Talk about a weak sweeps! In terms of quality and magnitude of sweeps events-if not in terms of numbers-November has been a real bust. Maybe the networks are, in phases, taking the advice of a recent EM editorial and doing away with the idea of sweeps months altogether.
This will be bad news for TV critics who use the excuse of an exhausting November, February and May to take it easy in December, March and June-among other months when, due to the intense pressures of the job, a critic must repair to a retreat, or retreat to a repair, and try to remember what life is like without a glass shield in front of it.
News and reality programming completely stole the thunder from the output of network entertainment divisions this month, with the exception of HBO and the hilarious, witty and somehow touching finale of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David’s crafty comedy series. The trouble is, he only makes 10 episodes a year, which is kind of lazy and selfish of him. (I’m trying to start an argument with David because he’s a virtuoso at arguing.)
HBO’s heady programming move
And of course, there was that particularly sensational and graphic episode of “The Sopranos” in which poor Joe Pantoliano lost his head. The New York Post ran a celebratory third-page article the next day, with one of its so-called critics raving wildly with joy over the fact that the episode was so eventful and bloody. The Post even ran pictures of the severed head being placed in a bowling bag. Let’s all remember this tribute to the Neanderthal mentality the next time the Post opines against the evils of violence on television. This page had the same tone one would expect from a lynch mob or a cockfight crowd.
On the broadcast networks, there was little to compare with the news and reality programming. CBS’s four-hour, two-Sunday spy miniseries flopped so hugely and painfully, you had to feel sorry for the network. When Part 1 crashed and burned, it seemed pretty inevitable that this misbegotten snoozer would cost CBS two sweepy Sundays and not just one, which would have been bad enough.
Of course, it’s hard for dreamed-up movies to compete with some of the real-life stuff we saw on newscasts, the most conspicuously ghastly example perhaps being Michael Jackson’s baby-dangling routine satellited back from Germany, where he is apparently still a star. This was one of the pieces of news footage that just had to be repeated for a viewer to believe it actually happened.
The most wonderfully wacky manufactured event of the whole month was ABC’s irresistibly insane reality show “The Bachelor,” which everybody, everybody, was talking about. Am I the only one, by the way, who thought Aaron-the supposedly desirable bachelor-was one big dumb, self-adoring bore? He is, of all things, a banker, second only to lawyers on America’s list of most-detested professions, and he appeared to have plenty of dough at his disposal. He also knew where the camera was at all times and made sure to get his mug into it.
The absurdly protracted two-hour finale was a triumph of huff and puffery. The two things that everybody wanted to see were, first, the Bachelor making his choice between the two desirable finalists (winnowed down from a starting roster of 25), and second, let’s face it, footage of the loser crying. Oh yes, it’s definitely a sadistic show, and if the pretty blonde who wasn’t chosen hadn’t broken down and wept in the limo as she was whisked away from Malibu, the audience would’ve felt cheated.
Is this a terribly cruel and exploitative thing to do to a young woman? Of course, but the contestants go into the tacky pageant knowing they could end up sobbing before it’s over. Besides, NBC still leads America and perhaps the world in sadistic programming. On a November edition of “Fear Factor,” a young woman who found out quickly she did not have the stomach for being covered in live, stinging scorpions got out of the tub in a hurry and appeared to be in serious danger of going into shock.
Watching a rejected Cinderella get teary-eyed in a stretch limo is a lot less guilt-inducing than being “entertained” by the sight of a traumatized woman on the very brink of a breakdown. And you don’t have to have any legal training to know that the poor contestant must have signed a document absolving Endemol (it still sounds like an emetic or laxative to me) and NBC of all liability, even if she required months of hospitalization as a result of the “stunt.”
The host, a monosyllabic clod who could just be the Missing Link itself, kept scolding the trembling woman for freaking out. If only she’d been able to shove him into the scorpion pit to see how he liked it. Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network” aired on TCM late one night about a week later, and I couldn’t help thinking how tame Chayefsky’s vision of ultimate TV trash was compared with what has actually transpired. I wonder if viewers could join in a class-action suit against the network and producers for the emotional damage suffered from watching this poor woman go completely to pieces. I would love to be party to such a suit.
Something for everyone
Nothing so purely vicious happens on “The Bachelor.” It’s kind of foolproof in its way, because people can watch it straight or they can watch it to jeer and ridicule-like when the blonde, pre-rejection, recalled, “When Aaron kissed me, it made my heart just fall in my stomach.”
Uh, is that good?
Aaron went to Harry Winston’s to buy the engagement ring, and although ABC offered to foot the bill, Aaron grandly announced he would pay for it himself. Close-ups of him holding a ring showed his immaculately manicured cuticles-no typical American guy he. Throughout the two hours, the announcer kept promising “the moment we’ve all been waiting for” but what a wait it was. The wait was weightier than the moment.
Meanwhile ABC, the network that killed its own “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” show by airing it to death, apparently doesn’t have another “Bachelor” ready to go. Good grief, it’s their only hit, shouldn’t they be cranking out episodes as fast as they can? The next edition will be a “Bachelorette” selecting her big honey from a couple dozen male contestants. At least that’s what Regis Philbin said the next morning on “Live With Regis and Kelly.” Yes, my sources are unimpeachable.
Regis re-enacting “The Bachelor’s” finale was more entertaining than the actual show. He took note of the Bachelor’s decision to pay for his own ring: “He didn’t rely on ABC, because we’ve got no money! No money to buy a ring for The Bachelor!” Good point.
The Bachelor had a speech prepared for the losing blonde as well as a proposal prepared for the winning brunette. “The past six weeks have been wunnerful,” Aaron told Brooke, the also-ran. “I’m still not 100 percent convinced that we’re at the same point in our lives.” Whatever that meant. This boob was a font of pop-psych babble. In one of roughly 1,000 flashbacks to pad out the time slot, Aaron said of an eliminated contestant, “Everything about Gwen pretty much rocks my world.”
I think it was at that point that my heart fell into my stomach. I know something was going on because I had to take a Pepcid AC. Anyway, in terms of clout and buzz if not in terms of actual numbers, to “The Bachelor” go the sweeps. Now we all have to start resting up for February.