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After appearing in small parts in film and television in the late ’80s to early ’90s, comedian, actor, and producer Martin Lawrence  (pictured bottom, second from left) would make a big splash on network television with the Fox network series “Martin.”

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The show made its debut today as part of a block of programming that included the hit programs “Livin’ Single” (starring Queen Latifah and Kim Fields) and “New York Undercover.” Battling for ratings supremacy against NBC’s “Must See TV” Thursday night format, Martin had the weighty task of luring viewers away from “The Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” and “Seinfeld.”

“Martin” was set in the city of Detroit with Lawrence as main character disc jockey “Martin Payne.” Lawrence was paired in the show with Tisha Campbell-Martin, who played “Gina Waters.” Much like his stand-up act, Martin’s character was brash and extreme, leading to comical confrontations and zany situations with best friends “Tommy Strawn” (Thomas Mikal Ford) and “Cole Brown” (Carl Anthony Payne II).

Gina’s best friend, “Pamela James” (played by Tichina Arnold), verbally sparred with Martin often on the show and resulted in big belly laughs in their war of insults. “Saturday Night Live”  alum Garrett Morris also played the role of “Stan Winters,” Martin’s boss at the radio station.

One of the hallmarks of the show was Lawrence playing several characters, including female ones. Lawrence’s portrayal of the stereotypically urban “Sheneneh Jenkins” (pictured above), the loud and confrontational neighbor from across the hall that had questionable taste in friends and fashion. Lawrence also took on the role of ‘Edna ‘Mama’ Payne,” taking no care in covering up his thick mustache when in character as well as other characters such as tired pimp “Jerome,” security guard “Otis,” and marital arts expert “Dragonfly Jones.”

Watch “Otis” whooping tail here:

The show would suffer in ratings toward the end of its five-year run, with some speculating that tension on the set led to the demise of the show. In 1996, Tisha Campbell filed a lawsuit against Lawrence and the other show producers for sexual, physical, and verbal abuse. HBO Studios settled out of court with Campbell, and for the show’s final season in 1997, she would not appear in any scenes with Lawrence on the set.

“Martin” lives on in nationwide syndication on stations such as *TVOne and MTV2 and its comic legacy remains wholly intact. Several sitcoms with African-American casts would never follow the show’s formula of slapstick comedy quite to the level it was performed there, but the program certainly helped lead the way for following shows to feature comics-turned-actors such as Bernie Mac and Cedric The Entertainer.

NewsOne salutes Martin Lawrence and the entire “Martin” cast. Thanks for the laughs.

What were some of your favorite episodes or characters from the “Martin” show?

*TVOne is owned by Radio One, the parent company of NewsOne.

Hit Television Show ‘Martin’ Made Its Debut 20 Years Ago Today  was originally published on newsone.com