ABC will rearrange its popular Friday hits


July 23, 1991|By Michael HIll

LOS ANGELES -- The critics all wanted to talk about the cancellation of their favorites, "thirtysomething" and "China Beach," but more viewers are probably concerned about another move by the ABC programmers, the shift of "Full House" from Fridays to Tuesdays.

ABC's entertainment chief also speculated about the possible collapse of one of the three networks.

"Full House" has been kicking off ABC's two-hour block of Friday family programming that has been successfully promoted as "T.G.I.F." and dominates the night.

Going against the if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it adage, ABC decided to move it to earlier in the week, even though on Tuesdays the bulk of its audience might have to do homework they don't have on Friday nights.

ABC is sticking with the T.G.I.F. concept, but now "Family Matters" will lead off, followed by a new show called "Step by Step" from the Miller-Boyett production team that's responsible for all these gentle comedies. Suzanne Somers and Patrick Duffy star as the principals in a blended family.

"We are very confident that 'Family Matters' can start off T.G.I.F." Robert Iger, ABC's entertainment president, told a press conference here.

"And we felt that 'Step by Step' was a perfect T.G.I.F. show, highly compatible with the other programs. The confidence we had in 'Family Matters' and 'Step by Step' allowed us to move 'Full House' to another time period on another night that really needed some help."

Iger said that he felt the "Full House" audience was loyal enough to follow it to Tuesdays, perhaps even if that means putting off a little homework.

"We think it was a very bold move," Thomas Miller, half of the production team, said of the change.

"Our feeling is that we're team players. Let's make this work. And the top management at ABC are real smart people. If something doesn't work because the kids don't know where to find it, they're not going to take an asset like 'Full House' and just destroy it. They're too smart for that."

Iger has faith that the kids will find "Full House," but he had lost his faith in the adults finding "thirtysomething."

"It was the toughest decision we all had to make," Iger said of giving that hour the ax. "Personally, my favorite show on TV was 'thirtysomething.' It was a show that truly enriched people's lives, including my own. But it was a business decision."

Which means that not enough people watched "thirtysomething." The show always survived on excellent demographics, dominating the young female audience. But ABC executives said that even that audience had slipped considerably this past season.

ABC's "thirtysomething" cancellation came in the year "China Beach," "Twin Peaks" and "Equal Justice" were also canned, making it appear that the network is moving away from quality dramas.

Iger denied that, saying that ABC would always need such shows, that a network cannot fill all its prime time with comedy and action. But he admitted that it is getting harder to find an audience for these dramas.

And Iger had a culprit -- all you people out there who watch television with remote controls in your hand.

"I think the remote control has changed the way people watch TV more than any other device, including the VCR," Iger said.

"We used to get statistics that said men switched channels a lot. But now I just watch my 9-year-old watch TV with that remote control. She sits there and goes around the world. It's frightening."

But he emphasized that ABC will continue to look for quality shows, pointing to the period drama "Homefront" that's taking "thirtysomething's" place on Tuesdays, and listing a series of producers committed to the network, including Bochco, "China Beach" creator John Sacret Young, comedy talent Susan Harris, and Jim Brooks.

And, despite the talk of a two-hour movie, it looks like it won't produce any more "thirtysomethings," at least any time soon, as the absence of interest among the show's cast and crew in making the movies seems to have sunk that deal.

"I think the chance is very, very slim," Iger said, though he indicated that he might be interested in ordering up to three such films.

Iger finds that there are so many interests competing for viewers these days that the landscape of network television could change dramatically in the next few years.

"I think you may well soon see fewer networks and probably fewer hours of network programs," Iger said, indicating that one network may close up its tent completely in the near future while the survivors might bail out of losing time slots, leaving it to the local stations to program them.

So if you hate the network programmers, remember Iger's talking about turning over prime time hours to the local programmers, the people who program "The Love Connection" for your personal enrichment.

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