Canceled 'Blossom' Takes a Belatedly Serious Tone : Television: Tonight's episode involves date assault, very different from the style it had been striving for.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Blossom" is wilting--already yanked from next season's plans by NBC--but the show won't go out with the droop it's had for much of this season.

Tonight's episode--one of three originals left--takes a turn for the serious as a date with her high school's most likable hunk (guest Jimmy Marsden) unexpectedly turns ugly for teen-ager Blossom (Mayim Bialik).

Tackling date assault is a far cry from the "Full House" style of comedy that the sitcom has strived for of late. This season, the show's fifth, brought about not only cast changes--complete with an understanding stepmom and a 6-year-old stepsister for Blossom--but also content changes.

Pitted against Fox's steamy "Melrose Place," "Blossom" producers were given the word: No more issue-oriented shows. It was time for what NBC programming executive Bob Levy describes as "family fun, family fun!"

"We couldn't be as aggressive in tackling sexual issues as 'Melrose' could, since they have the franchise on sexy, young-adult TV, and we're not going to beat them at their game, so we decided to go back to our roots as a family show," Levy said. (The plan didn't work: Ratings dropped, leading to NBC's recent cancellation decision.)

So what may be most surprising about tonight's show is that it's "no longer a typical 'Blossom' episode, even though we've done shows in past seasons with this level of seriousness," says producer Alan Katz, who wrote and directed the program.

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In "The Date," Blossom is literally struck with both force and surprise at her date's sudden violence and subsequent apologies. The assault comes after she rebuffs his suggestive remark to move into the back seat of his car; viewers will hear but not see what transpires. Blossom is then confronted with the dilemma over whether to report it.

Although the subject of violence against women has been spotlighted in recent months by the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Katz said that he began developing the story last spring, before the two killings of which the former football star is accused. Katz felt it was an essential issue to tackle, given Blossom's status as a teen role model.

"I thought that with the way she'd been established in the show throughout the years, in no way would she ever be 'deserving' of being hit," he explained. "There would be no question in any viewer's mind that she was blameless."

The episode's message, Katz said, "is that nobody has the right to make you do what you don't want to do, and nobody has the right to hit you.

"NBC was hesitant because they wanted to make sure the entire audience--our more family-oriented one--could all watch," he said. "But the sexual aspect of this episode is very much subtext, and the youngest viewers will just get that message--that basically, no means no. And that's an important message for all of us."

* "Blossom" airs at 8:30 tonight on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39).

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