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Families endangered on NBC

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PASADENA, Calif. — When Scott Sassa took over as NBC chief programmer in 1999, he began his administration by vowing to bring family programming back to the network.

Well, he's given up on that.

"I talked a couple of years ago (about) doing more family shows — trying to get family shows on at (7) o'clock," said Sassa, president, NBC West Coast. "We tried and we either couldn't do it or the NBC audience wouldn't accept it."

(Well, given that NBC's big effort was the awful Michael Chiklis sitcom "Daddio," it's probably more the former than the latter.)

To be precise, what Sassa said was, "We've shifted too far away from those traditional families. We're not going to develop all shows with traditional families, but we think we should have some shows like that. . . . We don't have a show that has a mother, father and kids, which was really prevalent in the '60s and '70s. I think we should have some shows that have a traditional family."

He also promised "less emphasis on sex." Nonetheless, two years later Sassa is making the same sort of excuses for the proliferation of adult material — a k a sexually oriented content — at earlier hours in the evening that his predecessors made. Don't even mention the fact that there used to be what was popularly known as the "family hour" in the first 60 minutes of prime time.

"I think the imperative thing is — it used to be called the family hour," Sassa said.

Just like there used to be families in NBC shows. Oh, there are still some families, but look across the schedule and it's almost impossible to find a show that includes a married couple with children.

(As one critic commented, "NBC — the network of barren families.")

"I think it's coincidence, but it's something that we are aware of," said NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker, who quickly added that " 'Three Sisters' does have a young baby."

Of course, it was just as quickly pointed out that "Three Sisters" has just been put on hiatus for the next couple of months.

"I think it's coincidence and it just happened," Zucker said. "Obviously, our number-one comedy is about to have a baby in 'Friends.' But the fact is you raise a point that we've talked about, and I would actually like to see us have a show or two that has some kids, and we've talked about that internally."

And don't be surprised if, a couple of years from now, whoever is running NBC is explaining why they still don't have any shows that feature children.

LIQUORED UP: NBC execs make no apologies about becoming the first broadcast network to accept ads for hard liquor. They won't even accept the characterization of their network as in any way a groundbreaker in this area.

"Since 1996, there have been over 300 (local) television stations (and) cable networks, 2,000 radio operators, newspapers, magazines and billboard (companies) that have taken liquor advertising," said Sassa. "And we've been approached over the years to do this. We felt the time was right now."

(The time arrived — coincidentally, no doubt — just when the bottom fell out of the advertising market.)

Not only are they not accepting any criticism for accepting liquor ads, but Sassa even tried to make his network seem almost altruistic for doing so.

"Most importantly, we're doing (public-service announcement)-like ads for, at a minimum, the first four months," he said. "So we think we've taken a very responsible approach."

(Hmmm . . . four months of PSAs; liquor ads in perpetuity.)

E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com