What has become of the November sweeps?
Formerly a cavalcade of outrageous theme weeks, crossover episodes and stunt casting, the annual fall race for ratings supremacy and maximum ad rates has become increasingly reserved, trending away from the usual attention-grabbing antics.
In fact, Tuesday’s Election Night coverage likely will be the biggest event of the current sweeps period, which began Thursday and runs until Nov. 26.
One reason for the subdued atmosphere is the advent in the country’s larger markets of Nielsen’s local people meter, which measures viewing and demographic data nightly, eliminating the need for sweeps audience measurement periods to determine advertising rates. However, the sweeps remain essential to set ad rates in smaller markets where local people meter data isn’t available.
While networks still are giving token nods to sweeps via press releases trumpeting their November schedules, erstwhile sweeps staples such as heavily promoted miniseries or clever programming gimmicks (think “Seinfeld’s” backwards episode) are nowhere to be seen this time around.
During the week of Nov. 16, NBC—which of the networks is hewing the closest to the standard sweeps practices—is mounting its second annual “Green Week,” in which episodes of “My Own Worst Enemy,” “Knight Rider,” “Life,” “Law & Order” and “Lipstick Jungle” tackle eco-friendly ideas. Also in the wings are a bevy of guest stars slated for “30 Rock,” including media icon Oprah Winfrey, Steve Martin, Jennifer Aniston and a reunion of the cast of “Night Court.” Rosie O’Donnell also is on tap for a Nov. 26 special, “Rosie Live.”
Fox’s two-hour TV movie “24: Redemption,” set to air Nov. 23, looks to be one of the high points of sweeps, as it will set the stage for the seventh season of the network’s hit series “24,” which begins in January. Viewers have been without Jack Bauer for nearly a year and a half due to series production being shut down by the writers strike last season. In the telefilm, which is set in Africa, Bauer takes on a warlord who is drafting children into his militia.
Other Fox sweeps highlights include “The Simpsons’” annual “Treehouse of Horror” special Nov. 2 and a supersized edition of “House” (extended by seven minutes) on Nov. 25, directed by series executive producer Katie Jacobs. Guest stars also pepper Fox’s November, with Johnny Knoxville starring on “Family Guy,” KISS frontman Gene Simmons appearing on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and a reunion of the members of En Vogue on “Don’t Forget the Lyrics.”
ABC is singing and dancing its way through this sweeps with the annual appearances of the Country Music Awards (Nov. 12) and the American Music Awards (Nov. 23), plus “Dancing With the Stars” finishing off another season Nov. 25. ABC will have its guest star shots, too, with Valerie Bertinelli playing a cattle rancher (who looks incredibly like Valerie Bertinelli to Denny Crane) on “Boston Legal” Nov. 3 and Whoopi Goldberg appearing as radio DJ Brother Lovebutter on “Life on Mars” Nov. 6.
“CSI: Miami” and “CSI: NY” both will hit episode milestones during sweeps, with “Miami” airing its 150th episode Nov. 17 and “NY” crossing the 100-episode mark Nov. 19. Sarah Chalke reprises her recurring role as Stella Zinman on “How I Met Your Mother” Nov. 3, while “Green Mile” star Michael Clarke Duncan turns up on “Two and a Half Men” Nov. 24.
The CW has enlisted ’80s pop icon Cyndi Lauper and “The Princess Bride’s” Wallace Shawn to appear on “Gossip Girl” Nov. 10 in an episode in which Mr. Shawn plays Eleanor Waldorf’s new boyfriend and Ms. Lauper plays herself. Plus cycle 11 of “America’s Next Top Model” draws to a close Nov. 19, On Nov. 11 “Beverly Hills, 90210” alum Jennie Garth returns to “90210” and celebrity blogger Perez Hilton drops by “Privileged.”