With Special Guest Star Neil Gaiman!
The sweeps are here! It’s that magical time of the year when television studios throw away their last shreds of self-restraint, dignity, and continuity to openly beg for viewers by promising extravaganzas, controversy, and bizarre plot twists. More than usual, I mean.
“Sweeps” refers to the time when a couple million randomly selected people across the country are asked to record what programs they’re willing to publicly admit they watch. This information is then used by network affiliates to negotiate their ad rates. Of course, the networks quickly realized that those numbers could be artificially pumped up to fool advertisers into thinking that more people watched television than actually exist on Earth. This led to the practice of using sweeps to showcase the networks’ most thoughtful and insightful shows.
Ha! No, seriously, this led to ridiculously over-hyped spectacles like sit-com weddings, gratuitous nude scenes, and Geraldo Rivera.
This year we have musical versions of “7th Heaven” and “Malcolm in the Middle,” the 100th episode of “The Gilmore Girls” and the final episode of “NYPD Blue,” reunion specials for “Happy Days” and “One Day at a Time,” and on “Fear Factor” they’re gonna make Omarosa eat worms. What’s not to like? Perfectly justifiable guest star appearances include John Mellencamp on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” Madonna on “The Road to Stardom With Missy Elliott”, and, God help us all, Krypto the Super Dog on “Smallville.”
The inevitable lesbian kisses this year (a sweeps tradition) are jazzing up “The O.C.,” “One Tree Hill,” and “Wife Swap” and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, although if Joan and Melissa Rivers make a move towards each other on the red carpet I am so out of there.
This February also includes the Super Bowl (which used to be in January), the Academy Awards (which used to be in March), and the Grammys (which used to be good).
And it works. We readily tune in to TV shows we don’t even like just to see explosions and sex and Bruce Willis, although hopefully not at the same time. Obvious overindulgence on this scale is actually refreshing to watch, in a “we know what you’re doing” sort of way, although personally I wouldn’t want to stoop to such tactics.
This is not the way to respect your audience. My good friend Neil Gaiman, the best-selling author of “Sandman” and “American Gods,” once told me, “I don’t know how you got my e-mail address but if you don’t stop writing to me I shall be forced to call the police.”
For example, my column of two weeks ago about the FOX network mentioned several cult-favorite TV shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” and it was quickly spread around the Internet by massive fan networks only slightly less organized than the Navy SEALs. I appreciate the attention and feedback — and the fact that it became my most popular column ever — but if I were to continue mentioning “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in future columns, especially columns that had nothing to do with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” merely to get Google hits from fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” I would be guilty of pandering. And that’s a line I simply won’t cross.
Much as I enjoy the nonstop carnival that is sweeps month on TV, you won’t catch me comparing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”; mentioning Joss Whedon’s run on “The Astonishing X-Men”; or discussing the fashion habits of Veronica Mars, Sailor Moon, Zaphod Beeblebrox, or Optimus Prime just to generate Google Alerts for half a billion double-clicking fans. No name-dropping. No full-frontal column nudity. I will never sink so low just to bring in readers.
You have my word on it.
As Neil Gaiman, co-creator with Dave McKean of the upcoming movie “MirrorMask,” reminded me in a recent conversation, “OK. Quote me as saying anything you want. Just please leave me alone. And don’t hurt the children.”
Next week: A Klingon/Cylon lesbian cage match leads to the heartwarming reunion of a mother and daughter lost amongst the stars. Don’t miss the installment of Twenty-Four/Seven that’ll have everyone talking! Guest starring Jennifer Garner and Alyson Hannigan. Viewer discretion advised.