Kenneth Culver (Kenny) Johnson (1942–)
Kenneth (Kenny) Culver Johnson Jr. is a television writer, producer, and director. He is the creator of numerous Emmy-winning projects including The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, the original miniseries V, and Alien Nation.
Kenny Johnson was born on October 26, 1942, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) to Kenneth Culver Johnson Sr. and Helene Maye Brown Johnson. His father was an electrical engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who helped build the Pine Bluff Arsenal. Johnson and his family left Pine Bluff after his father was transferred to the Pentagon near the end of World War II, and he was raised in Washington DC. His parents divorced in 1946, and his father moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County). Johnson spent his summers in Arkansas with his father and other family members. At Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Maryland, Johnson became interested in theater.
Johnson attended college at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At Carnegie, he met Bill Pence, leader of the school’s film society, and television writer and producer Steven Bochco. Later, Johnson took over the film society and financed his college education by setting up film societies for colleges across the country.
He married Bonnie Hollaway on February 2, 1963, and they divorced in 1975. They have three children. On June 19, 1977, he married Susan (Susie) Appling, and they have one child.
After graduating from Carnegie’s Department of Drama in 1964, he moved to New York, where he quickly became a producer and director. In 1966, he joined The Mike Douglas Show in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a producer and directed much of the show’s film work. In 1967, when he was only twenty-four, he replaced Roger Ailes as executive producer of the show.
In 1970, he moved to California and worked on several game shows, including The Joker’s Wild; he also produced the killer whale shows at SeaWorld. With the encouragement of Steven Bochco, he began writing. Bochco introduced him to the producer of The Six Million Dollar Man, and Johnson’s first idea was to create a show about a bionic woman. He gave her the name of Jaime Sommers after a water-skier he had met while producing at SeaWorld. He joined Universal Studios as a producer, and in 1976 he created The Bionic Woman series. In one episode, he named a character Carleton Harris after the Arkansas Supreme Court chief justice and family friend. In 1978, he created the television version of The Incredible Hulk, though he moved it away from its comic book origin.
In 1983, he created V. Inspired by Sinclair Lewis’s anti-fascist novel It Can’t Happen Here, the miniseries tells the story of an alien race that, under the guise of friendship, seeks to take over Earth. The character of Ruby on V is named after Johnson’s maternal grandmother, Ruby Piper Brown. The miniseries was the number-one show in America, drawing 80 million viewers for both nights it was on the air. Johnson’s later projects include Alien Nation, winner of the prestigious Viewers for Quality Television Award, and the motion picture Short Circuit 2 (1988). Johnson has also created screenplays for Cliffhangers (1978), Hot Pursuit (1984), V: The Final Battle (1984), and Shadow Chasers (1984–1986).
Johnson has directed and/or produced Bride of the Incredible Hulk (1978), Steel (1997), An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1970), Senior Trip (1981), The Liberators (1987), Sherlock Holmes Returns (1993), Alien Nation: Body and Soul (1995), and Alien Nation: The Udara Legacy (1997).
Johnson is the only producer/creator with three shows on “TV Guide’s 25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends”: The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and V. In addition to producing and directing, he is a published novelist and teaches filmmaking seminars at major film schools in the United States and Europe.
For additional information:
Kenneth Johnson. http://www.kennethjohnson.us/ (accessed May 18, 2020).
“Kenneth Johnson.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0425540/ (accessed May 18, 2020).
Storey, Michael. “Kenneth Culver Johnson.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 21, 2007, pp. 1D, 4D.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 05/18/2020