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Sweeps, the Universe & Everything - May 3

There was a relative calm before the storm last week in the Numbers Game. Everything was as it was the week prior.

That was last week. Before... sweeps.

Now, we've heard this time and time again. Sweeps is like a cornucopia of variety to common-era game show fans. Like Christmas, New Year's, and Mardi Gras all in one. And why not? For some, we see things that we wouldn't get to see in other times. For others, we see the windup of a season's worth of build-up.

But what exactly is this sweeps thing anyway? The common, accepted, neatly packaged definition goes something like this; a sweeps period is one of four four-week-long periods, typically falling on November, February, May, and (the inert yet equally as important) July, in which broadcasters set advertising rates for the next quarter as a result of audience yield. This period will typically see the setting of stunt shows in order to attract viewers, everything from celebrity shows to "finales so explosive that they have to be seen to be believed."

For some, it's a matter of making more money. Therein lie the numbers. Ad rates. Money. Bling bling. Production continues at a breakneck pace.

For others, it's a matter of survival. The fate of a series, typically seen in syndication, but can happen in network, is usually tied to its sweep performance and how they fare in between the February and May runoffs. Ad rates. Money. Bling bling. Production continues dependent upon the funds. Notorious example: ad rates for Hollywood Squares could not meet production costs because viewership did not satisfy said rates, which led to it's eventual cutback and subsequent cancellation.

But do they matter? Let's take a look at a case-by-case analysis, shall we?

"Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!": lumped into the same case, because typically, you will not see one without seeing the other air afterwards. The two shows signed big multiyear deals lasting until 2007 for many of their carriers, most notoriously the ABC O&Os. Meaning that New York, LA, even up the road in Raleigh, they will have their spinning/quizzing fix filled for a couple more years at least. Expect that time to lengthen even more so if they continue to be the top two shows in syndication today. To that end, the three weeks in KC for Wheel and the Ultimate Tournament with its rainbow's end star could best be seen as money makers. And trust me, you need a lot of cheese if you plan on bestowing the amount given to each participant.

"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?": also a case of a multiyear deal. Also a case of ABC O&Os, but unlike the first case, this was relatively easier, as growth and a tight familial umbrella precipitated the deal. I remember hearing a week of Walk-in and Win, but aside from that, Meredith and company are sticking with what got them there. Besides, there's no real reason for any drastic measure to increase audience yield.

"Family Feud": different in that it has been historically renewed on a year-by-year basis. Consistency is the word here. No mass exodus since Karn took over for Louie, but at the same time, no real audience influx. Just enough of a crowd to justify another full year of production. It got the green light in February. This month, it hopes to cash in on the American Idol craze with a week's worth of shows... and speaking of which...

"American Idol": that which does not kill you, makes you stronger. Not only have audiences made this one of the top draws in primetime, but between cash influx and sponsorships, FremantleMedia can afford to search for all the superstars their bankroll can handle, with or without Simon (Fox signed him and his cohort to three more seasons in 2003). But, if you're an Idol fan as I am, then you tend to shudder at the thought. Text messages at the ready, folks; the coronation is in three weeks.

"Fear Factor": another multi-year decision for Joe Rogan, but so far, steady is as steady goes. The game took a bit of a hit this year, but it's still one of the top Monday tune-ins. Just hope that the aforementioned "hit" doesn't factor into NBC's final decision on whether to extend that "Fear" in the near future. Expect best friends, New York vs. LA, and a trip to Orlando this month to help it along.

"The Bachelor": also no official word. But the "unplugged" season was anything but the extreme dating blitz that ABC wanted or needed from the franchise. If the show doesn't pull something drastic in the next couple of weeks, it may find itself on the sour end of a conversation that features the phrase, "It's not you, it's me."

"Street Smarts": we're in hurry-up-and-wait mode for this show, which is winding up its $100,000 Tournament after an abbreviated 110-show season. Historically, WB gave Frank and company the word after the sweep. We'll see what happens with this show, which is cheap enough to produce on a limited budget, but not quite the exuberant peacock of the late-night flock.

"Amazing Race": not an issue right now, as two more seasons are in the offing, but expect decent numbers against Fox's blockbuster "House", especially in these last two episodes. After all, we've seen decent numbers against "House" all season.

"Survivor": usually CBS is hush-hush, but I wouldn't put another round or two out of the question. After all, we've seen some of the best drama come out of this year alone, from Chris' domination of the girl-power alliance on the Islands of Fire to the implosion of the Ulong tribe in Palau. We have another year coming, but for now, we'll have to wait until CBS gives the official word.

"The Apprentice": the Donald told NBC17 out of Raleigh that he plans to step away after his fifth go-around, but will NBC let him? The show is consistently second to "CSI" in the ratings, and hype is mounting about Martha Stewart's incarnation, which still has yet to even score a release date. On the other hand, we have seen a downturn from the first blockbuster season, and the constriction of the season finale can't be a good thing, especially if it gives way to a more established show like "ER".

"The Contender": the longshot for renewal. Ratings have been hovering at the 5 level for quite some time. Will the big fight at the end draw in the needed numbers, or is this one a TKO?

Last minute addendum: CBS has subbed The Price is Right this Friday for "CSI: Miami". Cause for concern? I'd like to hear what you think.

We'll revisit this space at the end with final data and insights as to what should come next (here's a hint: the answer is not 42). Next week, tonight's Idol... and the ABC special that it spawned. Until then, remember... the numbers never lie.

Chico Alexander
is a complete and utter geek. He can be reached at chico@gameshownewsnet.com.


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