by pat howard

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your TV, another sweep

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Today marks the beginning of Neilsen’s May sweeps rating period, which stations typically use to set advertising rates. If it seems like we just got done being force-fed new episodes, guest star stunts, and all the other familiar trappings, it’s because we did. Back when that digital TV transition was supposed to happen in February, Neilsen moved the sweep that typically occurs in the groundhog month back to March. The DTV switch was delayed til June, but the March sweep happened as planned, which is a whole other set of someone else’s problems.

The May sweep, which begins tonight and runs through May 20, is also the final push for this year’s traditional TV season. Just a handful of episodes remain of most of your favorite shows. You can’t swing your remote around without it hitting some stunt casting, and in some cases season-long story arcs have been building to season-finale climaxes.

You may have noticed, though, that plenty of shows have premiered in recent weeks. Surely they can’t all be packing up in the next month. Some will, some won’t, but this is definitely a sign of the growing movement toward year-round scheduling. Harper’s Island blatantly bucks the in-season scheduling trend. This limited series is scheduled to conclude in July, and so far CBS seems committed to keeping it on the air that long.

Already there are casualties. Tonight’s episodes of Samantha Who? and In the Motherhood have been yanked in favor of a Grey’s Anatomy repeat from a few weeks ago, leading into that show’s new installment tonight; Ugly Betty will take back its time slot next Thursday, a little ahead of schedule. NBC has now punted sophomore drama Kings entirely off the schedule; apparently it was too much of a drag on the bottom line even on Saturdays, where the Peacock gang expects Law & Order repeats to outperform it.

I’ll be curious to see how this next month plays out. This is the third week for freshmen Parks and Recreation and Southland. Will they continue to capitalize on early momentum? And looking ahead to next fall and The Jay Leno Show, would Southland be viable in a 9p/8c timeslot (or, for that matter, Law & Order: SVU)? In the DVR/Hulu universe, does it even matter?

The networks have a lot of decisions to make, with upfront presentations looming in a few weeks. Fox seems likely to unload some of its cult series, CBS has some decisions to make about sitcoms, and I think we’re all a little curious about how NBC’s going to play its new, truncated schedule of scripted series. The jackals are after ABC’s entertainment president for failing to come up with any new hits as its most popular franchises begin to show signs of age (this Millionaire revival feels a bit desperate). The CW actually seems to have the least on the line, given their strong second season at a mini-net.

So many questions, whose answers will be determined in large part by an antiquated business model no one’s quite sure how to improve or innovate. But you’re on notice to set your DVRs, because the arbitrarily mandated end of our ‘official’ television season draws nigh.

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