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''Living Single'' is an unexpected hit

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In the battle for Sunday night, the conventional wisdom at the start of the TV season said audiences could live without Living Single. The big ratings contenders were deemed to be CBS’ Murder, She Wrote, NBC’s seaQuest DSV, and ABC’s Lois & Clark; Fox’s man-ribbing sitcom, dismissed by critics as a rip- off of earlier four-women shows, supposedly would have to scramble just to hang on to the viewers of its 8 p.m. lead-in, Martin. And what happened? Living Single bested Martin and ranked eighth among young adults, sinking seaQuest‘s sub, taking the wind out of Superman’s cape, and murdering anything Jessica Fletcher wrote. Among black viewers, the series took the season’s crown as the No. 1 show in any time slot.

Living Single, a playful take on the trials of bachelorette buddies coping with love and work in New York City, pulled off this upset by teaming four distinctive women, each a star in her own right. Instead of a clash of egos, Fox got a spunky, harmonious quartet. Even off screen they have formed a bond: Queen Latifah (the rap star who was born Dana Owens), 24; Kim Coles (In Living Color), 27; Kim Fields (The Facts of Life), 24; and Erika Alexander (The Cosby Show), 24, needle and joke endlessly with one another-and with their male costars, John Henton and T.C. Carson. Often they speak in their own code and use silly off-camera nicknames: Coles is dubbed ”Princess Kalooki,” for ”being kooky,” she says; Alexander, who says she has ”no butt,” is ”Princess Dabooty.”

On a hot afternoon in L.A. recently, a few days before the show wrapped for the season, the Single women gathered during their lunch hour and worked the chemistry that caught so many TV pundits off guard.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The critics were clearly wrong about this show.
KIM FIELDS: Yes, they were. (They all laugh.)
KIM COLES: I don’t know why anyone doubted us. Look at the players we’ve got. We each brought a different audience and we knew together we would be very strong.

EW: As strong black women, how do you feel about the way rap music and many black male comics depict black women?
QUEEN LATIFAH: Well, it’s pretty detrimental to me. That’s why I wrote (the song) ”U.N.I.T.Y.” And it’s (gone) gold, so I’m clearly not the only one tired of hearing black women being referred to as bitches and ho’s. I mean, when I was coming up, being called a bitch was fighting words. And now it’s so common. It bothers me. (They all nod.)
ERIKA ALEXANDER: This show’s not about people putting each other down all the time, which you tend to find a bit more on the black shows. When Kyle (the neighbor played by Carson) and I put each other down here, it’s more about wit. It’s like Much Ado About Nothing.

EW: Did you catch Martin Lawrence on Saturday Night Live? He made comments that many women found offensive.
LATIFAH: I didn’t see it, but I hear he was tripping (acting foolish).
COLES: I didn’t see it. I think he’s a very funny man, but I don’t think he has to put anyone down that way to be funny.

EW: Before the series began, the title changed from My Girls to Living Single, which suggested a show in trouble.
LATIFAH: At first, none of us liked Living Single. We thought, ”My God, do we have to be single the rest of our lives on this show? What happens if one of us got pregnant?”
FIELDS: We’d be like Menudo, they kick you out for being pregnant. (They laugh.)

EW: It seems to me that Kim Fields is the least like her character, the man- hungry Regine. Would that be fair? (The other three laugh.)
FIELDS: Why are they laughing?
COLES: We all think we’re like our characters (Coles plays Synclaire, an innocent office manager at Flavor, a women’s magazine) except for maybe one of us.

EW: Who would that be? (Silence.)
COLES: Well, we can go around the table. Dana, do you think you’re near Khadijah (Flavor’s no-nonsense publisher)?
LATIFAH: Of course!
COLES: (To Alexander) Are you near to (ambitious divorce attorney) Max? (Alexander rolls her eyes.)
COLES: Okay. (To Fields) Do you admit to being near Regine?
FIELDS: Not exactly near, but there are flashes. I was told the part was written with me in mind. I’m never sure how to take that. (She laughs.) I’m not specifically shallow or man-hungry or materialistic.
LATIFAH: We all have similarities. I mean, I’m not playing Jimmy Hoffa here, either. (They laugh.)

EW: So Erika, I guess that means you’re the least like your character.
ALEXANDER: I’m no lawyer-I just graduated from high school. We do share the same deadpan sense of humor. But you can see we don’t dress the same (Max favors business suits; Erika is wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt).

EW: It’s been called a man’s world. Have you ever given any thought to what life would be like as a man, or as a white person? Would you switch for an hour to see how the other half lives?
LATIFAH: To be white? No thanks.
FIELDS: No desire. Never had it.
COLES : It’s so much fun to be black. Are you kidding me? Think about it.
FIELDS: Nothing against white people, but no way.
LATIFAH: Could I be one of those soulful-assed country people? Just don’t make me no straight-up-and-down white girl like Tonya Harding! Oh, my God. Can you imagine?
FIELDS: Dana, you could be like Reba McEntire. (Everyone laughs.)
LATIFAH: Nah. If I was white, I think I would have to be Italian. But then again, that would make me part black, wouldn’t it? I’m just kidding. Don’t nobody reading this get mad.
COLES: I would like to be a man for an hour
ALEXANDER: So would I
COLES: so I could treat women nicely.
LATIFAH: I’d make a bunch of babies and I wouldn’t have to gain the weight! The good thing about being a man is I would have less
body fat, which I would really appreciate.
FIELDS: I love sports and I love being a tomboy, but I also love being very feminine and I love being a woman.
LATIFAH: We couldn’t get French manicures if we were men.
ALEXANDER: I will tell you that I had to grow into thinking that being black is very cool. I’m black in the ’90s, but I’m not sure I would have liked it so much 50 years ago. Their burden seems more immense. We sometimes don’t see the immense burdens on us right now.

LATIFAH: It’s a big country. And not everyone is as progressive as everyone else. I was in Montgomery (Ala.), and I couldn’t believe the mentality of some people. They might as well have been living in the ’60s.

EW: Eddie Murphy talks about how he resents being treated better than the average black person because he’s a celebrity. Does that happen to you?
LATIFAH: I go through this with my friends. We’ll go someplace where people treat me one way and treat them like s—, until they find out they’re with me. I have to say to myself, “I don’t want the special treatment.” (Laughs.) But you know, I spent enough time on lines, and waiting for stuff, and hey, if I can get into this place for free So I’m not going to act like I don’t appreciate it.
COLES: I’m sure we’ve all been in places where the clerk in a department store didn’t even look up, because I’m, to her, just some black woman, but then they finally look up, it’s Kim Fields or Kim Coles, and it’s oohhhohhhh. It’s sad to me. I went to New Orleans this past weekend and people stared at me like I wasn’t even human. I don’t walk around like I think I’m hot stuff. We’re regular people. ALEXANDER: Please, you walk around with a chip on your shoulder.
COLES: (Screaming) I do NOT!
ALEXANDER: I’m just kidding.

EW: How do you keep from having swelled heads?
FIELDS: Because, baby, we’ve all been unemployed, and we know this can all go away. In a heartbeat. We understand that there are a lot of people in this | business who aren’t in these positions. Even if we were the No. 1 show, we ain’t all that. I think we understand this is temporary.

EW: What do you talk about when men aren’t around?
LATIFAH: Kim Coles and I share a quick-change booth off stage-and let me tell you, this woman is the most sexual person you can ever meet! You wouldn’t believe it!
COLES: That’s a lie! (Everyone laughs.) That’s not true at all.
LATIFAH: I can’t even get as graphic as she does.
COLES: Just because I once brought this orange vibrator to work one day.
LATIFAH: She did! Serious. This fluorescent orange vibrator! Bright orange!
COLES: Oh, for heaven’s sake, I brought it in as a joke. I mean if you’re going to buy a dildo, you buy a real big one as a joke. Oh, my God, he’s writing this down.
FIELDS: We talk about everything. We talk about race, political debates. It’s not just sex.
ALEXANDER: We talk about where we’re going (in our careers).
COLES: The other day Dana and I were talking about the Holocaust, and Schindler’s List. And we said it’s pretty clear to us that we as black people have also gone through our own holocaust and we’re still feeling the effects of it, and in many ways it’s still going on. So, it’s not just sex.

EW: Could you recast your roles with other actresses?
FIELDS: Sure. We get a Halle Berry type, Angela Bassett, Naomi Campbell, and an Oprah Winfrey type. I know they will say Janet Jackson for me. I get that all the time.
LATIFAH: Hey, excuse me, but am I the Oprah Winfrey type? I think a young Pam Grier (she grabs her breasts) could play me.
ALEXANDER: A young Cicely Tyson could hook me up.
COLES: I’m a lot like Karyn Parsons (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) but she is a lot skinnier than me, so no way!
LATIFAH: Right. I don’t want no skinny-ass girl playing me. Get Pam Grier or Yo Yo, someone with some thickness. They’re always after us to lose weight, but I’m not doing that anorexic thing. Maybe 15 pounds. And, hey, what would you think if I wore a cute little Afro next season?
COLES: I mean, look, we are four black women. And black women typically have stuff up here, and we have something down there. All of us have booty except maybe one of us. We all look like real women.

Alexander: And that’s one reason the brothers tune in.

EW: Did those constant early comparisons to shows like Designing Women upset you?
LATIFAH: Yes. It was a good show, but it had nothing to do with us.
FIELDS: It’s the implication that we watched shows like that to take ideas (on how to play our characters). I watch other comedic actresses I like, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Kirstie Alley, just to watch them.
ALEXANDER: Like I try as much as I can to have my acting be as close to Shelley Long as possible.
FIELDS: Are you lying?
LATIFAH: (In disbelief) Really?
ALEXANDER: It’s a lie! Psych!

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