for example, the "Fire Marshall Bill Christmas" sketch originally had Jim Carrey singing "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" before the house exploded; on the DVD version, the short scene was cut, making it look like the house immediately exploded after the last person ran out).
On the May 5, 1990 broadcast, Keenen Ivory Wayans did a parody of a Colt 45 commercial featuring Billy Dee Williams (in which the purpose of the beverage is to get one's date drunk enough to have sex) that ended with a woman (played by Kim Coles) passed out on her back on a dining table, and "Billy Dee" moving in on her unconscious body to have sex with her. The "Bolt 45" sketch was seen only once during the original broadcast and omitted from repeats due to complaints from censors and viewers that it was mocking date rape. The Season 1 DVD set of ILC did not include the cut sketch from the pilot. This sketch was cut by Fox censors, and the necessary modifications were made to the master tape. Keenen Ivory Wayans accidentally mixed up the master tape of the pilot, and the edited master was broadcast instead. The sketch has never been broadcast since, not even in syndication, on FX, or on BET, and is considered lost forever (although videos of the sketch from viewer tapings have been posted to YouTube). It has been replaced by "The Exxxon Family" (a fake promo for a sitcom about a clumsy Exxon boat captain and his wife, played by Jim Carrey and Kelly Coffield) in syndication and DVD box sets.
The FXX reruns of this show are mostly intact. The pop music references/music video parodies are left intact, along with the misogynist slurs that were edited on BET. However, the "Colt 45" sketch is still missing (though it is available for viewing on YouTube), as well as the "drop the soap" line and the line from "Men on Football" about Richard Gere's and Carl Lewis's sexualities, and a "Fire Marshall Bill" sketch from season five ("Fire Marshall Bill at the Magic Show") was edited on FXX (but not the DVD) to remove a line that implies that Fire Marshall Bill and an Arab man were involved with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center after the magician assures Bill that his magic tricks are safe (the lines cut were, "That's what they said about the World Trade Center, son. But me and my friend Abdul and a couple of pounds of plastique explosives showed them different", along with Bill's laugh and catchphrase "Lemme show ya somethin'!").
By the fifth and final season, none of the Wayans family had any involvement with the show. The show's sketches were no longer character-driven and satirical, giving way to wilder, cruder content and a reliance on celebrity guest appearances. Some celebrities who have appeared include Nick Bakay (who played the host of The Dirty Dozens game show sketches and wrote for the show), Barry Bonds (in the "Ugly Wanda finds her baby's father" arc), James Brown (appeared in the season four sketch "The Groom Room Barber Shop"), Rodney Dangerfield (though he appeared in a season four sketch where the police pull him over), Bret Hart, Sherman Hemsley, Biz Markie (who appeared in a lot of sketches, such as "Ugly Wanda's Ugly Sister," "Carl 'The Tooth' Williams' Paternity Trial," "The Bad Guidance Counselor," and "The Dirty Dozens: The Tournament of Champions"), Peter Marshall (as the host of "East Hollywood Squares"), Ed O'Neill (as the Dirty Dozens champion whom Jamie Foxx's T-Dog Jenkins fails to defeat), Chris Rock (mostly as his character, Cheap Pete, from I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka), Macho Man Randy Savage, Tupac Shakur, and players from the NBA, (just like players from the NHL were on Saturday Night Live). Kelly Coffield, who was the lone white female cast member, prior to Alexandra Wentworth's arrival in the fourth season, left before the start of season five.
Jim Carrey, David Alan Grier, Tommy Davidson, T'Keyah Crystal Keymáh, and Deidre Lang from the Fly Girls are the only cast members who stayed on the show from its premiere to its finale, although Carrey's appearances became very limited due to his rising movie career, while Davidson missed a few episodes for undisclosed reasons.
Chris Rock appeared (as a "special guest star") in a number of sketches in the fifth season, and reprised his "Cheap Pete" character from I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. In the early years of In Living Color, Rock was parodied as being the only African American cast member on Saturday Night Live (despite SNL also having Tim Meadows at the time). In an SNL episode honoring Mother's Day, Rock's mother states that she is disappointed in him for not trying out for In Living Color, to which Rock states he is happy with his job on SNL.
Other recurring guest stars in the fifth season include Nick Bakay (for The Dirty Dozens sketches) and Peter Marshall (for several editions of East Hollywood Squares). Rapper Biz Markie also appeared in various roles as a guest star in the fifth season, such as being in drag as Wanda the Ugly Woman's sister or as "Dirty Dozens" contestant Damian "Foosball" Franklin. Ed O'Neill made a cameo appearance as Al Bundy in a "Dirty Dozens" segment.
Originally produced by 20th Century Fox Television on Fox, the series was in reruns on local affiliates for a few years, but has since become a longstanding mainstay on Fox's sister cable networks FX and FXX. In syndication, the series is distributed by Twentieth Television.
Unlike past runs on FX and the Viacom Media Networks, the FXX cut of episodes are mostly uncut and censored. The music video parodies and spoken references to licensed songs have been reinstated, but the "Bolt 45" sketch, the "drop the soap" line, and the "Men on Football" sketch with the adlibbed lines about Richard Gere's and Carl Lewis's alleged homosexuality are still edited (though the facial ejaculation shot on "Men on Fitness" was reinstated), along with a line from the season five sketch "Fire Marshall Bill at the Magic Show" that makes reference to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (the missing line is, "That's what they said about the World Trade Center, son. But me and my friend Abdul and a couple of pounds of plastique explosives showed them different." Bill's laugh and his catchphrase "Lemme show ya somethin'" was also cut abruptly), due to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The Best of In Living Color aired on MyNetworkTV from April 16 to June 18, 2008. Hosted by David Alan Grier, it was a retrospective featuring classic sketches, along with cast interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. The show aired on Wednesdays at 8:30 pm Eastern/7:30 pm Central, after MyNetworkTV's sitcom Under One Roof.
In 2017, the show began airing reruns on Fusion.
Note: Ratings data courtesy of TVTango.com
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has released all five seasons of In Living Color on DVD in Region 1. Due to music licensing issues, some sketches have been edited to remove any and all mention of licensed songs, from characters waxing lyrical to entire performances (including the music video parodies and some of the Fly Girl dancing interstitials). Additionally, the "Bolt 45" sketch (which aired one-time only on May 5, 1990) was omitted, and the "soap" portion of the "drop the soap" line in the second "Men on Film" sketch has been muted.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date|
|Season 1||13||April 6, 2004|
|Season 2||26||September 28, 2004|
|Season 3||28||May 10, 2005|
|Season 4||33||October 25, 2005|
|Season 5||26||April 11, 2006|
In 2011, there were plans to make a revival of the original series that featured a new cast, characters, and sketches. The pilot episodes were hosted and executive produced by original series creator and cast member Keenen Ivory Wayans. In early 2012, Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo were hired as the choreographers. They cast the new line-up of The Fly Girls and shot pilot episodes for the show which were set to air on Fox, like the original. However, on January 8, 2013, Keenen Ivory Wayans confirmed the reboot had been canceled because he and Fox did not feel that the show was sustainable after one season.
Reported cast members included Cooper Barnes, Jennifer Bartels, Sydney Castillo, Josh Duvendeck, Jermaine Fowler, Ayana Hampton, Kali Hawk, and Lil Rel Howery. In addition, featured cast members were Henry Cho, Melanie Minichino, and Chris Leidecker. Members of the new Fly Girls included Christina Chandler, Tera Perez, Lisa Rosenthal, Katee Shean, and Whitney Wiley.