Here’s How ‘In Living Color’ Birthed The Modern Super Bowl Halftime Show
In Living Color was a groundbreaking television show in many ways. The show boosted the profile of the then-fledgling Fox Network. It also launched the careers of several comedians — including Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, and the whole Wayans family of entertainers. But did you know that the show was responsible for creating the modern-day Super Bowl halftime show?
The Super Bowl halftime show used to feature family-friendly fare
“All of them were the same,” Keenen Ivory Wayans told ESPN back in February 2021. “It was just the cheerleaders, it was just a lot of, like, batons dropping, and bands.”
And the year that In Living Color did their Super Bowl halftime show was no different. In 1992, Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill were scheduled to perform a routine. And Gloria Estefan, who was making her way through the charts with songs like “Live for Loving You” and “Get On Your Feet” performed the songs over Boitano and Hamill’s performance.
Needless to say, the audience was not impressed. “It was the time that everyone went to pee,” said Wayans.
‘In Living Color’ changed all of that
Always with his finger on the pulse of emerging trends, Wayans remarked that it was “pageantry, but no substance.” So, on the January 26, 1992, episode of In Living Color, he decided to try something a little different.
“We should do a live episode of In Living Color,” then-Fox president Jamie Kellner said during a brainstorming session, per InStyle. “We’ll make a big deal out of it. We’ll convince America to turn the channel at halftime.”
And the decision paid off. In addition to having the cast members reprise their best-known and loved characters, celebrities like Pauly Shore and Blair Underwood had special guest parts in the show. As a result, 29 million viewers tuned in to In Living Color — smashing the ratings for the Super Bowl halftime show — and the Super Bowl lost 10 points off of their ratings after the halftime show was over.
The following year, the Super Bowl booked Michael Jackson for the halftime show
The news wasn’t shocking to Wayans, who knew that the young audience was more interested in the burgeoning hip-hop scene than they were in an Elvis impersonator and figure skaters dancing cheesily as men and women in snowflake costumes looked on.
“That’s what made it vulnerable,” the In Living Color creator recounted to ESPN. “The fact that it was just ‘stuff.'”
And the ripple effect was felt throughout the industry. In 1993, the Super Bowl booked Michael Jackson for the halftime show. Since then, the halftime shows have been getting bigger and bigger. This year’s Super Bowl halftime show is a hip-hop super-concert that features Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar.
But In Living Color has never been properly acknowledged by the Super Bowl Powers That Be for their incomparable contribution to history. “The NFL didn’t acknowledge this for years,” Wayans said to ESPN. “They really just huddled up and said, “Let’s get Michael Jackson, and let’s make sure this never happens again.” They just kept getting big names, like Prince  and Madonna .”