Three webs set plans for May sweeps

With the February sweeps just concluded, NBC is already targeting what it hopes will be a big comeback in May after consecutive third-place finishes in major sweeps periods.

In addition to the finale of “Cheers,” which the network is touting as the preeminent event of the May sweeps, NBC will air its four-hour Lawrencia Bembenek miniseries, a two-hour Bob Hope 90th birthday special, the “final” episode with the original cast of Saturday-morning hit “Saved by the Bell” in prime time and a “Return of Ironside” telefilm.

The “Cheers” finale will air at 10 p.m. May 20, preceded by a season-closing one-hour “Seinfeld.”

NBC officials added that its second news hour from exec producer Steve Friedman could premiere as early as April and at the latest at the calendar year’s midway point.

ABC will air two miniseries during the May sweeps, “Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers” and “Starkweather: Murder in the Heartland,” as well as the Daytime Emmy Awards and the American Television Awards.

ABC Entertainment president Ted Harbert, whose web didn’t program any miniseries during February, said the May sweep is more important to stations because it sets advertising rates for a longer period of time.

“It’s just a fact of life that this is the way these guys (affiliates) make money,” Harbert said, adding that ABC won the 10:30 half-hour leading into late news last May and “that’s our goal again.”

ABC next week will introduce the in-house drama “Sirens,” which could run into May if it performs well, but ABC will be prepared with specials for the 10 o’clock hour if it doesn’t, Harbert said.

During their post-sweeps press conference, CBS executives said the web will premiere the series “Dudley,””Good Advice,””A League of Their Own” and its Chuck Norris action series in April as well as bring back “Brooklyn Bridge” for a last-gasp run, meaning the network will have original episodes of those shows available into May as well as its key series.

Always-quotable CBS senior VP of research David Poltrack also couldn’t resist taking a shot at the competition that nearly backfired.

Asked about the impact of four-part ABC event series “Wild Palms,” which will air in April, Poltrack observed that there is “a long tradition in television of putting terrible shows on in April, (and) the American public knows it.”

Exec VP of prime time Peter Tortorici felt compelled to clarify that point by saying CBS’ spring replacement shows were delayed until April because of its exclusive converage of the NCAA basketball tournament, which begins in mid-March.

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