ABC tosses new shows into Friday-night fray

March 05, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Shirley is back minus Laverne. And comedian Doug E. Doug makes it to prime time.

ABC has a couple of new sitcoms for its kids-and-teens Friday-night lineup debuting tonight. Neither is going to seem side-splittingly funny or even all that interesting to most adult eyes.

But ABC's hit Friday-night shows, like "Step By Step" and "Family Matters," are not made for adult eyes. They're made for kids who watch and wish by the millions that they had families like those portrayed in the shows.

"Getting By," at 9 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13), stars Cindy Williams, once known as Shirley Feeney in "Laverne and Shirley," and Telma Hopkins, formerly of "Family Matters." They play two single moms in Chicago who decide for financial reasons to share a house. Cathy Hale (Williams) has two daughters. Dolores Dixon (Hopkins) has two sons. The Hales are white, the Dixons black.

Structurally, "Getting By" is a very old-fashioned sitcom that could have been made in 1970s when "Laverne and Shirley" was the No. 1 show on TV. And Williams is essentially playing the same character -- only a few years older, with two children and a busted marriage. This is not an inspired pilot episode.

But the notion of the Hales and Dixons living in the same house has potential. And, if it's handled with some smarts and sensitivity, it could provide positive messages, especially for white kids who live in all-white suburbs and go to all-white schools and might never meet a black kid their age until college.

But, based on the pilot, that might be wishful thinking. Right now, the best thing the show has going for it is it's made by the producers of "Full House" and "Family Matters," who know how to get kids and hold them in front of the tube on Friday nights.

"Where I Live," at 9:30 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13) with stand-up comedian Doug E. Doug, has a far more contemporary feel to it. The sitcom centers on the stoop in front of the inner-city building where Doug St. Martin (Doug) lives.

It's yet another TV show produced by whites which purports to depict the life of some African-Americans -- in this case, urban and working-class teens and some of their family members.

Doug St. Martin is a character made for Friday-night TV -- high energy, big gestures and bursting with emotions. He's the flip, hip and cool side of a Steve Urkel.

Bill Cosby, for one, thinks TV needs more sensitive and complex African-American characters. I think he's right.

But it's unfair to write off a character based on his first 22 minutes of TV life. There's enough happening in tonight's pilot to give Doug St. Martin and his family a couple of weeks to see if and how they grow.

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