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February Sweeps -- A Time of Tired Tricks

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Nielsen is a research company that compiles information on consumers, but most often we think of it as the TV ratings people.

Throughout the year, Nielsen uses electronic metering to get ratings information in the top 56 television markets. Four times a year -- February, May, July and November -- paper diaries are sent out to the rest of the country.

Those ratings periods are known as sweeps. Though not as crazy as programming stunts in the days before electronic metering, when sweeps stakes (couldn't resist) were higher, there are still some trends to look out for January 30 - February 26.

1. New episodes -- Reruns repel viewers, so networks make sure there are new episodes ready to run in February. I really wish networks would follow the subscription-based television model and run new episodes consecutively then start new series and allow them to run through. Obviously this would cost more money, but it would gain viewers.

2. Special guests -- A perennial attention-getter, it will be interesting to see who turns up on the small screen over the February sweeps. Remember when Susan Sarandon guest starred on Mike & Molly, in a November episode, and came on to Molly with a big kiss?

3. Bold story lines -- Things can take an unusual turn during sweeps (see above) when there have been all sorts of gimmicks to try to attract viewers and keep them coming back. This is not just in entertainment programming, but also in newscasts where special "investigative" series and even ridiculous stunts may be programmed.

While I'm all for new episodes, those with special guest stars that are not integrated into the storyline very well and outrageous storylines that take the series off-track, are tired tricks that undermine the integrity of the series.

At least, that is true for the series that have integrity, which I mean in the sense of being whole and coherent, but the other meaning isn't so bad, either!

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