In fall, ABC turns to ethnic sitcoms, stand-up comics

May 10, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

There will be more stand-up comics, new ethnic sitcoms and a family movie night come next fall on ABC, as the second-place network focuses itself on the 18-to-49-year-old audience.

The changes ABC made yesterday in announcing its fall schedule were not huge. Only four new hours of programming were added. The only noteworthy cancellation was that of "Phenom," a Tuesday-night sitcom about a teen tennis star, which regularly finished in Nielsen's top 25.

But ABC's direction is clear. The network wants more of what Brett Butler and Ellen DeGeneres brought this year with their sitcoms. If it works, look for ABC to be the new ratings leader next year, replacing an aging CBS.

"Me and the Boys," the new sitcom that will replace "Phenom," is representative of where ABC is heading with its new lineup.

Like DeGeneres and Butler, the star, Steve Garvey, is a stand-up comedian. Garvey is also African-American. Just as Butler and DeGeneres brought more women to ABC this year, the network is hoping Garvey will bring in more black viewers with his performance as a widower raising three sons.

ABC is going for the same gold with another sitcom, "All American Girl," starring stand-up comedian Margaret Cho. The sitcom focuses on Cho trying to find her place in the world as a young Korean-American woman. Again, ABC hopes the show appeals broadly, in addition to serving its built-in Asian-American niche audience.

While "Me and the Boys" gets the cushy spot of Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. between "Full House" and "Roseanne," Cho's "All American Girl" will get an equally attractive slot between "Thunder Alley" and "Home Improvement" on Wednesdays.

The two other new comedies for next fall are "On Our Own" and "Blue Skies."

"On Our Own," which is also an ethnic sitcom, stars Ralph Harris and six members of a real-life family, the Smolletts, playing brothers and sisters. The premise has seven siblings being orphaned, with the oldest son impersonating an aunt to keep the family together. It airs Sunday nights at 7:30.

"Blue Skies" is about two friends who own a small mail-order catalog company. The two men hire a Harvard MBA to help them expand and run the company. The new hire is an "attractive and smart woman," in the words of ABC. "Blue Skies" will air at 8:30 RTC p.m. Mondays after "Coach" and before "ABC Monday Night Football." The 8 p.m. Monday spot is a new night and time for "Coach."

The two new dramas for next fall are "My So-Called Life," from the producers of "thirtysomething," and "McKenna," starring Chad Everett.

"My So-Called Life," which ABC screened for critics in January, is brilliant look at life seen through the eyes of a 15-year-old girl. Baltimore's Bess Armstrong co-stars as the teenager's mom. The drama has the tough task of leading off Thursdays, a night now owned by NBC.

"McKenna" will follow it at 9 p.m. Thursdays. This drama is set on a ranch in the Pacific Northwest and stars Everett as the family patriarch.

The new strategy on Saturday nights features "The ABC Family Movie," which will involve Disney and ABC co-producing "movies the whole family can watch together," says ABC Entertainment President Ted Harbert.

"Day One," the prime-time newsmagazine with Forrest Sawyer, will return after football ends. ABC said yesterday that Diane Sawyer will play a prominent role in "Day One" next year. That means she'll be a co-host or featured correspondent on three primetime newsmagazines, as both "PrimeTime Live" and "Turning Point" were renewed.

There will be a bit more prominence for DeGeneres, too. Her sitcom, "These Friends of Mine," will be renamed "Ellen" and air Tuesdays after "Roseanne."

Given limited midseason replacement orders yesterday were: "Sister, Sister" and "Matlock."

Canceled outright, along with "Phenom" were: Daniel J. Travanti's "Missing Persons," Steven Bochco's "Byrds of Paradise" as well as "Birdland," "Thea" and "America's Funniest People."

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