Bowser, Yvette Lee 1965(?)–
Yvette Lee Bowser 1965(?)–
Yvette Lee Bowser, the creator of the hit Fox-TV sitcom Living Single, is part of a new vanguard of young, savvy African Americans on the show-business fast track who are transforming the entertainment industry. Before Bowser was thirty, she became the first African American female to develop her own television series. As a result, she has been commended—and compensated with her own company—for her efforts in bringing a fresh new side of urban life into American living rooms: that of single, professional women and men of color. Bowser, as writer and executive producer of Living Single, arrives daily at her office on the Warner Brothers lot that is home to the offices of her own production company.
Bowser was born Yvette Lee in the mid-1960s to parents of mixed heritage. She grew up in the Philadelphia area, and chose Stanford University in California for college, where she studied political science and psychology. From there she moved to the set of the NBC sitcom A Different World, where she was hired as a lowly assistant in 1987. The show, a spin-off of the successful Cosby Show and set at a fictional African American college, provided a launching pad for several African American entertainment-industry personnel. As actress Erika Alexander, one of the stars of Living Single, told Jet, “A Different World was the closest show to showing the intelligent and positive side of Black women.” The road it paved would lead directly to the Brooklyn apartment on Living Single.
Bowser soon advanced to A Different World’s writing team, and became a producer for a time before the show left the airwaves by the early 1990s. She now had several seasons of television experience behind her—writing for a hit show with a tight ensemble cast, and managing the numerous production and budgetary details as a producer accountable to network executives—and felt confident enough to begin promoting her own concepts. A pilot called Sweet Home Chicago that she developed failed to be picked up by any of the networks; for a time she worked as a producer for Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, but admitted to having been displeased with the direction of the show. Fortunately, at this juncture the start-up Fox television network asked her if she would be interested in developing an ensemble-style
At a Glance…
Born Yvette Lee, c. 1965, in Philadelphia, PA; mar ried Kyle Bowser (a television executive), 1994. one child; Education: Received degree from Stanford University, c. 1987.
Career: A Different World, NBC-TV, began as production assistant, 1987, became writer, 1988, promoted to producer, 1992; Hangin’with Mr, Cooper, producer, c. 1993; offered development deal with Fox Television, led to creation of sitcom Living Single, serves as writer and executive producer of show, 1993-97; SisterLee Productions, president.
Member: Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Awards: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Comedy Series for Living Single.
Addresses: Office— Warner/Sister Lee Productions, 4000 Warner Blvd., Building 140, Room 204, Burbank, CA 91522.
sitcom with a cast of African American women.
Bowser jumped at the chance. “I wanted to create a show about my life experiences,” she told Ebony writer Aldore D. Collier, “about me and my girlfriends and the ups and downs of being twentysomething.” She also told Collier that the success of the 1992 Terry McMillan novel, Waiting to Exhale, had helped network executives realize there was indeed a vast, untapped audience of African American women who had yet to see their hopes and concerns portrayed realistically by television characters. Bowser wrote four characters to life—Khad-ijah, Synclaire, Maxine, and Régine—centered around their Brooklyn apartment and a warm, close-knit friendship. Recording artist Queen Latifah was cast to play Khadijah, publisher of her own magazine called Flavor; her fictional cousin Synclaire, played by Kim Coles, serves as her assistant; Maxine, Khadijah’s college friend, is a sharp attorney portrayed by Cosby Show alumnus Alexander, while Kim Fields rounds out the cast as Régine, ambitious in her own unique way. “There is a little bit of me in each of the four women,” Bowser told Essence writer Deborah Gregory.
Bowser’s characters debuted on prime-time television on the Fox network in August of 1993. Some predicted the show would not make it, but Living Single became the hit of the new fall line-up, and a few seasons later was still at the No. 1 spot in ratings with African American and Hispanic audiences. “What really separates Living Single from previous television efforts is the fact that all four are very different but still could be described as role models,” noted Jet, “demonstrating the diversity that Hollywood rarely has allowed Black actresses to show.” Even the mainstream press had praise for the positive portrayal of African American women Bowser had created on Living Single, but Newsweek inexplicably called it the “Booty-Shakin’ Sugar Momma” show. Perplexed, but amused—”We were like, What on earth is a booty-shaking momma?,” Bowser recounted in the interview with Essence —but had a plaque made for her office that enshrined the phrase.
As the show gained in popularity, Bowser was allowed more license to meet her goal—to overhaul the stereotypical images of African American women on television, though she has admitted in Essence, “I encountered my share of resistance in Hollywood about accepting the image of four upwardly mobile Black women.” Living Single’s women are neither sexpots nor doormats, but exhibit the same blend of ambition and self-doubt of most unmarried, working women of their age group. Bowser wrote the episodes with her team of eleven other handpicked writers. Network executives watch every show prior to airing to give approval, and have never censured any of Bowser’s efforts.
Nearly 10 million viewers tuned in every week to watch the ups and downs of Living Single, and prominent African Americans lent their support to the show by making cameo appearances—Gladys Knight, Heavy D, and Evander Holyfield, among others, appeared in the 1996-97 season. “My vision is to depict African Americans in television in a realistic, humorous way,” Bowser told Malaika Brown in American Visions. “The beauty of the Living Single characters is that they are honest with each other, as my friends and I are,” she continued. The stars of the show have said in interviews that they credit Bowser’s personal warmth and managerial talents as imbuing the cast with an off-screen camaraderie that extends into the tapings.
Warner Brothers television offered Bowser a production deal by which she launched her own company, SisterLee Productions, in association with them. Bowser and her team develop new sitcoms, such as Lush Life, which debuted on Fox in 1996. The show starred Tank Girl star Lori Petty and Karyn Parsons, formerly of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as lifelong friends and roommates drastically opposite in demeanor; it did not survive the cutthroat television season. Later Bowser was hired as a creative consultant to The Wayans Brothers, and was working on another new sitcom of her own in late 1997, You Send Me. She was also struggling to balance a dual career with the arrival of a baby in December of that same year; in 1994 she married television executive Kyle Bowser. “I look back and I say, ‘What is it that sparked me to be so determined?’ I realize what had a lot to do with it: people telling me that I wouldn’t amount to anything,” Bowser told American Visions’s Brown, and “I’ve been driven by the idea that it could all just go away. You really have to appreciate what you’ve got and take care of it,” she concluded.
American Visions, April/May 1995, pp. 42-43.
Atlanta Journal/Constitution, May 12, 1996, p. L1.
Ebony, February 1996, pp. 26-34.
Essence, December 1994, p. 50.
Jet, October 4, 1993, pp. 58-60; February 5, 1996, p. 19; May 5, 1997, pp. 36-40.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Warner Brothers publicity materials found on their web site at http://www.virtuallot.com
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