Two Gaps in the TV Tapestry : Dropping ‘In Living Color’ leaves a void. Where else could viewers find satire without regard to race as long as the skits were funny?
When “In Living Color” was canceled this summer--victim of what some joked was a policy of “ethnic cleansing” at Fox--both the airwaves and the entertainment community lost a special place.
For one thing, “In Living Color” was able to confront and handle racially sensitive subject matter with a force and precision not seen before. And we were able to do something no other “mainstream” show could do: poke fun at black celebrities.
Ironically, it was one of our most frequent targets--the Rev. Jesse Jackson--who was one of the very first to lament our passing.
However, the hole left behind by “In Living Color” runs deeper:
It was a place where Harvard and Howard grads commingled more than easily; where writers from New York’s Upper East Side and L.A.'s South-Central worked together in harmony for a common cause: to make people laugh, to make people mad and then to make them laugh again.
Moreover, “In Living Color” was a special place because it was a place where funny ruled. And on any given day, “funny” could have any given color.
It could be Damon Wayans (black), Jim Carrey (white) or Steve Parks (Asian). It could also be male or female. Creator Keenan Ivory Wayans was fond of saying, “If it’s funny, we shoot it. But if it’s not funny--then we shoot it in the head.”
“ILC” was a place where blacks and whites routinely exchanged books and ideas as well as inflammatory propaganda, and it was also the location of the most incredible writers’ table discussion on “roots” that I’ve ever encountered.
After each of the show’s 18 writers and producers traced back their ancestry and entry into this country, one thing was for certain: We all got here the hard way.
However, “In Living Color” did not operate in a vacuum. It was a place where some of my black colleagues were stopped and suspected of theft by a white guard for test-driving my new sports car around the Fox lot. Likewise, it was a place where I routinely had my car searched by an African American guard while my black friends whizzed by unimpeded.
Perhaps at no time have I more acutely felt the loss of “In Living Color” than during the recent O.J. Simpson debacle. Mere instants after the initial chase, old “ILC” cronies had my phone ringing off the hook with possible sketch ideas:
One ex-writer suggested it would have been fun to update the old O.J. Simpson Hertz ad--with cops chasing an airborne Simpson through LAX. Someone else suggested that the driver of the white Bronco could be Rodney G. King.
While still another ex-writer, tailoring the O.J. chase to a current summer blockbuster--suggested that Keanu Reeves should jump on the Simpson vehicle . . . which--in the “ILC” sketch version--would be rigged to explode if Al Cowlings drove at a speed less than 50 m.p.h.
Whatever way “In Living Color” would have handled the Simpson case, two things are for certain: 1) We would have gone too far, and 2) You would have laughed.
A common refrain around the “In Living Color” production offices was Rodney King’s innocent query, “Can’t we all just get along?”
After five seasons on “In Living Color,” I can tell you. The answer is: Yes.