John Bowman, a white TV comedy writer and producer who left the corporate world to find success in black-centric shows like ‘In Living Color’ and ‘Martin’, died Dec. 28 at his home of Santa Monica, California. He was 64.
His wife, Shannon Gaughan Bowman, said the cause was dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle.
Mr. Bowman’s work consisted primarily of writing and directing comedy series. But he also made a big contribution later in his career as a labor leader, helping unionized TV and movie writers get a cut in streaming revenue long before services like Netflix and Hulu changed viewing habits. viewing and attract tens of millions of subscribers.
Mr Bowman had been a writer on ‘Saturday Night Live’, as had his wife, when he joined the crew of the TBEN sketch show ‘In Living Color’ in 1990.
“In Living Color,” created by black comedian and actor Keenen Ivory Wayans, brought an African-American hip-hop sensibility to network television. Mr. Bowman was one of the show’s first white writers and became head writer in its second season.
“He got Keenen, and Keenen got him,” Ms Gaughan Bowman said in a telephone interview.
Mr Bowman had said Mr Wayans did not want the writers of his show to bring an overtly political or racial point of view to their work.
“Sometimes white writers would come up with a hard-hitting thing that took on a racial slant,” Mr. Bowman said in the book “Homey Don’t Play That! The Story of ‘In Living Color’ and the Black Comedy Revolution.” (2018), by David Peisner. “And Keenen was like, ‘No, no. It might be politically correct but it’s not funny. All you do is try to induce people , you’re not trying to make them laugh.
Among the most memorable “In Living Color” skits Mr. Bowman worked on was “Men on Football,” part of a live episode that TBEN used to counter-program against the mid-air show. -time of the Super Bowl in 1992. The skit, a variation on the regular feature “Men on Film,” featured Mr. Wayans and David Alan Grier as flamboyant gay critics playfully using double and triple meanings to discuss of football.
Later that year, Mr. Bowman left “In Living Color” to create “Martin”, also for TBEN, with Martin Lawrence and Topper Carew. The show gave Mr. Lawrence, who played a talk show host in Detroit, a showcase for the cocky but goofy persona he had honed as a stand-up comedian.
Mr. Bowman, who was the series’ showrunner, “got my vision,” Mr. Lawrence said in a statement after Mr. Bowman’s death, adding: “There was nothing too big or too much. little that might confuse him, which makes working together a great experience.
Mr. Bowman recalled that TBEN censors were tough on “Martin” in its first season, which debuted in the fall of 1992, and the show suffered as a result.
“The language on this show is more uncompromisingly noir than on any other show,” he told Entertainment Weekly that year. “But you find yourself in the most absurd discussions with the censors. I think we are all frustrated.
Mr. Bowman tapped into his time on “In Living Color” when he teamed up with Matt Wickline to create “The Show,” a short-lived 1996 sitcom about a white writer working on a dark series. He was then the showrunner of two other series with black stars: “The Hughleys”, with DLHughley, and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents”, of which he was also the creator.
Ms Gaughan Bowman said her husband “loved black comedy and culture”.
“He loved the way black comedians used language,” she added. “He didn’t want to direct ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’.”
John Frederick Bowman was born on September 28, 1957 in Milwaukee. Her father, William, was a lawyer and her mother, Loretta (Murphy) Bowman, was a homemaker.
White attending Harvard as an undergraduate, Mr. Bowman was editor of the Harvard Lampoon. He graduated from Harvard Business School in 1985 and became an executive at Purchase, NY-based PepsiCo before deciding what he really wanted to do was work in comedy.
At the time, his wife was writing for “Saturday Night Live”.
“I told Jim my husband was not happy with PepsiCo and wanted to do it,” Ms Gaughan Bowman said, referring to longtime “SNL” editor Jim Downey.
It was a big leap from a corporate job at the “SNL” writers room, but Mr. Downey, a former chairman of The Lampoon, had operated the magazine for writers and knew Mr. Bowman from his writings and by mutual friends. . He asked Mr. Bowman to submit sketches; he was hired a year later.
“He had the best dry sense of humor of almost anyone I’ve ever worked with,” Mr Downey said by telephone. During his only season with the series, Mr. Bowman shared a 1989 Emmy Award with the rest of the writing staff.
He was then the showrunner in the mid-1990s for “Murphy Brown”, with Candice Bergen.
Besides his wife, Mr. Bowman is survived by his daughter, Courtney Bowman Brady; his sons, Nicholas, Alec, Jesse and John Jr.; one sister, Susan Bowman; and two brothers, William and James.
From 2007 to 2008 – while working on his latest series, “Frank TV,” starring the impressionist Frank Caliendo – Mr. Bowman served as chairman of the bargaining committee for the Writers Guild of America West during its strike. 100 days against television and film producers. During the strike, he spoke individually with key studio executives about the union’s stance on giving writers a percentage of revenue from what would be called streaming – a demand that was eventually met in an agreement with production companies.
“A lot of it was explaining to people like Les Moonves” – then TBEN general manager – “that if they didn’t make money, they didn’t have to pay us anything,” Patric Verrone, who was the director of the writers guild. president at the time, said in an interview. Referring to Mr Bowman, he added: “It was a rock. We stood on top of him and when we needed him we threw him at things.
Mr. Bowman later taught comedy writing at the University of Southern California.
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