If you’re a regular TV watcher, you know that in November and May things go a little, shall we say, crazy. The November sweeps are a desperate grab for ratings, and the networks stop at nothing to get their numbers up. Blondes in bikinis are always a sure bet, as is any kind of emotionally upsetting interview. Dramatic, out-of-character plot points also make for good viewing. Weddings, breakups, birthing babies – all good for ratings.
Take, for example, the recent episode of Desperate Housewives. A woman with a gun shooting people and taking hostages? You probably already know that Tom’s psycho ex got written out of the show (too bad, because she was the best character on it). Gun violence? What happened to Eva Longoria and Teri Hatcher clad in lingerie? I guess desperate times call for desperate measures.
But probably the worst of the beginning of sweeps was the Anna Nicole interview. Airing right at the beginning of the official sweeps period, the ET exclusive was then covered on virtually every other news program and reported as though it was an important story. Oh, really? Important why exactly? Grief porn is an unseemly way to pass one’s time. The clip of the starlet sobbing about her son’s death played and played over the airways until all channels converged on CBS to watch as they picked over the bones of a long-since-dead icon and her very sad tale. How they are getting mileage out of it is a mystery.
But there is still a whole month to go, and all of the local markets are being tested to find out who wants to watch what. Frankly, if trash is what draws viewers in, who really wants to be a viewer?
It isn’t all bad, though. November is offering up some delightful programming. For starters, the grand Helen Mirren is back in her final turn as the complex, brooding Jane Tennyson on Prime Suspect: The Final Act, which airs on two Sundays, beginning November 12 at 9 p.m. If you haven’t yet seen any of the Prime Suspect episodes, you can find them all on Netflex. There simply has never been a better written female character nor one better acted than Mirren as Tennyson. Mirren is having a particularly stellar year, what with her Oscar-deserving role in Stephen Frears’ The Queen and her already Emmy-winning portrayal of the first Elizabeth on HBO.
Other highlights include the Dancing with the Stars finale, which is sure to draw viewers (November 15) and Barbara Walters shows fans and viewers her sloppy side with Barbara Walters Special: 30 Mistakes in 30 Years (Nov. 16-17, ABC).
NBC brings back the Patricia Arquette thriller Medium with a two-hour premiere on November 15, but has moved it to Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. The sweeps-designed episode features Arquette’s real life husband, Thomas Jane.
November also sees a few heavily anticipated holiday shows, like A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (November 20, ABC). Charlie Brown returns on November 28 for A Charlie Brown Christmas. Seems a bit early for Christmas, but hey, it’s sweeps!
Some believe the reason sweeps aren’t up to what they once were is that television is so easily attainable now that people don’t feel they have to see something exactly when it airs. With Internet downloads, TIVO and even the networks offering their episodes free online no one needs to be a slave to a schedule anymore.
Surely, that’s obvious enough. Sweeps may soon become a thing of the past, like the Nielson Ratings should be. But couldn’t it just be that they finally ran out of ideas? I like to think the networks suddenly grew a conscience and decided warping their otherwise good shows out of proportion just to grab ratings was bad for the collective psyche. In the end, though, it’s about the bottom line. It isn’t personal.