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'Girlfriends' In Need

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Pop Quiz: name the comedy series that (a) features four big-city girls grappling with men, work, and wardrobes (hint: It doesn’t star Sarah Jessica Parker); (b) is executive-produced by Emmy Award-winning actor Kelsey Grammer (note: We’re not talking about Frasier); and (c) is the highest-rated sitcom in the key adult 18-49 demographic on both The WB and UPN.

Give up? It’s Girlfriends—UPN’s Monday-night ensemble comedy starring Tracee Ellis Ross (yes, Diana’s daughter). Never heard of it? That’s not surprising, given that the sophomore show ranks a paltry No. 112 among total viewers. But they’ve gotta be doing something right: Girlfriends is the third-most-popular show among African-American viewers (behind UPN’s The Parkers and One on One), it ranks No. 1 in its time slot among female teens, and it was recently nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. So here’s the 411 on UPN’s under-the-radar gem.

WHAT IT’S UP AGAINST Becker (CBS), Third Watch (NBC), Ally McBeal (Fox), Angel (The WB), and Monday Night Football (ABC). WHY IT ISN’T A MAINSTREAM HIT For one thing, there are no white people in the cast, and unless your last name happens to be Cosby, that is still an obstacle on the road to victory in TV land. Offers Grammer: ”People draw conclusions pretty rapidly [about an all-black cast], and it takes time to break down those doors.” Series creator and executive producer Mara Brock Akil agrees: ”As much as we like to think our country is diverse and accepting, we still have segregated television.” SAMPLE PLOT When materialistic Girlfriend Toni (Jill Marie Jones) loses her job, her man, and her money, she finds God and starts carrying a plastic Jesus figurine everywhere: ”Do you realize how hard it is to go from sinner to saint without all the Christian accessories?” WHY IT’S NOT JUST ANOTHER SITCOM ”We’re not afraid to put our characters in real-life situations,” says Akil. ”We deal with the ugly side.” Adds Danielle Greene, UPN’s VP of Comedy and Alternative Development: ”I don’t think there’s been a show in a while, if ever, that deals with issues so honestly and authentically for African-American men and women.” SOUNDS INTERESTING…BUT ARE THEY GOING TO CANCEL IT? Says Greene: ”There’s no reason that I could foresee that the show won’t be brought back next season.” Good plan, because it’s never smart to make Diana Ross angry.

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