ABC: ‘Witch’ way now?

TGIF struggling to find direction

With “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” jumping on its broom and heading to the WB, the future of ABC’s long-running TGIF franchise is in doubt.

While TGIF stumbled in recent years, “Sabrina” served as the glue that kept the Friday night lineup together. Now, with it departing and other TGIF stalwart “Boy Meets World” expected to end its long run, the night has been robbed of its two remaining building blocks.

Once a Friday night staple, TGIF still scores well among kids and teens, but young adults have stopped watching the night with their kids. More recently, TGIF lost the adults 18-49 crown to NBC — which got its groove back with the female-skewing “Providence.” And even teens and kids aren’t around in numbers they once were, due in part to cable outlets like Nickelodeon expanding into primetime.

TGIF dilemma

ABC has been pondering what to do with TGIF for some time, swinging back and forth between scheduling more teen-heavy shows on the night (“You Wish,” “Making the Band”) and trying to recapture the family audience (“The Hughleys”). None of those strategies has worked particularly well, however.

Beyond “Sabrina,” Touchstone’s “Boy Meets World” has already wrapped for the season, and possibly for good. The show didn’t produce a large-scale series finale, so there’s always a chance it could return. But series star Ben Savage has already committed to attend Stanford U.

Next fall, ABC may be ready to challenge NBC on the night with more adult-leaning fare. Another option, moving Sunday’s “Wonderful World of Disney” franchise to Friday, is always a possibility — but a long shot.

ABC execs were unavailable for comment. But in a statement, the network said, “ABC remains committed to programming that the family can watch together. However, as we have repeatedly said, we are currently evaluating our options for Friday night.”

Meanwhile, the WB — which has struggled to launch comedies in recent years — scored a big coup in catching “Sabrina,” which could serve as the centerpiece of a new comedy lineup on the weblet. The WB could decide to keep “Sabrina” on Fridays and schedule one comedy and a drama or three comedies behind it.

The WB picked up “Sabrina” for a license fee of around $675,000 per seg and made a deal for two seasons, or 44 episodes. The second season is contingent on “Sabrina” reaching certain demo ratings (which sources say are similar to the network’s most visible series, such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).

Paramount Television Group went with the WB, despite ABC’s higher offer, which sources say was up to $975,000.

That’s still lower that what ABC pays now for the show — just north of $1 million a seg — and what ABC initially offered several months ago (around $1.2 million). But given the unclear status of TGIF, the TV group may have felt more comfortable with the WB’s two-year offer.

“We had a great run on ABC, but as they re-evaluate TGIF, we feel the WB offers the ideal platform for our loyal audience,” said Perry Simon, president of Viacom Prods., which produces “Sabrina.”

ABC had no comment on the “Sabrina” negotiations and its move to the WB.