Most people know that during the month of February, TV stations appear to have the best programming, or they at least pull out all the stops to try and have the best programming.
For the most part, the big four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) all air new episodes and promote guest appearances, finales, premieres and specials. This is all due to the Nielsen Ratings, which test to see how many viewers are watching each program at all times.
Networks use these ratings to set local ad rates for the next three months, or until the next sweeps (which occur during the months of February, May, July and November), so it is no surprise the networks go all out during these times. It also explains the lack of reruns the networks air; they have expended all of their new episodes for the sweeps so that there is nothing left to show.
For the most part, as a viewer, I never used to have a problem with the sweeps system. When "Friends" used to be on NBC, I would become outraged when the show took a three-week break, but forgot all anger after it resumed a few weeks later with new episodes.
Sweeps used to be a much bigger deal to viewers because it was treated as a time when anything could happen on television. No one wanted to miss "the biggest episode ever!"
However, with the downfall of the sitcom and the rise of reality TV, this mindset has diminished for the most part. And for the sitcoms and dramas that remain, sweeps has often turned into a time to stretch out plot lines in an effort to retain viewers.
The Super Bowl was a big strength for ABC this February. Not only does the Super Bowl draw more viewers than any other program during the course of the year, but ABC was also able to use cross-promotion to gain viewers for their hit show Grey's Anatomy, which aired following the game.
During the commercial breaks, viewers kept hearing about the "code black" situation that would occur on the show. People responded; "Grey's Anatomy" was the number one show in ratings for the week, besides the Super Bowl.
ABC left the show with a cliffhanger, so viewers were forced to tune in the following Sunday to find out what happened. This was clearly an effective strategy for gaining viewers in the crucial sweeps period.
Also on ABC, we have "The Bachelor: Paris." Not only does the finale conveniently take place on Feb. 27, but the network does its best to draw the show out to last through the end of February by putting in the usual "Women Tell All" episode before the bachelor, Dr. Travis Stork, reveals whom he has chosen.
Another reason sweeps aren't as entertaining now is due to a major event that only occurs once every four years: The Winter Olympics (NBC). Because of the Winter Games, many networks aren't going as over-the-top as they normally do. Programming during the sweeps gets to be expensive with things like the salaries of guest stars — many have come to think that it is not worth spending that much money if they cannot compete with the Olympics.
Although the Olympics will affect all primetime shows, daytime shows and local news remain immune. As usual, the talk shows and soaps will be filled with stunts, while the news will feature embellished stories that you wouldn't hear during the normal months. Don't worry, the craziness will end and regular programming will resume in March once the sweeps have ended. Until then, enjoy the outrageous options TV offers and be ready for the return of your favorite shows in a few weeks.