Television Sweeps

Television Sweeps

Notes from different corners of the world.
May 10 1997 3:30 AM

Television Sweeps

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       I'm pretty sure I've never watched an episode of Married ... With Children all the way through. I can't say for certain, because I often fall into these trances where I'm sitting in front of the television and several hours of my life disappear and I can't account for them. But from what snatches I've seen, Married is the sort of show that grabs you by the testicles and then stomps on them, and I don't imagine I would soon forget watching a whole half hour of it.
       This past Monday I thought I ought give MWC another chance, particularly since it was the last episode ever. The show opened with the slatternly mother wriggling on the couch, squirming with obvious lubrication, as she talked with her promiscuous daughter about going to see some male strippers.
       I went a full 45 seconds this time.
       Married ... With Children lasted 11 seasons, the same as M*A*S*H.

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       Television sweeps are, if not by design then by side effect, utterly inconsequential. And so there is perhaps some irony in the fact that this sweeps, the first to be recognized as a necessary nothingness (in Entertainment Weekly!), should actually have some consequence.
       In my hometown of Chicago, the executives at WMAQ, the NBC affiliate, had a sweeps-friendly idea: Let's hire Jerry Springer, the most mucous of the daily freak-show hosts, to do nightly commentary. This offended WMAQ's anchorwoman, Carol Marin, who resigned after 19 years at the station, calling Springer "the poster child for the worst television has to offer." Springer defended himself, accusing Marin of "elitist snobbery" and pronouncing that "we have no journalism in a free society unless we have commentary from all parts of the community."
       Carol Marin, meanwhile, was taking her side of the story seminational, on Tom Snyder's show. "Once you do something to totally disrupt the trust of the viewers, you can't just get that trust back," she told Tom. "What I fear is the dumbing down of the news."
       I watched a snippet of Springer's regular show the following day. It featured a young woman, her mother, and her grandmother, whose collective dream it was to all pose nude together. Jerry's commentary: "There are some people who would say what you want to do is sick."
       That night on the local Los Angeles news, the top story was about a registered sex offender being hounded out of some community, as well as follow-ups on a transvestite robber and, in related news, more on Eddie Murphy's charitable work. There was also a special report on illegal-alien teen prostitutes, sold with the line, "Streetwise beyond their years."
       It would appear that in the end Jerry Springer's commentary was not horrific, merely redundant. After two days, he resigned.
       "Despite the intense hype generated by Springer's arrival," the Hollywood Reporter had noted, "WMAQ didn't see the gigantic ratings surge Monday that observers had anticipated."

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       On last night's Friends, the smart-alecky guy was troubled by his male boss constantly slapping his butt. This prompted the girl with the hair to make a joke about grabbing the breasts of the one from the Bruce Springsteen video. The dumb guy then suggested that the smart-alecky guy deter his boss's posterior paddling by rubbing something "really smelly" on his butt. Later, there was a very funny moment when the guy from Swingers got his testicles stomped.
       Friends could last 11 years.

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.