The ‘90s saw the emergence of more than a few notable sitcoms that are still highly regarded to this day. Living Single is one of the shows that can be described as such. Its success is greatly due to the efforts of creator Yvette Lee Bowser, the crew and of course, the pitch-perfect cast headed by Queen Latifah. Each one of the principal characters – and by extension their actors – brought a great deal to the series. Believe it or not though, one character was nearly omitted early on: Maxine Shaw. Bowser recalled how the network implored her to drop the wise-cracking attorney, and I’m so glad that didn’t pan out.
It may be hard to believe, but Living Single turns 30 this year. That’s right, the beloved Fox sitcom made its debut during the fall of 1993. So Yvette Lee Bowser sat down with NBC News to discuss the show’s legacy as well as its conception. Among the fascinating nuggets she shared is the fact that Max (who was ultimately played by Erika Alexander) almost didn’t stay in the pilot script. Judging by her comments, Bowser was taken aback by the idea of erasing her:
They really enjoyed the characters, but they asked me to lose Maxine from the show. Yes, this incredibly daring, beautiful, confident, unapologetic Black feminist was apparently intimidating on paper.
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All of the adjectives mentioned above perfectly sum up Max’s characterization. Established as a college friend of Queen Latifah’s Khadijah James, Shaw was a true go-getter who worked her way up the legal ladder. She also served as a cerebral voice amongst her friend group while also providing comic relief. Erika Alexander (a veteran of The Cosby Show) played the role to perfection, making Maxine one of the show’s signature players. To put it mildly, I can’t imagine the show without her humorous and sincere energy, and I’d like to think I’m not the only fan who feels that way.
Yvette Lee Bowser also had personal reasons for wanting to hold onto the Living Single character. The veteran producer explained during her recent interview that Max is an “idealized” version of herself. Bowser went on to describe the creative dispute and how it resulted in art imitating life in a way:
Taking Maxine out of the show would be taking a big part of me out of the show, and I’d rather not do the show at all. So there I was: 27 years old with the opportunity to have my own TV show on the line, and I was willing to risk it. I was literally becoming Maxine while I was in the process of creating her. It was at that moment in the development process that I found my real voice.
And it’s that voice that helped turn the show into one of the best Black sitcoms of the ‘90s and one of the most beloved comedies in general. There are still fans who’d love a Living Single revival, and Queen Latifah said back in 2017 that one was being discussed. Updates on the reported production have been scarce since. If that does happen, let’s hope Yvette Lee Bowser would be back at the helm and all of the OG characters – including Maxine Shaw – would be involved.
All five seasons of Living Single are available for those with a Hulu subscription. You can stream episodes of Run the World, an entry on the 2023 TV schedule that Yvette Lee Bowser executive-produces, on the same platform with the use of a Starz add-on.