Falling Star: Martin Lawrence
Career Pinnacle: The star of Fox's Martin and former host of HBO's Def Comedy Jam, Lawrence has been on the verge of becoming the most successful black comedian since Eddie Murphy.
His Misstep: While hosting Saturday Night Live on Feb. 19, Lawrence delivered a crass, scatological monologue that offended viewers and angered the NBC brass. As a result, the network canceled Lawrence's March 9 appearance on The Tonight Show and banned the comedian from all NBC shows.
Perceived Problem: Not keeping his word. ''He backstabbed us,'' says SNL cast member Phil Hartman, who claims Lawrence reneged on an agreement to tone down his act. According to Martin co-executive producer John Bowman, however, Lawrence had delivered a nearly identical monologue at the dress rehearsal and was told to remove obscenities but not to change the material.
Next Step: Understanding why it happened. ''I think he brought his Def Jam personality to network TV,'' says Bowman, ''and this scared the hell out of them.''
Advice: Though his Fox contract extends through 1997, Lawrence has been trying to distance himself from Martin's hip-hop-happy image, and the bad press could work in his favor. Even company man Jay Leno who met with NBC executives last week to plead Lawrence's case believes the stand-up shouldn't have a tough time turning the tide of public opinion. ''All the rules have changed,'' says Leno. ''When Roseanne sang the national anthem in 1990 and George Bush said something negative (about her), people said, 'Her career is through.' And now she's stronger than ever. This won't hurt.''