TV Bites With
by Neena Louise
I think so-called "Sweeps" should be outlawed. Sweeps is the
twice-a-year periods (November and May) when series air their supposedly
"best" (usually just "gimmick-laden") episodes in order to
get the highest ratings and, thus, set higher ad rates for the year. Every year,
the new season seems to start later and later, and ends earlier and earlier,
with repeats liberally sprinkled in between. With an average of only 22 episodes
to fill a 52-week year, it's no wonder the season is so short! Series used to
average 36 episodes a season. Then it was 30. Then 24. Now it's 22. Ten to
twelve are used for sweeps, leaving, at most, 12 (count 'em) TWELVE for
the other 40 weeks. The first reruns hit right after the start of the season in
order to save the "best" for November sweeps. It's infuriating!
What is going on here? If you ask the networks, they blame the 22-episode season
on high salaries for the stars. Nonsense! Consider the 22-minute half hour
sitcom. That leaves 8 minutes (!) for ads, say $1 million per 30 seconds for a
hit show, and that's 16 MILLION DOLLARS per half hour in ad revenue alone. Throw
in syndication rights, product placement, merchandising and corporate tie-ins
and the stars' salaries are - though an incomprehensible figure to someone like
me - nothing in comparison. ABC has recently ordered producers of half-hour
shows to trim another 30 seconds, leaving the half-hour a mere 21.5 minutes long
- and up to another million dollars for ABC. Last season NBC started ER 30-60
seconds early (leaving viewers everywhere scrambling to reset their VCRs) in
order to squeeze more ads in. Ads crawl over the closing credits. Actors
obviously consume/mention products... Just how greedy can the networks get?
It used to be that a half hour show (which was at least 24 minutes long) had a
commercial break after the opening teaser/credits, one half-way through, then
another just before the closing credits (which were mercifully full-size and
commercial-free). Now, there is a commercial break after the opening, two
during, another just before the closing credits, then more over the closing
credits. And just forget trying to watch a movie on network TV! They're sneaky
about commercial breaks in movies. The first 15 or 20 minutes are
commercial-free - just long enough to suck you in to wanting to watch the movie.
Then you have to endure a commercial break every 7-10 minutes. And if it's not a
made-for-TV movie, the cutting to commercial breaks is rarely in a sensible
spot. It's as though someone with a stopwatch just - click - cuts to
commercial, regardless of whether or not it means cutting someone off
Networks wonder why viewership is down, and blame it on their programming. The
actual programming is the least of it. It's everything else: the bugs, the
constant commercial breaks, the tiresome reruns, the squished credits, the early
start times... I, myself, no longer watch network TV. Well, I watch it, but only
on tape. I usually watch commercial-free or commercial-lite cable and tape the
network shows I like in order to fast-forward over the blatant, obnoxious,
incessant cash grabs. Taped shows don't show up on the current ratings system.
The networks ought to think about that. Maybe if they stopped angering their
viewers so much, their ratings could be recouped.
A first step would be dispensing with Sweeps. At the very least, it would give
consistent programming throughout the season and ad rates could be set on
overall ratings, not just the ratings during Gimmicks - I mean - Sweeps
weeks. If Sweeps didn't exist, perhaps the networks would be a little less
conscious about how they absolutely "gotta-make-a-buck, gotta-make-a-buck"
twice a year and could instead turn their attention to producing consistently
good shows all season long and let the ratings - and advertising revenues - fall
where they may. Like this will ever happen.
would love to know what you think, sound off on the
boards and let us know what you think!