They can be the best of months and the worst of months.
Television critics Matt Roush, of TV Guide, and John Leonard, of CBS News Sunday Morning, The Nation, and New York magazine, give their takes on what has been good and bad about Sweeps Months.
Events That Live Up To Their Hype: Some television specials, movies, and mini-series are every bit as rewarding as the networks promise. Roush cites Gulliver's Travels, The Odyssey, and last November's Cinderella. Leonard reaches back farther to recall Roots and Winds of War.
The Big Something Extra: As Roush points out, during Sweeps, shows bring out their big guns. One gimmick is stunt casting, the appearance of special guest stars sure to attract attention. Like on Frasier, for instance. "The episodes where Lilith comes back, they always seem to happen in November and February," recalls Roush. "Same with when Ted Danson comes back."
The Rewarding Risk: "Television always surprises you," says Leonard. Though the networks are trying during Sweeps to draw in as many viewers as possible, they sometimes take risks that actually pay off in quality viewing. In Sweeps past, says Roush, such an example would be Lonesome Dove, a risk because the western was considered dead at that point.
Extreme Sensation: During ratings drives, all sorts of demons fly out of the woodwork, sometimes quite literally. Leonard cites "the cloning of Jason Gedrick into fourteen evil twins" in last year's The Third Twin, along with "monsters, airplane crashes, and sci-fi paranoia." Roush recalls Asteroid.
Theme Nights: NBC's New York Blackout Night is the perfect example. During one Sweeps Thursday night, every must-see-TV show was set in Manhattan during a blackout, except Seinfeld, who would not cooperate. I have to give Seinfeld credit, says Roush. "There's already a sense that there's a lot of sameness going on. And what worse trend could there be than a lot of shows doing the same thing on the same night?"
Too Much Of A Good Thing: Says Roush, "Only TV critics seem to have enough VCRs to watch everything that deserves watching during a few select weeks." And, since the broadcasters save everything for Sweeps, the months before and after are littered with reruns.
The Non-News: Many local stations, also playing the Sweeps Game, shun coverage of events of true gravity, says Leonard. Instead, they ride in the networks' wakes, doing special follow-up reports to the "based-on-a-true-story" movie that just aired.
The Three Dimensional
Last season, both ABC and NBC dabbled in 3-D. ABC featured brief 3-D scenes in a bunch of its sitcoms; NBC did a 3-D 3rd Rock From The Sun.'s effort "looked silly," says Roush. But for 3rd Rock, the show "put a lot of money into it. It had musical numbers. . .it worked great."