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Profile: Bowser Beat the System by Becoming a Producer

Feb 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Yvette Lee Bowser realized early in her career that as big as the television industry is, there isn’t much room in it for someone like her.
Ms. Bowser had just come off a charmed five-year stint at “A Different World,” during which she rose from office assistant to producer, and was exercising her writer-producer chops at “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper.” But while Carsey-Warner, which produced “A Different World,” is culturally diverse, the staff of her new show did not at all reflect the ethnic makeup of its African American cast. Ms. Bowser, who is black, soon found she couldn’t seem to make her voice heard at the writers table.
“That was my first taste of predominantly white, predominantly male Hollywood,” she said. “I could see that if I didn’t create my own show, I wouldn’t be working in the business very long.”
Ms. Bowser went on to do just that, becoming the first black woman to run her own network series, with “Living Single,” which reigned as the top-rated program in black households during its five-year run on Fox. She’s now executive producing “Half and Half” for UPN’s Monday night urban comedy block. It’s the fifth show she’s shepherded to the air, all with mostly black casts.
“I enjoy telling stories that are then depicted by people who look like me,” said Ms. Bowser, who is in her late 30s. “If I’m not telling my stories, I’m leaving them to be told by someone who doesn’t know them as well as I do.”
Ms. Bowser said she has had chances to develop stories for nonblack talent, but that is not her goal. Besides, those opportunities can seem forced. “If there’s a project that needs to be supervised with a Caucasian star, I’m not the first person [network executives] think of,” she said. “Projects about us are open to Caucasian writers, but the reverse is not necessarily true.
“There’s a misconception in the industry that the way we write is race-specific,” Ms. Bowser said. “I came up through the `Cosby’ family, which taught me the opposite: If you write the truth, people will watch.”