05.27.12

VH1’s Succession Drama on Set of ‘Single Ladies’

‘Single Ladies’ was a big hit for the network, but tensions on set led to the exit of the show’s most popular star. Allison Samuels talks to cast and crew about life after Stacey Dash.

Unlike many actresses, LisaRaye McCoy doesn’t mind being called a mature woman. In fact, the 44-year-old is often described as “the mature one” on the set of her popular VH1 show Single Ladies, which survives a casting shakeup to return for its second season on Monday night.

The Queen Latifah–produced series, which revolves around three single women searching for love and happiness in Atlanta, enjoyed a successful debut season last year, often bringing in close to 3 million viewers for VH1.

But despite the high ratings, the show’s merits were frequently overshadowed by blog and gossip-sheet rumors of cast clashes and production disruptions involving costar Stacey Dash. Dash’s character, Val, played a pivotal role in the show, and the actress had the added benefit of bringing along a loyal fan base from her role as Cher’s best friend Dionne in the hit 1990s movie Clueless. Shortly after the show’s finale last season, Dash announced she wouldn’t be returning for Season 2.

“It’s unfortunate in a lot of ways that Dash left the show,” says McCoy. “I loved the fact that Stacey and I were both over 40 and starring in this show about women looking for love and enjoying life. How often do you see that? We’re both beautiful women of color looking good and doing well on a show. But Stacey decided not to return.”

It’s a tad more complicated than that. McCoy, who plays Keisha on the show, admits that while she remains friends with Dash, the two had difficult moments on the set.

“There were issues about just doing the work and not complaining about certain things on set,” said McCoy. “It didn’t make sense to make a big deal over a lot of stuff, and I let her know that. So that created an issue on some level.”

Surprisingly, it didn’t create much of an issue for Stacy Littlejohn, the creator of Single Ladies, or so she claims. A veteran writer for television shows stretching back some 15 years, Littlejohn said she was more than prepared to replace Dash and keep the ship moving.

“This is the business we’re in,” says Littlejohn. “I was a little shocked when Stacey announced she was leaving, but you can’t get married to a character or a plotline because it is ever changing for one reason or another. So Dash’s departure wasn’t something that we could allow to derail us.”

Instead, Littlejohn immediately began developing a new storyline that would effectively explain Dash’s absence. Her character’s cliffhanger last season revolved around her sleeping with her ex-boyfriend and her current boyfriend discovering her betrayal. This season begins with the explanation that Dash’s character was simply too humiliated by her mistake to show her face again. In her place Littlejohn cast soap star Denise Vasi, a star of All My Children.

Littlejohn concedes that she’s well aware of how popular Dash is, but hopes a new face and new storyline will satisfy last year’s viewers and pique the interest of new ones.

“Stacy has a fan base that loves, no doubt,” says Littlejohn. “But the show has many plotlines, and having Denise as a new face is perfect. She gives us a way to keep the show fresh, interesting, and new.”’

There were issues about just doing the work and not complaining.”

Guest stars couldn’t hurt, either. Adding to last year’s lineup of celebs, this year will feature rappers Big Boi and T.I, as well as Latifah herself and Rick Fox.

LisaRaye McCoy, for one, says she’s not fearful that fans of the show won’t return because of Dash’s abrupt departure. A veteran of several movies such as Players Club, McCoy also stars in her own reality show on TV One.

“I have fans too,” laughs McCoy. “They’ll tune in to see me and what I’m doing, and I think they’ll see the show is just as fun and just as good with so much more to enjoy.”