In a world of mostly white shows, mostly white producers and mostly white advertisers, "In Living Color" promises to stick out like a raisin in a bowl of rice.
Because almost the entire cast is black? Partly. Mostly, it's because of the show's black humor.Fox Television likes to pride itself on "pushing the envelope," as Tom Wolfe's astronauts in "The Right Stuff" put it. But is the alternative network ready for warp speed? Make that warped speed.
Consider the sketches already in the can for this black version of "Saturday Night Live," which debuts Sunday after Fox's top-rated "Married . . . With Children." (8:30 p.m., Ch. 13) There's the "Homeboy Shopping Network," in which two black men unload a semitruck full of very hot items, including a satellite dish with "NASA" emblazoned on its face.
"Not only do you get all the stations out there," promises one of the jive-talking hosts, "you can talk directly to the astronauts."
There's also "Men on Film," featuring two gay, black movie reviewers spoofing Siskel and Ebert. Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing" gets a limp-wristed "two snaps up" from the fey duo.
Sandwiched between the skits, a la "Saturday Night Live," are fake commercials. Calvin Klein's "Obsession" becomes "Oppression - for black men. If only he wasn't so dark."
Wait a minute. Is it OK to laugh at this stuff? Doesn't it perpetuate black stereotypes? Isn't it exploitative?
Oh, get over it, says Keenen Ivory Wayans, the 31-year-old executive producer-writer-cast member of "In Living Color."
"Black people aren't supposed to be funny? Woody Allen's Jewish and he makes fun of Jews," says Wayans. "No one's ever accused him of being anti-Semitic."
If Wayan's brand of black parody sounds familiar, it's because he's the same person who starred in and co-wrote "Hollywood Shuffle" and made his directing debut in "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka."
Wayans is a hot property right now and he knows it. "In Living Color" was not a show he shopped around to the networks. Fox came to him. And gave him carte blanche.
To do "In Living Color" - which unlike "Saturday Night Live" is being taped in advance - Wayans enlisted almost half his 10-member family. Sister Kim and brothers Damon and Shawn will be regulars on the show. A nationwide search was launched for the rest of the ensemble cast of comedians. Two former writers from David Letterman's show were hired.
On its end, Fox signed up for eight half-hour episodes, gave it a prestigious time slot and is promoting the daylights out of it.
Still, Fox executives are more than a bit nervous about the show's content. "There is a concern, but we trust our producers," says Brad Turell, a senior vice president of Fox Broadcasting Co. "We think this show is going to be a big hit."
And not racist, say Turell and Wayans. "I'm just telling jokes," Wayans says. There's no big message behind it and no plan to change the world.