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May sweeps skate

The networks are rolling out some very big guns for the May sweeps, including three CBS miniseries and the eight-hour ABC event “The Stand.”

There will also be a decided Winter Olympic afterglow lingering into May, though it’s still unclear whether one potential Nielsen medalist, ABC’s Nancy Kerrigan biopic, will be ready for the competition. Even so, the story will be represented by NBC’s quickie movie “The Tonya & Nancy Story” April 30, and CBS will offer a two-hour figure skating special the following Saturday.

As for another headline-grabbing case, CBS has scheduled the two-part, four-hour “Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills,” starring Edward James Olmos, for May 22 and 24. Fox Broadcasting Co. previously announced an April 18 airdate for its own “Fox Night at the Movies” version of the story (Daily Variety, March 10).

ABC’s ultimate sweeps performance will be largely contingent on its latest Stephen King adaptation, “The Stand,” which will run in four two-hour installments: May 8, 9, 11 and 12. The program skips May 10 so ABC can offer its powerful Tuesday lineup.

The upcoming Nielsen survey runs from April 28-May 25. May is generally considered the most important sweeps period to affiliates because they use that book to sell for the longest portion of the year. (The two other major sweeps, November and February, are in closer proximity.)

The Catch-22 for the networks is that the month is also characterized by lower HUT (homes using TV) levels, meaning all this expensive programming may generate smaller ratings than it might have in the dead of winter.

CBS has an advantage in that the network has more original programming to offer through May because roughly four weeks of its schedule was given over to Major League Baseball and the Winter Olympics. By contrast, “NYPD Blue,” for example, will largely be in repeats through April so the show can offer three original episodes during the sweeps.

In addition to “Menendez,” CBS multiparters are “The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” May 1 and 3; and “The Gambler V: Playing for Keeps ,” with dates to be determined. The Eye web will also seek to prop up Saturday with two-hour installments of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” April 30 and May 21 as well as a double-strength “Walker, Texas Ranger” May 14.

ABC will also load up on specials, including the American Comedy Awards, a Barbara Walters hour and the Daytime Emmy Awards, in that order, May 23-25. “ABC’s 40th Anniversary Special” will air May 14, with a “Sesame Street” 25th birthday tribute and hourlong “Coach” retrospective set for May 18 and 23, respectively.

Other specials will include CBS spex featuring David Copperfield (May 12) and Carol Burnett (May 20), and NBC’s latest Garth Brooks hour May 6.

NBC hasn’t laid out its entire arsenal yet, but other made-fors will include the Lee Grant-Carol Burnett pairing “Seasons of the Heart” (May 9), the Brian Dennehy starrer “Leave of Absence” (May 15) and Farrah Fawcett in “For the Love of My Family” (May 22). ABC will offer up new “Columbo” and “MacGyver” movies May 2 and 21, plus the blockbuster theatricals “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “City Slickers” on successive Sundays beginning May 15.

Fox is putting much of its effort behind “Fox-O-Rama,” a promotion through 7 -Eleven stores that will offer interactive home viewing kits featuring 3-D glasses and scratch-n-sniff cards for use with specially designated programs.

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