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At ABC, It's RIP for 'TGIF'

An eleven-year run is an exceptional accomplishment for a television show. The few that stayed on the air that long, like "Cheers," "M*A*S*H," and "Happy Days," are classics of the industry.

But when a certain block of programming, whose total number of series over time reached well into double figures, lasts eleven years, it's an even greater accomplishment. It's akin to maintaining a championship-level sports franchise amidst ongoing personnel turnover, as when Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.

Sadly, this programming block - ABC's Friday, family-oriented "TGIF" (Thank God It's Friday) lineup, which once boasted such wholesome fare as "Full House," "Family Matters," and "Perfect Strangers" - soon will be no more. In the April 14 Los Angeles Times, Brian Lowry wrote that "'TGIF' appears [to be] on its last legs - the victim of shifting viewing patterns and a trend toward edgier fare designed to attract an increasingly jaded, been-there-seen-that audience."

The probable catalyst for Lowry's piece was the move of the most popular "TGIF" series, "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," to the WB network, effective next season. Because "Sabrina" producers sensed that ABC would dismantle "TGIF," they jumped webs even though ABC's per-episode license-fee offer reportedly was much larger - $975,000, compared to the WB's $675,000.

During the heyday of "TGIF," families flocked to it by the tens of millions. Seemingly, that has changed; according to Variety, "young adults have stopped watching ['TGIF'] with their kids." And "TGIF" itself has sometimes departed from family-friendliness. A few of its shows resorted occasionally to sexual material; this past season's "Odd Man Out" did so on a regular basis.

Despite that, "TGIF" has almost always been a haven for all-ages viewing. In Lowry's article, Michael Jacobs, who produced the "TGIF" staple "Boy Meets World," commented, "I think ['TGIF' is] going to be missed if it indeed goes away. In my mind, the younger audience has been terribly hurt. Apart from Nickelodeon, I don't know where the kids now have to go, except reruns, which is unfortunate. 'Edge' is now the favorite word in each development meeting."

If ABC's midseason replacement series are an indication, the network's fall schedule will be as edgy as a razor blade. In the premiere of "Talk to Me," a sitcom centering on Janey, a female radio talk-show host, the protagonist's colleagues advise her to take a messy romantic breakup "like a man," meaning that she should date a new guy each night. When Janey tells them their advice isn't working, they respond that it's because she's not having sex with any of those fellows.

The second episode features two woman-to-woman kisses and this insight from Janey: "It has always been my theory that most women are sort of gay from the waist up...The idea of touching pretty hair and smooth skin and kissing soft lips, that's good...And then you get below the waist, and you really have to start making some tough decisions."

Another midseason winner from ABC is "Then Came You." It focuses on Billie, a woman in her thirties who leaves her husband in order "to experience true passion," which comes to her in the form of a twentyish room-service waiter with whom she's in bed within hours of their first meeting.

Although a steamy heterosexual relationship is at the core of this series, gays are by no means neglected. One of Billie's friends relates to her that he and his ex-wife fought constantly: "I hated her cooking; she hated my homosexual affairs."

The demise of "TGIF" is especially disappointing in light of the overall sad state of family programming on the broadcast networks. Currently, fewer than ten prime time shows could legitimately be called family-friendly, and of these, two - "Boy Meets World" and CBS's "Cosby" - won't be back next season. A third, CBS's "Early Edition," is on the bubble.

Maybe the WB, starting with "Sabrina," might launch at least one "TGIF"-style night. The network, with funds provided by major television sponsors like Procter & Gamble, is developing pilots for three family series.

Last summer, when the pilot-funding deal was announced, a WB executive said it had been necessary for advertisers to become more directly involved in the development process since "many of Hollywood's creative people recoil from the idea of family-friendly shows." By and large, families should recoil from watching just about anything anymore on prime time broadcast television.