Schwimmer made the comment in an interview with The Guardian when he talked about the lack of diversity on “Friends,” admitting that he could have exerted more effort into getting people of color on the show. “Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends,” he said.
His suggestion caused people to remind Schwimmer that there was already an all-Black show similar to “Friends” thanks to Fox’s “Living Single”. The show even started airing before “Friends” and had a solid run from 1993 to 1998. One of the stars from “Living Single”, Erika Alexander, made note of this to Schwimmer when she tweeted at him, “Hey @DavidSchwimmer @FriendsTV – r u seriously telling me you’ve never heard of #LivingSingle? We invented the template! Yr welcome bro. ;)”
Soon, Schwimmer responded to Alexander with typed text that started:
“Hi. Erika. As you know, I was asked recently in an interview for The Guardian how I felt (for the thousandth time) about a reboot of Friends immediately following a conversation about diversity on the show, and so offered up other possibilities for a reimagining of the show today. I didn’t mean to imply Living Single hadn’t existed or indeed hadn’t come before Friends, which I knew it had.”
He continued with a rather condescending explanation for his quote:
“Please remember in an interview quotes are often pieced together and taken out of context, and then these quotes are repurposed in other articles by other people who are trying to be provocative.”
This still didn’t address that Schwimmer indeed uttered “maybe there should be an all-Black friends,” according to The Guardian interviewer. Even if Schwimmer did know about “Living Single”, his comment disregards all the other Black shows on T.V. today that are doing just fine with a similar concept to Friends or are at least geared towards single young adults. There’s “Insecure”, “Dear White People” and more.
Schwimmer wasn’t finished, however. He continued:
“I was a fan of Living Single, and was not implying Friends was the first of its kind. To my knowledge, Friends (which came out a year later) was inspired by Marta & David’s own lives and circle of friends living in NY in their twenties. If it was based on Living Single you’d have to ask them. It’s entirely possible that Warner Brothers and NBC, encouraged by the success of Living Single, gave the Friends pilot a green light. I honestly don’t know, but seems likely! If that’s the case, we are all indebted to Living Single for paving the way.”
Finally, he ended with:
“In any event, if my quote was taken out of context, it’s hardly in my control. I assure you I meant no disrespect. David.”
Queen Latifah talked about the rumors that “Living Single” inspired “Friends” during an appearance on “The Late Late Show with James Corden” in 2016. When asked by Corden if “Living Single” was the “jumping off point” for another big sitcom on NBC, Latifah replied, “Yes, yes. ‘Friends.’”
She continued, “It was interesting because when Living Single came out, shortly thereafter, Warren Littlefield who was president of NBC – they asked him if he could have any show on television, any of the new shows, which one would it be? And he said, ‘Living Single.’ It was in the newspaper and then next thing you know, here comes ‘Friends.’”
Just last year, sitcom star Essence Atkins (“Half and Half”, “Smart Guy”) explained how networks can build their wealth on Black content and then when they have a sizable following, they’ll switch to more white programing.
“When you’re the number one, number two show on a network and then the network just dissolves and gets bought out and becomes something else…it’s not the first time that a network has built their wealth on Black content and then, slowly but surely, [goes] through a gentrification process,” she told Shadow and Act when describing how UPN died in 2006, just to be replaced by The CW, which featured more white-casted programming. “We, as Black audiences, we are incredibly loyal, we have a lot of buying power and so markets capitalize on that.”
Was “Friends” a gentrifier of Black ideas? It’s very possible. Hopefully, Mr. Schwimmer takes note and acts accordingly.
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