Big fall network moneymaking specials are a thing of the past

November sweeps a real turnoff
November sweeps used to be the mother of all TV deals. To goose ratings and boost advertising revenues, networks used to spend millions on all kinds of flashy new junk. You could always look forward to a CBS Hallmark literary classic starring Jane Seymour or a live execution on Fox.
Today, not so much. For one thing, the networks are broke. NBC just announced they’re not going to try anymore from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. All that money they spent on Kidnapped and Studio 60, right down the drain.
Besides, viewers aren’t at the mercy of network schedules anymore. You no longer have to wait for sweeps to see something cool — you can rent, buy or download anything anytime you want. Tons of entertainment, good or bad, is always just a click away.
Networks have countered by trying to goose their own brand by stacking their CSI’s, Law & Orders or House’s with big name guest stars. Even NBC, which hardly has any hits any more, supersizes the so-so shows they still have. It’s that old marketing strategy — if you’ve got nothing, make it longer.
In Canada, there really is no November ratings sweeps period, so horrible award shows like The Geminis (Nov. 4, Global) can be thrown on a schedule without anybody caring. Still, except at CBC where it is over, everybody is trying to win every hour.
Here, in no particular order, are ten November sweeps goodies to look out for:
1. Show Me the Money (premieres Nov. 22 on ABC). Here it is folks, the future of network television: William Shatner hosting a big money game show. With the instant success of Howie Mandel’s Deal Or No Deal, the rush is on to get dumb-luck game shows featuring dumb-luck Canadian hosts on the air. (Want proof? Alan Thicke is set to host The Singing Office on CBS).
Shat’s show features trivia questions, showgirls holding scrolls with hidden dollar figures and TV’s latest sensation, dancing. As Spock used to say, “fascinating.”
2. No more Twenty Good Years. The horrible NBC sitcom starring John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor has been pulled off the air. Thank you, NBC! 30 Rock survives and has been moved to Thursday nights where it will be paired with the return of Scrubs Nov. 16. It will also be super-sized that night, so maybe they’ll call it 40 Rock, or Alec Baldwin will be taller.
3. Tuesday November 7 is the night of the U.S. mid-term elections. The Daily Show (Comedy, 11 p.m., CTV 12:05 a.m.) will have a field day unless the Republicans hold Congress, in which case it will be a wake.
4. Speaking of which, The Simpsons run their annual Treehouse Of Horror post-Halloween special Sunday Nov. 5. The XVII edition ends with a shockingly direct anti-Bush, anti-war statement that I can’t believe will really air (and probably won’t if any of the spin dogs at Fox News find out about it).
5. On that same election night, CTV deals with no new Law & Order: SVU by slapping in The Giller Prize, the annual Canadian literary awards. Justin Trudeau hosts. As his dad used to say, “Just watch me.”
6. The big Prison Break mid-season finale airs Monday, Nov. 27 (Global/Fox). Fox plans to rest this a while to give T-Bag time to grow another hand. They’ll show Christmas goodies throughout December, then bring back 24 Jan. 14 and 15 in a two-night, four-hour premiere. Speaking of which…
7. Don’t wait until November sweeps. Go, right now, to You’ll see how Jack Bauer’s next bad day is about to unfold. When last we saw Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), he was getting the snot beat out of him on a slow boat to China. After a year-and-a-half in confinement, a bearded, Jesus-like Bauer gets swapped in a prisoner exchange. Praise the Ford! Then he gets a shave and a haircut so he can save the world again. Even Chloe gets a makeover. Cool.
8. Those guest stars? Listen for Sutherland on The Simpsons (Nov. 12). David Morse starts a stint as a cop on House Nov. 7 (John Larroquette pays a House call the week after). Jane Seymour? It’s sweeps and she’s still working, guesting on Fox’s Justice Nov. 20.
9. Among the series premieres next month will be The O.C., returning this Thursday night at 9 p.m. on Fox. The crowd-pleasin’ challenge: How to kill off the rest of the cast now that Mischa Barton is gone. Stanley Tucci headlines the new medical drama 3 lbs (CBS/CITY-TV, Nov. 14). If that sounds too heavy (I kill me), Taye Diggs stars as a cop who keeps re-living the same bad day in the Groundhog Day-like Day Break (ABC, Nov. 15). And Wendy Mesley has a new CBS series called Underdogs coming later next month.
10. The 2006 American Music Awards airs Nov. 21 on ABC. Rascal Flatts has been added to the lineup. Like I said, sweeps ain’t what they used to be.