May sweeps give yakkers last chance to pump ratings

May sweeps, which run April 26-May 23, marks syndicated talkers’ last chance to raise ratings before going dark for the summer, so they can’t be blamed for pulling out the stops.

CBS Television Distribution’s “Dr. Phil,” which has emerged in the post-”Oprah” era as the talk leader, typically targets its most provocative stories for the ratings period (in February, for example, the show interviewed Penn State coaches on the heels of the child molestation charges against an assistant football coach).

May will feature host Phil McGraw’s interview with 45-year-old Christopher Alan Carlson, convicted of abusing his three grandsons during a hike in the Grand Canyon. He’ll also referee a confrontation between football great Terrell Owens and four women who say he’s not a responsible father.

Across the lot at “The Doctors,” son Jay McGraw will have a sit-down with Thomas Beatie, the so-called “pregnant man,” who now has completed his sex-change operation.

While critics say such sensationalist stories can cheapen a well-regarded show’s brand, Jay McGraw, for one, says “The Doctors” is primarily about providing viewers with usable information. “I think that emotion is one of the universal languages,” he says. “We stay away from the psychology.”

Still, juicing programming doesn’t guarantee a boost in ratings. In May 2011, only “Dr. Phil” (up 11%) and “Maury” (up 10%), gained ground from sweep to sweep among talkshows, and “Maury,” ironically, doesn’t stunt for the period.

Talkshows, though, are the most likely genre to get a bump from such stunts, due to their day-and-date nature.

Sony’s “Dr. Oz” will throw around a healthy chunk of money to entice auds: On the May 23 finale of this season’s so-called Million-Dollar Transformation, one viewer will be awarded $1 million for efforts to improve her (or his) own health.

Other talkers plan to program May by using a feel-good jolt; Warner Bros.’ “Ellen” will reveal a viewer getting a new home, courtesy of one of the show’s sponsors. Star-sightings are also tried-and-true sweeps programming. Those dropping in on “Ellen” over the period include Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bill Clinton, Scarlett Johansson, and Justin Bieber.

The show with perhaps the best celebrity “get” is CTD’s “Rachael Ray,” who heads to the White House to hang out with Michelle Obama and discuss the first lady’s new book on health and nutrition. Alas, the Rose Garden can’t be held to a sweeps schedule: Ray’s sit-down with Obama will air May 31.

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