Networks stick to series for sweeps

The May sweeps kick off Thursday night with a lot less pomp and circumstance of past years.

Sure, there’ll be two-hour finales for faves such as “American Idol,” “24″ and “Lost” and cliffhanger twists on most other series, but the relative lack of big-ticket events is quite noticeable. And it continues a recent trend, as the broadcast nets opt to let their bread-and-butter series speak during the ratings periods.

Original movies, one of the mainstays of sweeps months in past years, is virtually absent from the month.

CBS will air the latest in a line of “Jesse Stone” movies starring Tom Selleck on May 20, but it’s being used in something of a defensive manner, opposite the season-ender of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”

But that’s it. Recent May misfires like CBS’ “Elvis,” ABC’s “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America” and NBC’s sequel to “10.5 The Apocalypse” apparently got the network suits skittish about devoting many resources to longform product in May.

There are a few theatrical premieres during the month (“Along Came Polly” on NBC, “Meet the Fockers” on ABC and “The Day After Tomorrow” on Fox), but the bar has been set low in each case. “Polly” will play on Sunday, where the Peacock has struggled since football season ended; “Fockers” bows on little-watched Saturday; and “Tomorrow” will look for ratings crumbs opposite the finales of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI” on May 17, the final Thursday of the season.

The few other specials are highlighted by NBC’s best-of-the’90s “Saturday Night Live” compilation on May 6; the final primetime edition of CBS’ “The Price Is Right” featuring Bob Barker as host on May 16; and ABC’s one-hour “National Bingo Night” on May 18.

Among the series that could help their cause considerably by performing well in the sweep are CBS’ “Jericho,” “The Unit,” “Close to Home” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and ABC’s “Notes From the Underbelly.” Bubble shows on other nets, including “‘Til Death” on Fox and “Friday Night Lights” on NBC, have already ended their runs.

As for the season races that coincide with the end of the sweep on May 23, Fox will win for a third straight season among adults 18-49 while CBS will prevail in total viewers for a fifth straight year.

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