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October 9, 2015

On the 7th day of Festivus, TV gave to me

by Joel Keller, posted Dec 10th 2005 12:36PM
Law & Order / Homicide crossover ....Seven Silly Sweeps Stunts.

Here are seven ways local stations and networks try to artificially pump up ratings during those magical "sweeps" periods in November, February, and May, allowing them to overcharge advertisers for the rest of the year:

1. Schedule Shuffles - Say you're a fan of a quality but ratings-challenged show like, oh, I don't know, Arrested Development. You settle in to watch a new episode, when you notice... it's not there anymore. Instead, there's either an obscure awards show, clip special, or -- worst of all -- a rerun of a dramatic show that usually airs on another day. Gotta get the bigger ratings, right? The show comes back after sweeps, but any momentum it had is killed, leading to its cancellation, just so the dinks at a network like FOX can get a few more bucks to show beer commercials during Trading Spouses. (Sorry... maybe I'm still a little bitter over AD's cancellation).

2. Special Guest Stars - Misplaced guest stars did not start with Will & Grace, although they've perfected this irritating practice. Guest stars, who often play themselves, break up the chemistry and pace of an episode, usually bringing the show to a screeching halt in the process. Remember when Nancy Reagan told Arnold to "Just Say No" on Diff'rent Strokes, or when Julia Roberts distracted viewers on Law & Order, to the point that no one remembers what the episode was about? That's what I'm talking about. For every well-done guest spot (Frasier had a lot of them), there are ten clinkers.

3. Very Special Episodes - This is when a sitcom does a "serious" episode; Blossom specialized in these. Someone has to learn a lesson, usually a topical one. Someone gets arrested, or shot, or OD, or some combination of the three, usually resulting in the surrounding characters crying in each other's arms, saying how much they love the victimized character, before they come out and let everyone know that they're OK. The dramatic corallary to this is the "funny" episode of your favorite drama; The X-Files seemed to have at least two of these per year. Other "special" episodes? Live ones, musical ones, Rashomon-esque ones, and episodes that consist of nothing but dream sequences.

4. Will Your _____ Kill You? - Local news broadcasts excel at this. Is your stroller using putting your baby at risk? Is that can of tuna going to make you sick? Are the sewers safe from a terrorist attack? The promos for these stories are usually more foreboding than the stories themselves, using intimidating graphics and scary music. Viewers tune in, then the story is teased relentlessly until it finally airs five minutes before the end of the broadcast. Then, more often than not, the story is so uninformative that the viewers come away feeling that they've been had.

5. Unnecessary crossovers - Let's be honest; does anyone ever clamor for a crossover episode? Usually, the crossover between two previously unrelated shows is designed to boost the ratings of the weaker show, thus we get Briscoe from Law & Order chasing down a murderer with Pembleton from Homicide, Susan from ER going to New York to have the police officers of Third Watch help her find her sister and neice, and to have Arnold, Willis, and Mr. Drummond from Diff'rent Strokes fly to Seattle to visit their ratings-challenged friend Larry and his kids on Hello, Larry. The crossovers never seem to work, as the casts of the shows mesh about as well as ketchup and mud. But, boy do they get hyped for weeks on end!

6. To Be Continued... next year - Ever since "Who Shot J.R.?", the TV universe has been polluted with cliffhangers. It's fairly natural that soapy shows like Desperate Housewives will have a cliffhanger at the end of the season; heck, every episode of that show ends in a cliffhanger. But even sitcoms have gotten into the act; you can almost identify each season of Friends by its season-ending cliffhanger. Of course, as the seasons go on, the cliffhangers try to top each other and become more and more ridiculous, as anyone who saw Bobby Ewing come back from the dead on Dallas can attest ("Oh, that whole season was a dream!" Yeah, right. More like a nightmare for the viewers).

7. Where In The World is Matt Lauer? - Who In The Hell Cares?

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You are opposed to the Very Special Episode? It is my favorite episode of anything- EVER! I mean Nancy "The Freakin' First Lady" Reagan on an episode of Diff'rent Strokes to promote an anti-drug message?! Classic. Especially when you look at the post show lives of the cast. RIP Dana Plato.

December 16 2005 at 4:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joe Cabrera

#4 reminds me of that hilarious bit from a Kent Brockman broadcast on the Simpsons: ""I'm Kent Brockman. On the eleven o'clock news tonight: a certain kind of soft drink has been found to be lethal, we won't tell you which one until after sports and the weather with funny Sonny Storm."

December 13 2005 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

1) You know, I'm getting really sick of people saying AD's been cancelled. Officially, it hasn't. I know there's an over 90% possibility it won't get renewed, but no easier way to ensure that happens than to tell people there's no point in watching it because it was cancelled. AD is not cancelled... yet. Maybe that's why they're filling Kitchen Confidential's slot with AD reruns. 4) The easy solution to this is to do what I do - as soon as the teaser airs, look it up on the web and read the reports for yourself. Far quicker and less insulting.

December 10 2005 at 2:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Toby OB

Well, as one who celebrates the TV Universe, I see the crossover as a necessary building block. So yeah, I guess I do clamor for crossovers. And I know I'm not the only one - I can think of four websites out there who specialize in them. Crossovers are one of those extras that put a little oomphy into our viewing.

December 10 2005 at 2:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Munch from Homicide ended up on a Law & Order so 'twas worth it in the end surely?

December 10 2005 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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