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''Martin'' offends

Censors at Fox-TV frustrate Martin Lawrence

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Are Fox-TV censors more vigilant this season than ever before? The network took heat earlier this year for viciously lampooning Richard Gere and Carl Lewis in the notorious Super Bowl half-time episode of In Living Color and for airing Michael Jackson’s Dangerous video. Now, according to John Bowman, executive producer and cocreator of Martin, which follows The Simpsons on Thursdays, the network is taking pains not to offend viewers, and his show is suffering.

”The language on this show is more uncompromisingly black than it is on any other show,” says Bowman, the former head writer for In Living Color. ”But you find yourself in the most absurd discussions with censors. I think we’re all frustrated.” For example, in the show’s premiere, the phrase ”She’s gonna kick your ass,” repeated three times, was changed to ”She’s gonna hurt you bad.” (An informal Fox guideline is that ass can only be said once an episode and hell and damn are limited.) ”’Kick your ass’ is something said all the time,” argues Bowman.

The show’s star, comedian Martin Lawrence (also the host of HBO’s Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam), feels the network’s guidelines are making it difficult for Martin to present a realistic slice of urban black culture. ”The reason I wanted to come to Fox is that I believed in them,” says Lawrence. ”I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know all the rules of TV, (but) when it comes to a word like hell or damn and they start nit-picking, I find myself rethinking if TV is a good thing for me.”

But Fox executive vice president David Grant, who oversees the network’s standards and practices policies, denies that Fox has changed its rules. ”Do we have more questions about Martin than Parker Lewis? Yes,” he says. ”But there is no backlash on Martin.” Despite the difficulties, Bowman and Lawrence aren’t trying to alienate Fox completely. The censorship dilemma, says Bowman, ”is our deal with the devil.”