An Oral History of the ‘Coming to America’ TV Show You Never Knew About
A white-hot Black comedian. An old-guard White showrunner. What could go wrong? Everything.
In 1987, Eddie Murphy was Hollywood’s Golden Child. He possessed a Midas touch that could pull a hundred Ms out of the box office with “a piece of shit.” (The cinematic turd Eddie referred to in a 1989 Rolling Stone interview was, in fact, The Golden Child.) He was on such a hot streak that Paramount Studios obliged his every request and whim. When the Saturday Night Live GOAT wanted his own film production company, he got it; when he requested a TV production company, he got that, too.
Eddie Murphy Television’s first project was the HBO collaboration the Uptown Comedy Express. The hour of sketch and stand-up comedy starred Marsha Warfield, Robert Townsend, a prime-approaching Arsenio Hall, and sizzling new comedian Chris Rock. But while the audience featured a constellation of ebony celebrity — from Jasmine Guy to Earvin “Magic” Johnson to Sammy Davis Jr. — the production was more Negro league than MLB. So when Murphy’s greatest cinematic triumph Coming to America became Paramount’s biggest hit of 1988, Eddie Murphy Television pitched the grand idea of bringing the Prince of Zamunda’s little brother to weekly television.
The plot: Akeem, now the king, sends his unruly little brother Tariq to New York City to attend Queens College. Tariq was played by an uber-talented new firecracker on the L.A. stand-up scene named Tommy Davidson. Paul Bates reprised his movie character Oha (“she’s a queeeeen to beee”), now Tariq’s personal aide; John Hancock also appears (as their landlord and eventual boss), as did a pre-House Party A.J. Johnson. It was Davidson, though, who seemed destined for 1990s superstardom.
“I was the singular most sought-after Black comedian in Hollywood. I established myself as a deadpan, can’t-nobody-touch stand-up. Nobody. Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, Pryor. Nobody.” — Tommy…