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The B-Side: Real Life Sweeps Week Stunts

The final Sweeps Week of 2009 is upon us. For those of you who don't know- sweeps are those momentous midterm exams in which Nielsen Media Research monitors television network viewership.

In an effort to shock, awe, attract and impress its audience, the networks dramatically shine up their stars, spice up their story lines and pull out all the programming stops.

Sweeps are known for their sensationalized goings-on. Typically, there’s a wedding, or a funeral, or a fire, maybe a reunion, perhaps the big game and of course, some girl-on-girl action. In our lifetime, the staple of a square Sweeps diet has been the lesbian kiss.  “L.A. Law” did it way back when, and we’ve seen one on “Roseanne,” “Ally McBeal,” “Party of Five,” and “The O.C.” since.  It’s practically a Sweeps script prerequisite at this point. It has spawned an entirely new class of gay temps. And to think we used to mock ‘lesbians until graduation.' Shoot, at least they gave us four good years. That’s honorably sustained service compared to the ‘Sweeps week lesbians’ we’ve been made to accept. 

But I digress. It’s no use complaining about the irresponsibility of producers and directors still sending their sexy starlets into Sweeps "lips first" just to score a cheap tune-in from the highly coveted teenager-through-dirty-old-man demographic. The novelty of two young girls locking lips should be wearing off any minute now (or not) and we’ll move on to something more original, provocative and worth the clutter in your DVR List.  

The point is, no matter what stunts are pulled during Sweeps weeks (be it an “I’d go gay for Mischa Barton” gimmick or a more invested CSI Miami-New York-Las Vegas trilogy) Sweeps are little more than big illusory anomalies. Sweeps stunts are ditch efforts; an incongruent swell of special effects spilling out into an over-the-top, trying-too-hard heave of desperation.

And that doesn’t sit well with me. But what’s worse is that I realize, we do it all the time.

Sweeps week stunts are exactly like the things we gays do for our biggest blowouts of the year. Consider Pride week or White Party preparations when we frantically pluck, tweeze, tan and wax our way to the most delicious looking diva on the avenue.  And it’s not just grooming in good faith, let’s be honest, we’ve crammed in hours of reckless spending at Fashion Valley in between twice-a-day sessions at 24 Hour Fitness, breaking only to mix up another vat of Miracle Lemonade Cleanse and pop into the salon for that eyebrow consultation.

Doing everything humanly possible to attract eyeballs to our image of the week with blockbuster special effects is part fabulous and fun, but admittedly, it’s part inconsistent and erratic. And it gets me thinking about other extremes we too often resort to on big audience occasions.

As we gleefully glide into the holiday season -- a time notorious for stunts of consumerism and heightened at-home drama -- I vow to take a lesson from the patchy ups-and-downs we’ve become accustomed to.

Let’s aim for a steady, more balanced approach to joy, thanksgiving and compassion, so that the holidays feel more like a satisfying season finale, and less like a disingenuous attempt to attract short-term attention. 

Ditching our real life Sweeps stunts should earn us higher ratings as human beings and our friends and lovers won’t be left wishing they could cancel our show upon a season of sputtering antics.