Monday, February 24, 2014

The Interrupted Sweeps

February was a weird month for television. Normally February is a sweeps month, which means that the networks usually pull out all the stops in order to attract viewers, because the ratings during sweeps set the advertising rates for the next few months. This year, because NBC's Olympics coverage coincided with a big chunk of the sweeps period, the competition mostly didn't bother to try. For the last two weeks prime time network television has almost been a dead zone outside of NBC. New episodes of anything have been scarce since the Superbowl and midseason premieres have been pushed back. If all you've been watching are the Olympics you may not have noticed that all there is to watch is pretty much the Olympics.

The thing is, I haven't been particularly inclined to watch the Olympics this year. I got sick of NBC's lackluster coverage after the London Games in 2012 and I've pretty much sat out this round. I suspect I haven't been alone. NBC's ratings for the Sochi Olympics have been down overall from the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Some point to the fact that the Americans haven't been particularly strong contenders in the major events, and there were few breakout stars to follow. And of course there have been the constant complaints about the state of the coverage, with plenty of the usual grousing about not being able to access anything live. Notably the biggest story to have come out of Sochi has been the infamous Bode Miller interview botch.

That doesn't mean that the Olympics haven't still been a ratings juggernaut though. FOX premiered the latest season of "American Idol" last Thursday, which was completely crushed by the Sochi coverage, attracting only 9.2 million viewers in its worst showing since its first season way back in 2002. The Olympics easily doubled that with 20 million viewers. Network ratings have been in decline overall recently, and major sporting events like this are some of the only programming that is still guaranteed to draw in large audiences. NBC has paid a hefty chunk of change to maintain exclusivity, and with results like this, it's not hard to see why. So it's no wonder all the other networks pretty much decided not to try to compete and have been filling their slates with reruns, saving their new content for the coming weeks. Even the Oscars were pushed back to March this year to avoid the Olympics.

I've been happy to occupy myself with Jean Renoir films and the backlog of episodes of shows I haven't gotten around to until now - expect a write-up on the second season of "Carnivale" soon. I'm nearly done with that one, finally. However, I do miss having any of my regular shows in rotation. I think the last current episode of anything that I watched was the pre-Valentines Day episode of "The Big Bang Theory." Cable shows don't seem to be as affected, because there's plenty of chatter about the current seasons of "The Walking Dead," "True Detective" and "Girls" going on - not to mention the new batch of "House of Cards" episodes - but after the past few months of content overload it feels unusually quiet out there.

The late winter and early spring months are traditionally slower times in the media world, with the box office still in the doldrums and little of interest going on the music and gaming spheres either. February television has traditionally been the exception, so this disruption has been more noticeable. I admit that it's been nice to have the break to play catch-up. However, I'm looking forward to things getting back to normal. Pretty much every major network show that was on hiatus will be out of reruns this week for the final few days of February sweeps and a good chunk of March. I'm looking forward to the new season of "Hannibal" and the return of "Community" in particular.

As for the Olympics, I think that the shine has officially worn off for me permanently. I used to look forward to the Games every time they came around, but the way they've been presented these last few years, watching them has become too much of a hassle and I'm not willing to put up with the aggravation of ads and puff pieces anymore. I just follow the post-mortems and highlights in the regular news now. This year I don't feel like I really missed anything by not watching the nightly broadcasts. Plenty of my friends and family have still been watching though, so NBC has nothing to worry about.

Ironically, my favorite thing to come out of Sochi was some decidedly non-NBC Olympics coverage: Stephen Colbert sending Scott Thompson's fabulously gay "Kids in the Hall" character Buddy Cole to Russia as an Olympics correspondent for "The Colbert Report." I've missed him.

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