In Living Color

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In Living Color was an American sketch comedy television series, which ran on the Fox Network from 1990 to 1994. Brothers Keenen and Damon Wayans created, wrote, and starred in the program. The show was produced by Ivory Way Productions. The show was taped before a live studio audience in Hollywood.

The title of the series was inspired by the NBC announcement of broadcasts being presented ‘in living color’ during the 1950s and 1960s, prior to popularization of color television. It also refers to the fact that most of the show’s cast was African-American, unlike other sketches comedy shows like ‘Saturday Night Live’ whose casts are usually mostly white.

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 previously unknown comedians Jim Carrey (one of two caucasian members in the original cast) and Jamie Foxx (who joined the cast in the third season). The series strove to produce comedy with a strong emphasis on modern black subject matter. 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. 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.

For the first episode, an exotic-looking black-and-white logo was used for the opening credits. After the band Living Colour claimed in a lawsuit that the show stole the band’s logo and name, the logo was changed to plain-type letters in three colors. In the first two seasons, the opening sequence was set in a room covered with painters’ tarps, and each cast member played with paint in a different way (throwing globs of it at the camera by hand, using a roller to cover the 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 perform a routine and open a door to let Keenen Ivory Wayans greet the audience.

For the third and fourth seasons, an animated sequence and different logo were used. The real-life 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 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). Some of the other music acts who performed on the show were Public Enemy, Kris Kross, En Vogue, Eazy-E, Monie Love, Onyx, 3rd Bass, MC Lyte, Arrested Development, Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Tupac Shakur, and Leaders of the New School.

The show employed an in-house dance troupe, known as the ‘Fly Girls.’ Rosie Perez was the choreographer for the first four seasons. Future actress/singer Jennifer Lopez 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).

Keenen Ivory Wayans left the show 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.’ During the fourth season in 1992, he appeared only in the season opener, though he remained the executive producer and thus stayed in the opening credits until the thirteenth episode. Marlon Wayans left with Keenen. Shawn Wayans and Kim Wayans both left the show at the end of the fourth season. Damon Wayans left at the end of the third season to pursue a movie career, though he made a few ‘special guest appearances’ in the fourth season.

Fox censorship of scripts increased after the show 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’ dismay. The programming stunt lured 20 million to 25 million viewers from CBS’ telecast of the halftime festivities during Super Bowl XXVI. Also, in the originally aired version of another sketch unrelated to the Super Bowl special there was a simulation of Damon Wayans’ character Blaine enjoying receiving facial ejaculation while being sprayed with a water bottle.

On a 1990 broadcast, Keenen Ivory Wayans did a take-off on a Colt 45 commercial featuring Billy Dee Williams (in which the purpose of the beverage is to get your lady friend wasted) that ended with a woman passed out on her back on a dining table, and ‘Billy Dee’ moving in on her unconscious body to have sex with her. This skit was cut by Fox censors, but Keenen ‘accidentally’ mixed up the masters, and the original master was broadcast.

By the fifth and final season, none of the Wayans family had any involvement with the show. The show’s traditional reliance on the character-driven sketches featuring Damon and Keenen gave way to an increasing reliance upon walk-on cameos and guest appearances, including Barry Bonds, James Brown, Rodney Dangerfield, Biz Markie, Ed O’Neill, Chris Rock, and stars of the NBA.

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