Last week, the BBC announced its Christmas programming line-up.
The soaps will enjoy a festive overhaul, with seasonal storylines and
plenty of good cheer, even on EastEnders. In short, the BBC will be
taking its Christmas ratings seriously. And with good reason - last
year’s top show, an Only Fools and Horses Christmas special, attracted
more viewers than any programme in ratings history.
But the problem with Christmas is that it only happens once a year. Not
something that need concern American couch potatoes -Christmas comes to
US viewers three times a year. There’s the holiday itself, then,
pre-eminently, there’s the bi-annual ’Nielsen sweeps’.
The first of these exercises by the US programme ratings giant took
place at the end of last month.
Nielsen monitors the performance of prime-time shows over the week in
fantastic detail, and produces figures which, in theory at least, form
the media buying currency for the next six months.
It’s more incentive to show off than the US television industry
This month’s effort, though, was spectacular even by the prevailing
Ellen’s ratings peaked last year for a special in which its heroine came
out as a lesbian. The defining screen kiss, however, was chaste enough
to offend few American viewers. Since then, though, it has seemed Ellen
was not merely a lesbian, but a lesbian with a severely depressed
libido. A couple of tender moments aside, the character’s sexuality has
been pushed firmly back into the closet. Until sweeps week, of
Emma Thompson appeared for a hyped instalment as Ellen’s would-be lover.
This time, the encounter came complete with what Thompson described as a
’good old-fashioned snog’.
Other stunts included an episode of the Seinfeld show that ran backwards
and a pastiche of the film, the Full Monty.
Do they work? Unfortunately, the stunts and specials have become so
outrageous that the media buying community is becoming hardened to any
But for the viewers, well, it’s just like Christmas.