The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Tuesday, March 26, 1996                TAG: 9603260054
TYPE: Column 
SOURCE: Larry Bonko 
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   75 lines


THE LAST TIME I checked, ``Moesha'' was rated No. 94 nationally among 103 prime-time programs, which is a shame because the UPN sitcom is better than that.

Lots better.

The viewers in Hampton Roads know a good thing when they see it. ``Moesha'' is hot here. A hit.

Perhaps the show would be doing just as well in other places if the producers had named it ``Brandy,'' for its star - Brandy Norwood, a 17-year-old singer whose first album sold 3 million copies and brought her two Emmy nominations.

Put ``Brandy'' in the TV listings and you guarantee that her fans will tune in. But who knows from ``Moesha?'' (It's pronounced ``Moe-ee-sha.'')

When meeting with TV writers in Los Angeles not long ago, the sitcom's three co-creators and executive producers (Ralph Farquhar, Vida Spears and Sara Finney) said they did not name their show ``Brandy'' because it isn't about a singer or show business or anything superficial like that.

``We wanted to put the focus on a 16-year-old African-American girl. By naming it `Moesha,' we made the statement that this is not about a glamorous recording artist. It's about a real 16-year-old girl living in South Central Los Angeles,'' said Farquhar.

Said Farquhar: ``Our goal was to do a family show featuring middle-class African-Americans, and to do it with a great sense of humor. At the same time, we don't shy away from the reality of what it's like to grow up in America in 1996.''

TV Guide thinks of Moesha's family as the Cleavers and Huxtables with soul. Others have called it the black ``Blossom.'' In fact, it's an original - a family show that's cool.

Norwood was happy to sing the theme, but she insisted that while playing Moesha she be light years away from the girl we see on MTV singing, ``Sittin' Up in My Room.''

``Moesha can't sing,'' said Norwood. ``She CANNOT sing. Not a note. Moesha has no voice.''

But Norwood does. And she intends to keep a singing and acting career going at the same time. She talks about making movies.

Norwood is smart, sophisticated, sexy cute. Strong. Big smile. A presence. Don't you wish you had her future?

Finney named the show ``Moesha.'' She liked the sound of her niece's name, Tiesha.

``We wanted a name that reflected the fact a lot of African-American girls born in the 1970s and 1980s have this `esha' sound at the end of their names,'' said Finney. Teenagers of all colors in Hampton Roads, who have seen Norwood in concert, have hip-hopped over to UPN (WGNT) Tuesday nights at 8.

The sitcom had a 10 rating and 15 share in this market, three times better than the national average. ``Moesha'' in Hampton Roads is challenging ``Wings'' on NBC (12/20) and ``Rose-anne'' on ABC (11/18) for No. 1 at 8.

Norwood, a native of Mississippi who was first seen in prime time in the sitcom ``Thea,'' describes Moesha in this manner: ``She is very responsible. She's positive. She likes boys. She goes to school. She gives advice to her friends. It's great to play because that's the way I am.''

``Moesha will have to deal with all the problems of people her age including sexuality. As she deals with the problems, the people watching learn something from it,'' said Farquhar.

A twist to ``Moesha'': Norwood's character has trouble at first dealing with a stepmother (Sheryl Lee Ralph). At first, it makes Moesha look bratty.

``They will attempt to resolve their differences,'' said Farquhar. ``They will find a place where they can get together. The characters in our stories don't have all the answers. But we have them work out their dilemmas.''

Is that why ``Moesha'' is doing so well in Hampton Roads? Or is it just because Brandy Norwood as Moesha is so talented and charming that you like watching her even when she's being a tad pushy? by CNB