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Weeps Month

If you're a regular TeeVee reader -- Hi, Mom! -- you've probably noticed that what we write about usually has all the timeliness of a Murphy Brown joke. While most TV commentators -- say, high-powered columnists for Entertainment Weekly -- have access to shows long before they're released on an unsuspecting public, we here at TeeVee end up slopping at the trough in sync with the rest of America. And because of that, what we write usually ends up as the equivalent of Monday morning water cooler conversation: "Man. Didn't that just suck? That Tori couldn't act her way out of a paper bag."

But May is different. May is a Sweeps Month.

And because it's Sweeps -- you can smell it, can't you? -- we don't actually have to wait until we've seen the shows before saying how bad they are. Because it's Sweeps, we can pretty much predict what's going to happen over the next few weeks. Because it's Sweeps, we can belly right up to the buffet and start digging into the smorgasbord of crap before it's been served.

Sweeps used to be simply moronic. You could count on a handful of Important Messages -- drunk driving is bad! -- and a few Very Special Episodes -- didn't everybody tune in to watch Natalie on The Facts of Life lose her virginity? -- but beyond that, there wasn't much out of the ordinary. The networks got by simply insulting our intelligence a little more than usual.

But not anymore. Sweeps has become a nation-wide, spectrum-wide, all-up-for-grabs Limbo Contest of the Damned. Whoever stoops the lowest wins.

You want 3-D? You got it! Two networks are taking a stab at this pointless stupidity, adding the technology that made "House of Wax" such searing entertainment. While adding dimensionality to shows like 3rd Rock from the Sun is probably made easier by modifying the picture than the script, the 3-D effects ultimately only give John Lithgow's annoying Commander one fewer walls to bounce off of.

You want Big Movies? Okey-doke! "Forrest Gump" and "The Mask" emerge as three- (or four-) hour, commercial-laden nightmares for those who couldn't wedge themselves out of the Barcalounger and down to the video store any time in the past couple of years.

You want brand-new made-for-TV-movies? Here y'go, piping hot! "The Odyssey," "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "The Shining," are all, um, original.

You want reunion shows for series that we, as a nation, had beaten to death and buried in shallow graves last decade? No problem! The Dukes of Hazzard and Knots Landing both emerge from the cold ground, to shamble after fresh human brains.

You want the poignant final episodes of series that you stopped watching back when they stopped being funny? "Final," of course, excluding the inevitable reunion show in six or seven years? Happy to oblige! Roseanne, Coach, Married... With Children, and Wings are all finally put to sleep, after one last tearful group hug.

And, of course, Ellen. You knew that was coming, didn't you?

While we hear the coming out episode of the sitcom is quite good -- better than the show's been for a long time -- it's Ms. DeGeneres, not Morgan, that we're concerned with. Ellen, the Real Person, has managed the crowning embarrassment of this Sweeps. Not by announcing her sexual preference (there are already plenty of women who won't go out with us), not by endless months of "Lebanese" teasing (though, gosh, wasn't it as funny the twelfth time?), and not even by appearing in some sort of uncomfortable squat on the cover of a major news magazine (with the headline "Oh, Come On, You Knew").

No, Ellen DeGeneres wins this years Major Embarrassment award by so shamelessly mixing an important personal decision with the stink of cheap, shallow commerce. Gosh, she decides to come out right before Sweeps? Isn't it amazing how that worked out? If her show wasn't in trouble, we suspect Ellen Morgan would still be the unsuccessful heterosexual she's been for three seasons and Ellen DeGeneres would continue to have a sex life that's none of our business.

Whether this gimmick of gimmicks, this TV/reality blurring, saves Ellen or not remains to be seen. If not, the whole episode sinks to a footnote on the pages of History of the Profoundly Embarrassing. If so, we're going to be faced with a one-to-one correspondence between failing sitcoms and shocking cast revelations come the next Sweeps.

And here at TeeVee, we'll reveal which of us is gay.


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