ABC bets on family-friendly Friday fare

Next fall, ABC will return to its TGIF formula with four family-friendly sitcoms anchored by the returning "George Lopez" at 7 p.m. and "Life with Bonnie" at 8:30 p.m. Two new shows, "Back to Kansas" and "Hope & Faith," will join the block.

Through the decades, Friday night fare -- including "The Brady Bunch," "The Partridge Family," "The Donny & Marie Show," "Fantasy Island," "Benson, "Webster," "Full House," "Family Matters" and "Boy Meets World" -- attracted large audiences of children and their parents. ABC has seen much of its family audience slip away to the rival WB network and to its affiliate Disney Channel, which has a Friday night hit with 'tween comedies like "That's So Raven" (6 p.m., Disney) and "Lizzie McGuire" (6:30 p.m., Disney).

Other cable networks also have carved out their piece of the family entertainment niche, including Animal Planet. Viewers in search of America's critter idol should not miss "Pet Star" (7 p.m., Animal Planet), which wraps up tonight with 15 performing creatures competing for a grand prize of $25,000 and the honor of being named the most talented pet in America.

But don't expect cats, ferrets or lizards at this pet-athalon. The 15 final challengers come down to 13 dogs and two birds. Plan on plenty of howl-inducing and chirpy commentary from celebrity judges Shelley Long, Fred Willard and Gena Lee Nolin. Mario Lopez is host.

  • The Hallmark Channel also joins the G-rated bandwagon with a new block it calls "Happy Fridays." It's actually a daylong binge of vintage Disney movies, culminating tonight with Nixon-era classics featuring more B-list celebrity cameos than a month of "Love Boat" reruns. "The World's Greatest Athlete" (6 p.m., Hallmark) stars Jan-Michael Vincent as a "jungle boy" exploited by scheming college coaches and other jocks. Look for John Amos, Tim Conway and Nancy Walker in this 1973 caper.

It might be fun for parents (or grandparents) to watch "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" (8 p.m., Hallmark) with children. But they'll spend the whole time explaining the meaning of the term "tennis shoes," and the enormous size of the computers on display in this 1969 comedy starring a young Kurt Russell, with Cesar Romero, Joe Flynn and William Schallert.

  • "NOW with Bill Moyers" (8 p.m., PBS) looks at the controversial role of former lobbyists in key government positions. J. Steven Griles was appointed as the No. 2 man at the Interior Department after a long career lobbying for the energy industry.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Scheduled on a two-hour "Dateline" (7 p.m., NBC): A new investigation reopens the case of a convict on death row for 18 years.
  • David Spade stars in the 1999 comedy "Lost & Found" (7 p.m., Fox).
  • Steven Seagal stars in the 1994 action movie "On Deadly Ground" (7 p.m., UPN).
  • Mike finds evidence that clears a bookie but implicates Marcellus on "Hack" (8 p.m., CBS).
  • Bill Kurtis is host of the news special "Saudi Arabia" (8 p.m., A&E;), examining relations between the United States and the oil-rich sheikdom over the past 65 years.
  • Scheduled on "48 Hours Investigates" (9 p.m., CBS): A prosecutor uses forensic evidence to prove that a "loving husband" killed his wife.
  • The death of an infant may have been a mercy killing on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).
  • Scheduled on "20/20" (9 p.m., ABC): interviews with Jane Pauley and Carnie Wilson.
  • Scheduled on "On the Record with Bob Costas" (10:30 p.m., HBO): Larry Bird, Larry David and George Lopez.

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