Teenage switch

April 6, 2000
By Phil Rosenthal, Television Critic

ABC's "TGIF" is all but DOA

Its MVP is headed to the WB.

Any way you spell it, score one for Michigan J. Frog. With Wednesday's
surprise announcement that the WB had outmaneuvered ABC for the
vastly underrated, deceptively smart sitcom "Sabrina the Teenage
Witch," it appears that ABC's once-vaunted family-friendly "TGIF"
lineup--the preeminent kids viewing staple in the late '80s and most of
the '90s--is kaput.

"I can't wait to kiss the frog," said "Sabrina" star Melissa Joan Hart,
kissing off her former network home.

"Sabrina" was all that held the ABC Friday lineup together the last year
or so, what with the demise of "Full House," "Family Matters" and "Step
by Step" and last season's failure of the young Olsen twins' "Full House"
follow-up, "Two of a Kind."

"Boy Meets World," the other holdover from the "TGIF" glory days, is
long in the tooth and on its last legs. And now that ABC has let
"Sabrina" leave for the WB, it looks likely "TGIF" will be MIA come next

"As they re-evaluate `TGIF,' we feel the WB offers the ideal platform
for our loyal audience," said Perry Simon, head of Viacom Productions,
which produces "Sabrina." "We are thrilled to be moving."

And why not? "Sabrina" and the WB are perfect for one another--and
not just because the WB already is home to a trio of cute young
witches ("Charmed") and a teen demon warrior ("Buffy the Vampire

"Sabrina" has been the No. 1 show on TV among female teens the past
two seasons and trailed only the WB's "Dawson's Creek" for that
distinction the year before that.

So it offers the upstart network the chance to launch, say, its new
sitcom vehicle for Nikki Cox ("Unhappily Ever After" and "Norm") from
creator Bruce Helford ("The Drew Carey Show" and "Norm") with some
serious oomph behind it.

Plus many WB outlets, such as Chicago's WGN-Channel 9, will be
promoting the heck out of "Sabrina" soon anyway because they'll begin
airing reruns of the series this fall.

"It's an especially great fit at this point in the evolution of the [Sabrina
Spellman] character and the show, as she leaves high school and
begins a new phase of her life," said Paula Hart, Melissa's mom and
executive producer of the show.

That, of course, opens a veritable Pandora's box of possibilities because
Melissa Joan Hart, now 23 in real life and eager for more adult roles in
movies, has seemed ready to evolve beyond the "TGIF" incarnation of

But then "Sabrina" has always been a little more adult than its "TGIF"
peers, as interesting to grown-ups stuck at home on a Friday night as
to kids. Martin Mull, Caroline Rhea, Beth Broderick and even Nick Bakay,
as the voice of Salem the cat, bring a sly sensibility to the program,
held together by Hart's game willingness to do pretty much anything
because the script asked.

Apart from the "Sabrina" pickup, however, the WB is leaning
toward renewing its own on-the-bubble dramas (such as
"Roswell," "Popular," "Jack & Jill" and "Felicity") rather than
picking up someone else's discards (such as NBC's canceled
"Freaks and Geeks").

The "Sabrina" move was more a case of seizing an opportunity in that
ABC wasn't necessarily prepared to let the series go; it just wasn't
willing to make the commitment that the WB was, picking up the series
not only for next season but also the 2001-2002 season, assuming the
show continues to fare well.

The WB wasn't merely surprised it was available. "We were shocked"
CEO Jamie Kellner said.

So while "The Hughleys" plugs along on Fridays for ABC, the insertion of
a show such as "Making the Band," about the making of a semi-real boy
band, and the defection of "Sabrina" signals an end of an era.

Ta-ta, "TGIF." RIP.