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Now I Lay Me Down to Sweep: For May TV Sweeps, Except for Oprah, Why Bother?
May 19, 2011  | By David Bianculli

The ratings "sweeps" months, used to set advertising rates for local stations for the coming quarter, used to be hotly contested events, full of miniseries and TV movies, attention-getting series cliffhangers and loads of special events. But for the May 2011 sweeps, which end next Wednesday, the biggest event of all comes not from a broadcast network, but from a syndicated show.

Will anything be bigger, in the merry month of May, than Oprah Winfrey's final three days as the host of her 25-season syndicated show? Probably not -- especially since her old friend, Maria Shriver, went to Chicago to attend the final tapings, and may pump high-octane promotional fuel on an already blazing Must-See TV fire... (She's in the photo above, along with Kristin Chenoweth, Gayle King and Tyler Perry.)


The final installments of The Oprah Winfrey Show are Monday and Tuesday's shows, organized by her staffers as a surprise thank-you to their boss, and Wednesday's top-secret last show (could Maria Shriver be the final guest that has Oprah going out on, and over the, top?). This month, they're Must-See TV -- and, therefore, are a TV aberration.

Some networks and shows are being so casual about the May sweeps that they closed up shop early, offering season finales with a week or more to go before the sweeps were over. Others barely even tried.

There are the decided not-events, led, ironically, by NBC's The Event, which presents its end-of-season cliffhanger Monday. Except that the show already has been cancelled by NBC, so, like such serialized and complicated dramas as ABC's The Invasion, it will fizzle out after one season, with no end in sight, many questions unanswered, and few fans even caring.

We have had a few solid sweeps treats from the broadcast networks this month. CBS's The Good Wife ended with its heroine lashing out, with understandable fury, after learning of her politician husband's latest secret infidelity -- a plot that only seemed to predict what Maria Shriver is going through, in real life, at this moment. At Fox, House is building to another raw season finale, and Glee has its crew in New York for the Nationals.

But other shows have either lost momentum on the way to their season finales (NBC's Celebrity Apprentice, Fox's American Idol), or never had momentum to begin with. And next Thursday, the day after the May sweeps end (with a few more days of May still to go), the only first-run broadcast network program is the season premiere of Fox's So You Think You Can Dance.

Otherwise, it's wall-to-wall reruns: on ABC, on CBS, on NBC, even on CW. And from that point on, until September, it'll be cable to the rescue.

Cable, or Netflix, or DVRs, or the outdoors...




Davey said:

Kind of too bad about The Event. It was preposterous, but no more so than the last episodes of Lost. Good trashy fun, as opposed to the just plain trash that is 90% of what's on the box.

As to Oprah's swan song being "must see", speak for yourself -- it's only Must See in the sense of making sure the toxic empire is really finally gone.

It would have been interesting to know why the TV powers-that-be seem to have abandoned the sweeps week ritual. Despair? DVRs? Not having anything worth pushing? This seems like a symptom of some large perceptual shift among management. So what's behind it?

Comment posted on May 19, 2011 2:32 PM

MS said:

I agree with Davey. Oprah can't go soon enough for me. With her babbling with celebrities about the luxury goods she favors and pushing pernicious garbage like "The Secret," I haven't watched a minute of the show in years. Who cares about the minimum thread count sheets she finds acceptable? And how responsible is it to push the idea that if you aren't wealthy and happy you just didn't visualize it properly?

Comment posted on May 23, 2011 3:18 PM
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