As a TV enthusiast, I love sweeps months. For those unaware, “sweeps” refers to the Nielsen system of measuring television ratings in the United States. The company uses electronic metering technology to capture what channel is being watched as well as gathering information about who is watching. For the months of November, February, and May, Nielsen also processes paper diaries, which are mailed to households in order to keep track of what is watched on each television set and by whom. The data gathered at the end of these months influences both program scheduling and advertising.
As ratings are more closely monitored during these months, networks and programs do their best to impress, and it’s often during sweeps months that television rolls out the big guns. Annoyingly, for those of us using our DVRs, episodes may run an extra one or two minutes longer than usual. Other stunts in the name of ratings include lesbian kisses, characters leaving, crossovers between two shows, ex’s returning to cause trouble for your favourite couple, and big name guest stars checking into the hospital or appearing in the case of the week. However, in this TV enthusiast’s opinion, the best thing about sweeps months (besides four weeks of all new episodes) is experimentation with format.
Often shows that aren’t strictly considered procedurals can get stuck in one format. Initially series like Smallville are interesting, but the viewer soon comes to realize that episodes are becoming familiar, with each installment featuring a new kryptonite-fueled ‘Freak of the Week’ causing problems for our hero and heroine. This is when sweeps month can be a blessing. Fueled by a desire to increase ratings and please their existing audience, shows dare to step outside of their comfort zone and, when done successfully, memorable television is the result.
I count the Buffy musical episode “Once More With Feeling” among the best hours of television I’ve ever seen and a successful experiment in changing the status quo. Now that we’re a week into November sweeps, I’m looking forward to seeing what new experiments the month has in store for us.
There’s certainly plenty for audiences to look forward to, including an upcoming Gossip Girl threesome or the arrival of Dr. Owen Hunt’s ex on Grey’s Anatomy, but instead I’m eagerly anticipating tonight’s all new Supernatural, in which the Winchester boys go where every TV enthusiast wants to boldy go… into TV land! I’m a new Supernatural fan who discovered the show over the summer and now can’t help singing its praises. Unlike many television shows, Supernatural has actually gotten better with age, and I am confident that the fifth season will continue this pattern.
Tonight’s episode “Changing Channels” features the return of The Trickster, who appeared previously in “Tall Tales” and “Mystery Spot”, who casts the brothers into different television genres. Although I’m not only of those lucky TV critics who has already seen the episode, I’ve read two extremely positive reviews and I do love a good TV parody. In tonight’s episode, the Winchesters not only see what life would be like in a Japanese game show and a sitcom, but the Supernatural writers have also cleverly included parodies of Thursday timeslot competitors Grey’s Anatomy and CSI. Personally I’m looking forward to any reference to last year’s terrible “Dead Denny” plot, especially since Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who played Denny on Grey’s) also appeared as Sam and Dean’s father on Supernatural. Along with the known Grey’s, CSI, and sitcom references, critics who received an early look at the episode have revealed that there are an additional two parodies that they aren’t willing to spoil.
I hope my fellow TV enthusiasts enjoy tonight’s parody packed Supernatural. I know I will.
Supernatural airs tonight at 9 PM on the CW, or Sun TV if you’re in Canada.