Whew, the sweeps are over. Now television can go back to the regular run of murders and maimings. T.S. Eliot called April the cruelest month, but then he never lived to see the February Sweeps. Three times each year the networks grovel with heightened panderism in honor of Nielsen sweeps months, when ratings are taken more intensively and extensively than usual and ad rates are set according to the results.
February is one of those months. One can call them the February Creeps or, for their salacious content, the February Peeps. But this year they were so unspeakable it might do to call them the February Bleeps.
What America saw on television in February was this: a mini-series about the mass murders of little children, a three-hour drama about teen-age suicide, and a six-hour mini-series in which Hollywood wives and their husbands played musical hot tub. ABC also offered a movie about a male "mistress." Hitler's SS was reactivated for NBC. Week in, week out, the usual run of TV trash was given a special sleazy sweepy hype.
This is a network tradition. It's considered good business.
Now from the networks' own mouths -- from network press releases and network print ads -- we bring you some of the February bill of fare. The publicity reflects the content of the shows and the elements the networks consider attractive to viewers; the buzzwords have a seamy consistency. This, and not Emmy Awards, and not libel trials over documentaries, is what network television is all about.
Here is what television supplies as national fun:
"Fear grips the city when, within one week, three women have been brutally killed, in the new late-night detective series, 'Night Heat.' " -- CBS press release.
"When a stickup of a liquor store results in a bloodbath because of the automatic weapons used in the heist, O'Brien and Giambone become desperate to halt the weapons at the source, on 'Night Heat.' " -- CBS press release.
"Hot and heavy! Action explodes as Hammer hunts down a killer-arson ring!" -- CBS ad for "Mike Hammer."
"Revenge-hungry model wants Jack . . . Dead!" -- CBS ad for "Cover Up."
"Red-Hot Jazz and Cold-Blooded Murder! There's no shortage of suspects when Jessica witnesses a musician's death!" -- CBS ad for "Murder, She Wrote."
"High Level Blackmail Scandal could mean murder for Amanda!" -- CBS ad for "Scarecrow and Mrs. King."
"Two teenagers brutally slain. Two families shattered by grief. Two killers set free." -- NBC ad for "Two Fathers' Justice."
"KITT Eaten Alive? What happens when KITT is plunged into a foaming well of highly toxic waste? KITT gets wasted!" -- NBC ad for "Knight Rider." KITT is a car.
"Dr. Craig is on the warpath to find out which doctor is responsible for an abusive patient's sudden death; murderess Daniels passes a psychological test and is allowed to return to the staff -- and vents her macabre sense of humor." -- NBC press release for "St. Elsewhere."
"Hooker's Undercover in Vegas! To bust a drug-dealing crime boss." -- ABC ad for "T.J. Hooker."
"Massage Parlor Murders! Hooker must save Stacy's life when she goes undercover to uncover a killer." -- ABC ad for "T.J. Hooker." Artwork: woman in towel next to man who holds gun to her head.
"T.J. Hooker races to save Stacy's life when her undercover role as a masseuse in an outcall prostitution ring draws the attention of murderous gangsters, in 'T.J. Hooker,' airing Saturday, Feb. 2." -- ABC press release.
The Mob Made This Cop a Widow . . . Now She and Hooker Will Make Them Pay!" -- ABC ad for "T.J. Hooker."
"An anguished Sgt. Hooker pursues gang members who have attacked the beautiful young woman he loves (Michelle Phillips) in their attempt to silence testimony that could incriminate them for rape and robbery in 'T.J. Hooker.' " -- ABC press release.
"A seemingly simple arrest plunges Sgt. Hooker and detective Dani Starr . . . into a dangerous probe of organized crime, including murder, the adult movie trade, and a huge diamond heist, in 'T.J. Hooker,' airing Saturday, Feb. 23, on the ABC Television Network." -- ABC press release.
"New Orleans Nightmare! Houston tracks vigilante killers at the Mardi Gras!" -- ABC ad for "Matt Houston." Artwork: Man in clown mask firing gun.
"Colt goes after a bail jumper named Gates who has stolen $2 million in cocaine, and gets involved with Gates' wild scheme to palm off the charges on a meek shoe salesman who looks like him, in 'The Fall Guy,' airing Wednesday, Feb. 27 . . . Gates arranges for his girlfriend, Serena, to lure the impressionable salesman, Warren, to his house. His plan is to have the mobsters kill Warren -- and leave the haul to him." -- ABC press release.
"In 'Distortions,' Adrian Fitzpatrick, a woman Peter McDermott once dated, checks into the St. Gregory Hotel after leaving her adulterous husband. Feeling betrayed, she turns to Peter for comfort and compassion. When he thwarts her advances, Adrian picks up a stranger in the hotel bar who subsequently rapes her. But in retaliation, she puts the blame on Peter." -- ABC press release for an episode of "Hotel."
"Music! Murder! Motown!" -- ABC ad for "The Fall Guy."
"Coeds in Danger! Colt's After a Killer in a Wild College Party Town." -- ABC ad for "The Fall Guy."
"When the Judge Comes Out of Retirement to Handle a Single Case, He is Gunned Down in Court, in the Episode of 'Hardcastle and McCormick' airing Monday, Feb. 25." -- ABC press release.
"Cop killers have an entire city in fear!" -- ABC ad for "MacGruder & Loud."
And that's but a smattering. The cre me de la crud. The evil of banality.
Let's see: killers, cop killers, multiple killers, cold-blooded murder, massage-parlor murder, murderous gangsters, organized crime, a drug-dealing crime boss, $2 million in cocaine, a bloodbath, the adult movie trade, rape, prostitution, and a male mistress. Like they say in the song, "That's en-ter-tain-ment." The next sweeps month is May. Let's all plan to go out every single night -- say, to something relatively wholesome, like mud wrestling or cock fights.
A foaming well of toxic waste, indeed.