How 'Living Single' Influenced Everything From 'Friends' to 'Insecure'

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Created by Yvette Lee Bowser and starring Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, Kim Fields, Erika Alexander, T.C. Carson and John Henton, Living Single followed the personal lives and professional experiences of six friends living in a Brooklyn brownstone. Over the course of five seasons, which ran from 1993 to 1998, the series became a ratings hit for Fox and one of the most watched Black programs of the ‘90s. 

“It’s gonna look different from the other things,” Latifah said when ET was visiting the set in 1993. Indeed it did.

Aside from A Different World, which ended in 1993, not many Black sitcoms focused on a group of young, single friends, especially the likes of editor Khadijah James (Latifah), receptionist and aspiring actress Synclaire James-Jones (Coles), lawyer Maxine Shaw (Alexander), gossip Regina Hunter (Fields), handyman Overton Wakefield (Henton) and stockbroker Kyle Barker (Carson). 

“You’ve never seen these women before,” Fields said of the premise about “four Black women in that twenty-something age range who are in New York and trying to make it.” 

Years later, in 1999, Latifah revealed that what she was most thankful for about being on Living Single alongside her co-stars was for “people and kids and young women, [who] can look at that show and feel proud. They could feel comfortable with themselves, because here’s some people they probably look up to in a way. And they look normal. Everyone is not designed to be (hourglass gesture) this, so don't put them in a mold and feel like you have to be.”

In fact, if networks had it their way, Living Single may never have made the impression on audiences that it did without Maxine. Bowser revealed to ET in 2018 that executives wanted to cut her from the ensemble.

“I said to lose her would be to lose a huge part of me and the show,” she recalled. Ultimately, they reached a compromise, with the character moved into an apartment across the street. “I got more comedy from the fact that she was always there even though she didn’t live there. It turned out to be a great thing that she didn’t end up on the cutting-room floor but ended up being a huge part of that show, which was always the intention.” 

Living Single Cast

Queen Latifah, Kim Fields, Erika Alexander, Kim Coles, John Henton and Terrence 'T.C.' Carson attend a Fox Television event for their sitcom, 'Living Single', 1993.

Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

But no matter how groundbreaking it was or how hard they had to fight, the reason it was so successful is that it connected with audiences. “People say our characters remind them of themselves, their friends or their relatives. They all know someone like one of the characters,” Bowser told Ebony magazine at the height of its run.  

And in its 25-plus years since its debut on Aug. 22, 1993, Living Single’s legacy lives on in everything from Friends -- by now, everyone has heard Latifah’s remarks about the similarities between the two series -- to Insecure. From the formula of multiple single friends living or working together to showcasing a variety of Black characters and stories to centering women in the narrative, the show has had an everlasting impact onscreen. 

A prime example is the hit film, Girls Trip co-starring Latifah, the BET+ adaptation of First Wives Club, and the upcoming Amazon original Harlem(working title) from writer and producer Tracy Oliver, who was very much inspired by ‘90s shows, like Living Single, growing up. “I was really spoiled. Like a lot of people that grew up in the '90s, we had so much on television,“ Oliver told Shadow and Act

And when it comes to her latest series starring Meagan Good, Grace Byers, Jerrie Johnson and Shoniqua Shandai as a group of college friends now living in the city, Oliver wanted to recreate that world of TV that’s largely dried up over the past few decades. “New York deserves an authentic portrayal of what it means to be young and Black, and intelligent, and working in the city, so that’s really what I want to do is a very New York Black and Brown comedy,” she told The Knockturnal

Last year, when Insecure creator and star Issa Rae was asked about her favorite series growing up, Living Single topped the list. But when asked whom she would cast in a modern-day reboot, she couldn’t say. “I think we could reboot it without compromising the integrity of the first one. But no disrespect because these are our legends! I don't know who I would cast,” she shared at the time

But Rae isn’t the only one who has been asked about rebooting or reviving Living Single. In July, Fields told ET they’re asked all the time. “We recognize how valued the show is -- not was but is,” she said. “But you can’t just run up and say, ‘Well, let's just show where they would be now 20 years later,’ whatever it is.” 

Despite that Insecure producer Prentice Penny gave audiences the next best thing on season 3: a fake ‘90s Black sitcom reboot within the HBO series’ recurring “show within a show” joke. 

“We were like, ‘Look, if no one else is going to reboot a show about us -- a Black show from the ‘90s -- then we will. We’ll create our own reboot,’” Penny recalled to ET, revealing that they came up with Kev'yn, an “original” series that is “very much a Martin, Living Single-type show” starring Bill Bellamy (How to Be a Player), Darryl M. Bell (A Different World) and Alexander, and then “rebooted” it. 

While the cast alone makes the “show within a show” even more believable, the presence of Alexander drove home the impact of Living Single as seen in Molly, Issa’s best friend and lawyer played by Yvonne Orji. (And it’s worth noting that Alexander told Jezebel she's a fan of Insecure. “I really love Issa Rae.”) 

The other added connection was the fact that Fields directed the mini episodes. “She knows that world better than anybody,” Penny said of bringing her onboard, while adding, “If our fake reboot could launch a real reboot, that would be the most amazing thing for sure.”

Until audiences get that reboot, they at least will be able to binge it on Netflix, which recently announced it is adding Living Single, Girlfriends and other classic Black sitcoms to its streaming service. 

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