Teamed with Martin Lawrence in a Fox block, David Alan Grier is back in living color

By Ken Tucker
September 15, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Follow the logic of the television industry and it makes sense for Fox to pair its hit sitcom Martin (now entering its fourth season) with a rookie, The Preston Episodes, starring In Living Color‘s David Alan Grier. Fox programming chief John Matoian explains: ”My thinking was, there isn’t, and hasn’t been on Saturday night for a long time, a strong urban comedy block. You look at ABC’s shows — Betty White and Marie Osmond [in Maybe This Time] and The Jeff Foxworthy Show — and Martin and Preston Episodes just seemed like really good counterprogramming moves.” Now let’s break that code: Martin and Preston feature African-American stars, whereas Betty White, Marie Osmond, and country comedian Jeff Foxworthy are about as white as you can get.

There’s nothing wrong with putting two shows with black stars back-to-back, but once you actually watch them, you realize that Martin and The Preston Episodes have about as much in common as, say, Seinfeld does with Step by Step. As Grier says, ”We’re not aiming at the same audience. Our shows are not the same type of show.” In Preston, Grier plays a recently divorced English professor looking to make a few life changes. He takes a job as a writer on the sleazeball publication Stuff, whose editor (played by the terrific English character actor Clive Revill) pronounces the word words with such sneering contempt that you know he’s a guy who favors flashy photos over good prose. Grier’s David Preston will be building a new romantic life as he tussles over adjectives with his boss. ”I don’t want to be the straight guy,” says Grier. ”I don’t want to be like Judd Hirsch on Taxi. I want to be smart and edgy and funny. This is clearly my show and it’s not like The Breakout Valet Guy. If my character doesn’t work, nothing works.”

Where Grier’s character is a learned, fastidious man surrounded by vulgarity, Martin Lawrence’s alter ego is a vulgar wise guy who always has to prove how smart he really is. This season, Martin‘s plotlines will be driven by his marriage last May to Gina (Tisha Campbell). Might they have a baby? ”That could be a cliff-hanger,” says executive producer Samm-Art Williams, ”but Martin and Gina are two big kids themselves.”

Lawrence is seemingly buoyant about his show’s shift from Thursday to Saturday: ”Well, wherever we get moved, it’s like Quantum Leap — we seem to help somebody. I go where I’m called. I like Saturday night. We’ll send people out the door with some humor, feeling good, saying ‘Hey, let’s par-tay!”’

New Shows

CONCEPT: Southern-fried Home Improvement.
THE SCOOP: Drawling stand-up comic Foxworthy has single-handedly revived the comedy album, selling millions with his trademark ”You might be a redneck if … ” routine. He also sells a lot of books featuring his down-home apercus. Here he’s the garrulous owner of a heating and air-conditioning company. Foxworthy sounds ready for the big time: ”I feel like this is my time. If the books and concerts and albums are any indication, I do think we have an audience. A lot of times, people haven’t been doing stand-up that long — two years and they have 10 minutes of material — and somebody gives them a show.”
BOTTOM LINE: Well, let’s see — Hee Haw used to be on Saturdays, wasn’t it? Maybe Foxworthy’s corn pone will fill an unperceived programming need.