John Bowman, who co-created the Martin Lawrence sitcom Martin, served as the head writer on the ground-breaking In Living Color and worked on other shows including Saturday Night Live, Murphy Brown and The Hughleys, has died. He was 64.
A producer and Emmy-winning writer, Bowman died suddenly on Tuesday at his home in Santa Monica, his son Johnny Bowman Jr. announced.
As chairman of the negotiating committee for the WGA during the 2007-08 writers strike, Bowman helped gain a settlement that for the first time shared producers’ internet streaming revenue with film and television writers.
“In the writers room, John was a mentor to so many young writers of color, many of us who had our first professional gigs with him,” Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley said in a statement. “Outside the room, he was tireless in his efforts at achieving equitable working conditions for all writers. What John gave to the writing community will endure for decades to come.”
One of six children, John Frederick Bowman was born in Milwaukee on Sept. 28, 1957. He attended White Fish Bay High School and in 1980 graduated from Harvard, where he was an editor for The Harvard Lampoon.
After earning his master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1985, Bowman went to work as a junior executive at PepsiCo. “I would be the funniest lawyer or businessman in the room, which doesn’t get you anywhere,” he once said.
He joined Saturday Night Live in 1988 and shared the Emmy for outstanding writing in a variety or music program with the likes of Mike Myers, Conan O’Brien, Bob Odenkirk and Phil Hartman.
In 1990, Bowman became one of the first white writers on In Living Color, the raw Fox sketch comedy series created by Keenen Ivory Wayans, and was promoted to head writer within a year.
He and Lawrence then created Martin, which starred the comic as Detroit deejay Martin Payne and aired on Fox for five seasons from 1992-97. It was a big hit — despite meddling from standards and practices execs.
“The language on this show is more uncompromisingly black than it is on any other show,” Bowman told Entertainment Weekly in 1992. “But you find yourself in the most absurd discussions with censors. I think we’re all frustrated.”
“John understood my vision,” Lawrence said in a statement. “There wasn’t anything too big or too small that could faze him, which made working together a great experience.”
Added Tisha Campbell, who played Gina, Payne’s girlfriend: “John Bowman was one of the sweetest and kindest producers I’ve worked with. I remember the first time I ad-libbed on the show, and I ran to John saying, ‘I have a pitch.’ He was so encouraging. He pushed me to be fearless when it came to comedy. I’m so forever grateful.”
In the 1990s, Bowman also wrote for It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Murphy Brown — he also served as an executive producer for the last four seasons of the CBS series’ original run — and The Hughleys.
He then co-created two more sketch comedy shows: Fox’s Cedric the Entertainer Presents and TBS’ Frank TV, starring Frank Caliendo.
In 2006, Bowman was elected to the WGAW board of directors. “John was the rare comedy writer with an MBA,” noted The Simpsons writer George Meyer. “He could tell you exactly how you were being screwed.”
Bowman later taught script form and sketch comedy writing as a member of the adjunct faculty at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. His most recent class ended just a few weeks ago.
Survivors include his wife of 39 years, Shannon Gaughan, a TV writer and producer; children Johnny Jr., Courtney, Nicholas, Alec and Jesse; and siblings William, James Bowman and Susan.
A private Mass is set for next week at Saint Monica Catholic Church, with a memorial service to be held this spring.