Television columnists and critics are beside themselves. ABC is yanking one of their favorite series.

Last week's announcement that "thirtysomething" has been canceled prompted an avalanche of calls to MGM-UA Television, where the show is produced. "Every major publication in the world has called," said studio spokesman Kim Reed. "It's been nonstop."The calls, Reed said, have been from television editors and columnists expressing "outrage that the show is being pulled off."

Outraged TV writers, hold on to your computer terminals. Tonight's episode may not be the last original installment of life with Hope, Michael, Elliot, Nancy, Ellyn and Melissa.

Yes, "thirtysomething" may yet live. But only briefly.

According to supervising producer Scott Winant, the series may return next season to take care of some unfinished business.

"I think, to tell you the truth, one of the only incentives for us to come back would be to use the opportunity to tie up some loose ends," Winant said.

And the reason the acclaimed series is leaving?

The absence of executive producers Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, who said they did not want to return to the acclaimed series and are currently off directing their own feature films.

"What it came down to really," Winant said, "is that Ed and Marshall had gone on to other things. Everything flows from them. Even though I have been running the show for the last season, I have been following their initial ideas."

Whether the series comes back next season for a limited run is currently being discussed, Winant said. "Ed talked to me about it a couple of days ago. He asked if I was interested and I said I was, if he was. And that's how it was left."

There is also talk of spinning off Melanie Mayron's character, Melissa, into a half-hour show of her own. But those plans are uncertain, too.

Fans outside the journalism business also appear upset about "thirtysomething's" cancellation. What effect that disappointment will have remains to be seen.

The switchboard at ABC's Century City entertainment headquarters received more irate calls about "thirtysomething" being cut from the fall schedule than any other series that suffered the same fate, said network spokesman Bob Wright.

Viewers for Quality Television, a Virginia-based grassroots organization that has launched nationwide campaigns to save such shows as "Cagney & Lacey" and "Designing Women," said it has received "a moderate, steady flow of letters" since speculation about the show's future began a few months ago.

" `thirtysomething' is part of the ABC syndrome where they just want to get rid of their quality programs," said VQT president Dorothy Swanson. Last week, ABC also axed the Emmy-winning Vietnam War drama "China Beach" and the pretty to look at - but impossible to understand - "Twin Peaks."

Swanson said her group has no immediate plans to embark on a massive mission to save "thirtysomething."

"It's a show that's been on the air four years, so it's not like it's a first-year show that hasn't had a chance," Swanson said. Besides, no one at "thirtysomething" has ever responded to her letters, Swanson said. "I have no contacts (at the show)," she added.

What looms for tonight's final (maybe) episode? Previously on "thirtysomething," Michael had quit his advertising agency job after demonic boss Miles Drentell pushed him to the breaking point; wife Hope was supportive, but puzzled about what she wants to be when she grows up; Ellyn finally met a decent guy and got married, and Melissa saw her younger lover re-enter her life, but we're not quite sure what that means.

Tonight, Hope and Michael near spontaneous combustion levels. Will the marriage blow up? Will they? Bring a fire extinguisher.

Or a box of Kleenex.

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(Additional information)

If you're one of the thousands who's upset about ABC's cancellation of "thirtysomething" and you're looking for somewhere to express your opinion, write to:

Robert Iger, President of ABC Entertainment, 2040 Avenue of the Stars, Century City, CA, 90067.

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