Television Sweeps

Television Sweeps

Notes from different corners of the world.
May 17 1997 3:30 AM

Television Sweeps

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       It wasn't that long ago that I would have said Roseanne was the best show on television and nobody would have laughed at me. The show was No. 1 for a reason: It had better writing and acting than anything else on. While I personally didn't buy the groundbreaking angle (what was TheHoneymooners if not a tragicomedy of a dysfunctional blue-collar family?), and never embraced the real-life Roseanne's crypto-prole handi-feminism, I watched Roseanne nearly every week, and I laughed.
       I was among the millions who stopped watching Roseanne eventually. I can't remember why, exactly. It might have been some combination of that loose-meat business and learning much more than I needed to know about Roseanne's topology. Whatever. At some point television made me choose between Roseanne and something else. I can't even tell you what that something else was now.
       So on Tuesday I'm reading in TV Guide and it's eulogizing about what a groundbreaking, proletarian-feminist show Roseanne was. In keeping with the funereal theme, the magazine asked Roseanne to reminisce about her favorite episodes from the program's long, nine-year life. Roseanne, unpredictable as clockwork, chose five shows from the current, mostly unwatched season. She apparently believes her show finally hit its stride in its death throes.
       I thought, OK, I'll watch the last couple of episodes.
       For those who haven't seen Roseanne in as long as I had, the opening now features a montage of the main characters as they have appeared throughout the series. It is an almost perfect metaphor for what happened. In the photos, we see the children grow up charmingly, we see Roseanne's husband and sister grow older more or less gracefully, and we see Roseanne turn from a chubby, cheerful, ordinary-looking woman, through progressively more harlequin make-overs and a series of surgical procedures, into a tight, shiny monster.
       Also, now the show sucks.
       I was astonished. To describe the hackneyed plot--Dan thinks his mother (Debbie Reynolds) is trying to kill him--does little to convey the true horror of what Roseanne has become. Dan turns around just as his mother is about to clobber him with a vase. She covers by saying, "My, what a beautiful vase." The climax features Roseanne wrestling Debbie around in the dirt. The resolution involves tripling Mom's medication. This is what I imagine the shows on the WB network are like.
       They should teach Roseanne in school, not as a lesson in blue-collar consciousness or feminist empowerment, but in how important good writing is. Here are the same amazing actors, looking lost and humiliated without a quality script. Any such course should also point out how poorly Roseanne treated her writers. There's a lesson there as well, I hope.

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       I watched the last episode of Coach on Wednesday. I had only seen it two or three times in its eight years, and I didn't think much of it. But from what I could tell, it was a pleasant, warmhearted little program. I'm not saying I should have watched it more, but I'm glad somebody else did.

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       I never miss my stories. By that I mean the guilt-free soaps: Chicago Hope, NYPD Blue, ER, Homicide, The X-Files. But I dread this time of year; without fail, as the season nears end and the sweeps wash in, these shows decide to pay back my year of loyal viewing by threatening to kill someone.

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(Also see David Plotz's " Assessment" of Roseanne.)

Larry Doyle will be filing weekly dispatches from his television set during sweeps month (which roughly corresponds to the month of May). When not watching television, Doyle writes for it; he works forThe Simpsons.