In late January, Schwimmer spoke about Friends‘ legacy with The Guardian. During the conversation, the actor addressed the show’s ongoing popularity and its recent criticisms regarding its lack of racial diversity.
“I don’t care,” he said of the modern-day reflection on the series, which ran from 1994 to 2004. “That show was groundbreaking in its time for the way in which it handled so casually sex, protected sex, gay marriage and relationships… You have to look at it from the point of view of what the show was trying to do at the time. I’m the first person to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like my barometer was pretty good at that time. I was already really attuned to social issues and issues of equality.”
Schwimmer added that he “campaigned for years” to have Ross date women of color and noted that “Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends.”
Soon after the interview published, Erika Alexander, who played Max on Fox’s Living Single, argued via Twitter that her series essentially had been an all-black Friends — and it debuted a year before the NBC comedy.
“Hey @DavidSchwimmer @FriendsTV, r u seriously telling me you’ve never heard of #LivingSingle?” Alexander tweeted. “We invented the template. Yr welcome, bro. ;)”
In an attempt to clarify his comments, Schwimmer responded with a lengthy note addressed to Alexander. Saying he was a fan of her show, he wrote, “I didn’t mean to imply Living Single hadn’t existed or indeed hadn’t come before Friends, which I knew it had. 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.”
The Living Single/Friends rivalry of sorts dates back nearly a quarter century, to when Living Single star Queen Latifah observed that Warner Bros. TV was giving the NBC sitcom (then ranked No. 3 out of 114 broadcast shows) a far heavier promotional push than Living Single (which was ranked 85th).
You can read Schwimmer’s response to Alexander in full below:
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. 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.
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 [series creators] Marta [Kaufmann] & David [Crane]’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.
In any event, if my quote was taken out of context, it’s hardly in my control.
I assure you I meant no disrespect.