'Boy Meets World'has the right time and the right star

September 24, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

The prognosis for "Boy Meets World" is new sitcom meets with great ratings on ABC.

Predicting Nielsen success for "Boy Meets World," which debuts at 8:30 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13), is not a particularly daring or incisive call. It's mainly based on scheduling and stars.

ABC is scheduling the series about an 11-year-old boy coming of age between "Family Matters" and "Step by Step" as part of its phenomenally successful TGIF package of programs for kid viewers. Put almost anything between Jaleel White's Steve Urkel and Suzanne Somers' Carol Foster, and it's going to get huge ratings.

Furthermore, no one did boy-coming-of-age better in recent years than Fred Savage of "Wonder Years." Fred's too old for such a role now, as anyone who saw "Wonder Years" last year was made painfully aware .

But ABC found the next best thing in Fred's younger brother, Ben, who stars as 11-year-old Cory Matthews in "Boy Meets World." And Ben's no rookie; he's been acting since he was 2 years old. His most recent starring role was in the miniseries "Wild Palms." So, with the great time slot and Ben Savage, the series was already a lock. Just put it on the air and wait for the ratings to roll in and the advertisers to line up, right? Forget quality, these are kids we're programming for on Friday nights.

Here's where you have to give ABC some credit for going an extra mile and adding William Daniels, of "St. Elsewhere" fame, to the cast as Cory's nemesis, his sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Feeny.

The confrontation between the hey-I'm-just-a-kid Cory and the arch-and-starch Feeny makes this series something an adult doesn't have to feel ashamed of watching. There are even, God forbid, a few moments of wisdom here and there.

The tone of their relationship is suggested by this exchange when Feeny comes upon Cory buying a candy bar before the school day starts:

Feeny: A candy bar, Mr. Matthews? Doesn't your mother fix you a proper breakfast?

Cory: Oh, yeah, she does. But now I have to get this taste of shredded wheat out of my teeth.

Feeny: You know, you're not doing your body any favors loading up on junk like that.

Cory: Oh thank you, Mr. Feeny, and please enjoy that high-vitamin astronaut drink you're sucking down.

Feeny: There is no gravity in space, Mr. Matthews. Therefore, astronauts suck up. Learn from them.

Some adult viewers might not be all that impressed with such exchanges. But compared to most TGIF dialogue, it's Eugene O'Neill.

And the dynamic at work between Feeny and Cory is the same as the one between Professor Kingsfield and Mr. Hart, which powered "The Paper Chase."

There are other players in "Boy Meets World." Cory has a mom, dad, older brother, younger sister, and best friends.

But it's Cory's relationship with Mr. Feeny, his guide through the roller coaster of adolescence, that matters.

And it looks as though that adolescence is going to be shared with millions of young viewers for the next several years every Friday night on ABC.

** 1/2 (But I won't argue with anyone who wants to give it three stars.) Baby boomers on CBS

Here's a baby-boomer couple that's easy to hate.

I'm talking about Peter Scolari and Pamela Reed as Dr. Jonathan and Denise Lerner, in "Family Album," a new CBS series premiering at 8:30 tonight on WBAL (Channel 11).

The premise is that Jonathan and Denise move back to his hometown of Philadelphia so that he can help run his elderly father's medical practice.

The pilot is nothing but wall-to-wall fighting and yelling about parenting. Jonathan and Denise fight with their three kids about parenting, and, then, the yuppie couple fights with their parents about parenting.

It's supposed to be a sitcom.

Somebody stop this couple before they reproduce again.

* 1/2

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