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ABC Wants More Adults In Its Family Fare Mix

January 1995

ABC Wants More Adults In Its Family Fare Mix

By Diane Werts

PASADENA, Calif. ABC is enjoying the view from the top as the No. 1 network in the Nielsens these days, but programing chief Ted Harbert said yesterday the network must assess its long-term outlook to avoid becoming a victim of its own success.

After doing a masterful job of positioning itself as a family network with household comedies like "Full House," "Roseanne," "Home Improvement" and Friday's "TGIF" lineup, ABC sees "There is the perception that ABC shows are more targeted toward the younger children in the family," Harbert told TV critics at their midseason press tour. NBC has come on strong by grabbing adult viewers with sophisticated shows such as "Seinfeld," "Frasier," "Mad About You" and "E.R." that don't play to kids at all.

"NBC has taken wonderful advantage of multi-set households" to lure adults with that counterprograming, Harbert said, and now, "We need to put on family shows that have enough going on for adults that the adults want to watch, not just because they end up watching with their kids."

But he indicated that NBC and Fox in particular have gone further with mature content in early-evening shows than ABC would feel comfortable with. "I'm not going to give up the very strong belief that parents count on us to put on television, especially between 8 and 9 [p.m.], shows that their kids can watch."

That doesn't mean ABC can't welcome different audiences at different times, Harbert noted. "Don't forget we're the network that on Tuesday nights starts with `Full House' and ends with `NYPD Blue.' "

But "Blue" is the oddity on ABC, where complex dramas stand as lonely outposts. The network hasn't been able to bring viewers to its critically acclaimed "My So-Called Life," which has gathered a following that's unusually passionate but stubbornly small. Critics here wondered whether ABC's family focus hasn't backed the network into a corner where it can't effectively schedule or promote such shows.

Harbert maintained that ABC's ratings success with family fare can actually benefit a "My So-Called Life" when he can continue to make it available to viewers through 19 episodes this season despite the slight ratings return. "The rest of the schedule [is] strong enough to allow me to sit there with a show that's, to be generous, in a growth curve."

ABC is presenting four midseason series at this press tour, and none of them echoes the ambitions of "My So-Called Life" or "NYPD Blue." The sports comedy "A Whole New Ballgame" has already joined "Coach" in the Monday lineup, and two action hours are on the way: "The Marshal," with Jeff Fahey starring as an unorthodox federal agent starting Feb. 4, and "Extreme," a March entry with James Brolin heading a Rocky Mountain outdoor rescue group. The upcoming "Bringing Up Jack" stars Jack Gallagher as the host of a radio show devoted to parenting in the '90s.

Copyright 1995, Newsday Inc.

“Ignore her. She got up on the wrong side of the coffin this morning.”

Enrique (Rickie) Vasquez, Episode 9: "Halloween"