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Fall TV Preview: 'Sabrina the Teenage Witch'

Melissa Joan Hart’s witch show moved to the WB after four years on ABC

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Here’s a little advice to the WB, which snagged the four-year-old Sabrina from ABC: Never tick off a teen witch.

”Now that TGIF is gone and Millionaire has taken over the whole freaking network, it’ll be a nice fresh start,” says star Melissa Joan Hart, who ascribes ABC’s not-so-benign neglect of the series to the 1996 replacement of president (and Sabrina champion) Ted Harbert with Jamie Tarses. ”[She] steps in and she doesn’t give a s—. You know, Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place — let’s promote the hell out of that.”

Hart shouldn’t have any attention issues at her new home: Even before episode 1 airs, Sabrina is already one of the most seasoned franchises on The WB, a network that’s long struggled to launch successful half-hour comedies. ”It was the No. 1 show on any network with women 12 to 34,” says WB entertainment president Susanne Daniels. ”That’s not something you easily walk away from.”

The move will also allow Sabrina to grow up … but not too much. ”It gives us the opportunity to be a little edgy, although I will not abandon the audience that we’ve built,” says exec producer (and Melissa’s mom) Paula Hart. ”Sabrina’s never going to talk about sex, and she’s not going to have a drug problem.”

She will, however, begin the series’ fifth season in therapy — after breaking up with her longtime squeeze, Harvey, and before going to college, which will be the new setting for her spellbinding shenanigans. Sabrina’s doting aunts will tag along, with Zelda (Beth Broderick) taking a teaching position and Hilda (Caroline Rhea) working — and occasionally doing stand-up comedy — at the local coffee shop.

College life will also present the teen sorceress with a new nemesis — a housemate named Roxie, played by Soleil Moon Frye (the former Punky Brewster). ”She’s kind of an East Village type of girl,” explains Paula. Adds Frye: ”In the beginning, she really can’t stand that Sabrina’s in her space, [but] we’re going to warm up to each other and get into a bunch of crazy adventures.”

Magic potions and talking cats aside, Paula hopes to bring the sitcom down to earth a bit. ”We had a problem last season with going into the fantasy thing a bit too much,” she says. To wit, expect a plotline about bigotry in which Sabrina — who’s actually half witch — dates a full-blooded warlock with a snobby family. Also on tap is a guest appearance by Blind Date host Roger Lodge as a relationship guru who helps guide Sabrina in her love life.

In a scheduling convergence so ironic as to suggest the supernatural, The WB has slated Sabrina opposite — whaddaya know? — Two Guys and a Girl. Paula, as if pondering a spell of her own, says simply, ”I’ve no fears whatsoever.”

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