Earlier hour won't tame 'Roseanne'

March 29, 1995|By Mike Duffy | Mike Duffy,Knight-Ridder News Service

"Roseanne" goes barging into the 8 o'clock family hour tonight. And it's really not such a big deal.

After all, the show's in syndication every night of the week (at 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m.) all over America.

"Look at the content of 'Melrose Place,' 'Beverly Hills, 90210,' 'Mad About You' and 'Friends,' " said Ted Harbert, president of ABC Entertainment, listing mostly 8 p.m. shows -- all ratings winners -- in which sexual situations and double entendre adult humor often abound. NBC's "Friends" only recently moved from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Will the network offer up a tamer Conner clan now that the show has been moved up an hour? No.

" 'Roseanne' does controversial subject matter, but never for exploitative reasons," Mr. Harbert said. "No one is looking to change the show. The audience is used to it."

From lesbian kisses to Dan and Roseanne getting stoned in the bathroom, "Roseanne" has offered a naturalistic, warts-and-all look at family life the past seven years. And through it all, the adventurous sitcom has consistently remained one of TV's best and funniest.

Besides which, the whole notion of a pristine, protected "family hour" seems somewhat outdated considering '90s TV reality.

And contemporary channel-surfing reality is "Roseanne" reruns in syndication enjoy a huge audience of kids and teens. And that's true syndicated repeats of the far cruder, ruder "Married . . . With Children."

Then there are the steamy daytime soap operas and raunch-obsessed tabloid talk shows, about which the less said the better.

But it's in the 8 p.m. network hour -- once the sole province of G-rated comedies like "Full House" or family dramas like "Little House on the Prairie" -- where the trend toward more adult-oriented material has been especially noticeable the past few years.

Such NBC sitcoms as "Wings" and "Mad About You" may have pushed the trend into overdrive, with their sometimes hormonally hopped-up story lines. Audiences voted yes. And the same happened when Fox shifted "Melrose Place" to 8 p.m. Mondays this year.

The move of "Roseanne" to 8 p.m. from 9 p.m. for the next five weeks is part of a bold spring experiment. With "Roseanne" out front on Wednesdays, the No. 1 network is also moving "Ellen" up an hour to 8:30 p.m. and adding "Grace Under Fire" and "Coach" at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

"April is often an experimentation month," Mr. Harbert said during a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.

"So when we go into the May scheduling meetings for next fall, we'll be able to look at all our options. And we've been interested in strengthening our ratings at 8 o'clock, especially among female viewers."

This season, ABC has scored mostly mediocre numbers with Margaret Cho's "All-American Girl" and "Sister, Sister" at 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Wednesdays.

"It's a different discussion about whether this is a good thing," Mr. Harbert said of the move of more adult fare into the early evening hours.

"But in terms of structured rule-making, the family hour is passe."

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