If you have watched any amount of TV in your life, you have heard of “sweeps month.” Every February and May, TV shows roll out their best episodes, hoping to score big ratings and drive up their advertising dollars. At least that’s the idea. It’s not always the best episodes. In fact sometimes quality is thrown out the window as shock and sex walk in the front door. But this year TV is coming out of the closet.
When I was a kid, sweeps month would mean a string of “very special” episodes of whatever show, especially if it was a comedy. Generally a major character would face some potentially life-altering situation. Like “Mrs. Garrett discovers Blair is pimping Tootie on a very special ‘Facts of Life’” or “Tony befriends a homeless cancer patient on a very special “Who’s The Boss?’”
By the time I reached early adulthood, sweeps had gone to pure sex. You would have something like, “The Chippendales donate their breakaway clothing to Goodwill on a very special “Married With Children.” No, wait a minute. That was every episode of that show. How about “While repairing a water heater, Tim and the Tool-Time girls discover that wet cotton is transparent on a very special “Home Improvement’” (sex and a message).
For the last few years the trend in sweeps month has been celebrity guest stars. Cher plays a pop-singing nun on “ER.” Jessica Simpson plays an stripper/archaeologist on “The Practice.” (She wears glasses and thoughtfully chews on the end of a pencil to signify that her character is smart.) Jean-Claude Van Damme plays his own corpse on “NYPD Blue.”
(and is no more convincing than in any of his movies.)
But, if Sunday night was any indication, sweeps have gone gay! “The Simpsons” had an episode where Springfield legalized gay marriage (if you have ever tried to figure out where Springfield is, you now know its not a red state) and Marge’s sister, Patty, came out. If that doesn’t send the right-wingers into the throws of apoplexy, then I’m sure “Desperate Housewives” did.
It was the first time I had ever watched the show. My friend Brian says he can’t miss it, so I thought I’d take a look into it. Obviously a lot has happened prior to this episode because there were a lot of references to things thatI didn’t understand (although I did get the idea that a lot of people die in that neigborhood… Move out!) But, I understood clearly that two boys (and I don’t mean young men. I mean like teenagers.) were naked and kissing in a pool. Hello, sweeps month!
Of course it’s no big surprise that FOX ran the Simpsons episode. I mean it’s FOX. They proudly ran “Temptation Island.” You think they are going to even blink about gay marriage on a cartoon? That’s the other thing, some of the Right will grumble about the Simpsons, but becuase it was a cartoon and not real people they’re really not going to react much more than wagging their fingers in shame.
But “Desperate Housewives?” It was on ABC. The family network. This isn’t NBC with it’s sophisticated “city folk” programming. This isn’t CBS, the old coot network watched by people so old that they are tolerent of anything becuase they’ve seen it all. This is ABC. The network for middle America. Mickey Mouse is their CEO. And they’ve got boys frenching. Wet boys frenching. Wet naked boys frenching. Not since Murphy Brown had a baby out of wedlock have the self-RIGHTeous had such a big carrot dangled before them. (No pun intended.)
I hope they take the bait. The louder and longer they rail against us, the more ridiculous their arguments and in time (albeit, a long time) people will start to realize how ridiculous it is. I’ll bet ABC is counting on a big backlash, too. After all, the louder the outcry, the more people are talking about it, and the more people will tune in to see what all the fuss is about. The greatest advertising is word-of-mouth. They don’t care why people watch, as long as they do. That’s what sweeps is all about.
Some people will argue that the networks are just exploiting gays and lesbians and their stories to earn a buck. Maybe so. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were to find that the Jeff Gannon story broke when it did just so it would play during sweeps. It may be exploitation. Maybe not. Either way, its making more people aware that were here.
There will come a time when homosexuality is no longer a racy, hot-button, ratings-grabbing issue. Then the networks will have to find something new for sweeps. Here’s a scenario: a red state president vows in his or her inaugural speech to serve the people of the nation and work to bring a quality of life to all people, ignoring party agendas, lobbyists, and personal opinions to solidify a strong prosperous future for the people and country. And then he actually does it. Or at the very least, tries. A show like that would serve a dual purpose. It would also signify the end of reality TV.