November sweeps begins early this year, starting on Halloween. How appropriate. Networks always encounter cruel tricks (a highly promoted miniseries that tanks in the ratings) and surprise treats (a huge tune-in for last year's Carol Burnett special on CBS) in sweeps.
During sweeps month, a local station's viewership is measured to set future advertising rates. That's why you'll see a rash of investigative stories on local newscasts. Prime-time programs attempt to keep viewers watching in an effort to deliver those same viewers to stations' 11 p.m. newscasts.
This year, the networks' prime-time lineups include ripped-from-the-headlines dramatizations, sexy specials, awards shows, and trips down memory lane.
ABC: The Pennsylvania Miners' Story (9 p.m. Nov. 24), a dramatization of the ordeal faced this past summer by the nine rescued Quecreek miners, will, the network hopes, give the most bang for the millions of bucks it spent on the project.
Paul McCartney headlines Back in the U.S. (9 p.m. Nov. 27), a chronicle of his most recent American concert tour.
The Wonderful World of Disney airs two original movies. Macaulay Culkin didn't make it as far as Home Alone 3, so there's no reason to expect to see him in Home Alone 4 (7 p.m. Nov. 3).
Mike Weinberg (Stolen Summer, Project Greenlight) takes over the role of Kevin McCallister as he battles an old nemesis, Marv (French Stewart replacing Daniel Stern), while dealing with the separation of his parents.
In Mr. St. Nick (7 p.m. Nov. 17), Santa Claus (Charles Durning) prepares to pass his responsibilities to his son (Kelsey Grammer), who isn't ready to take over the family business.
CBS: The Eye network has two real-life stories as part of its sweeps month strategy.
William Hurt stars as the title character in Master Spy: The Life of Robert Hanssen (9 p.m. Nov. 10 and 17), the story of the FBI agent whose subversive double life did the most damage to U.S. security in the country's history.
The story of an entertainment partnership is explored in Martin and Lewis (9 p.m. Nov. 24), starring Jeremy Northam and Sean Hayes as the comedic duo.
Country music stars gather for The 36th Annual CMA Awards (8 p.m. Nov. 6), with expected performances by nominees Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Shania Twain, Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Faith Hill.
Fox: The Simpsons (8 p.m. Nov. 3) will be a little late for the holiday, but that shouldn't matter to fans who look forward to the clan's annual Halloween episode.
Fox goes back to the ring for Celebrity Boxing 3 (9 p.m. Nov. 21) and down the aisle for Funniest Wedding Outtakes (9 p.m. Thursday). Other Thursday night space fillers include Funniest Animals (9 p.m. Nov. 7) and TV's Funniest Game Show Moments 2 (9 p.m. Nov. 14).
Though airing technically after the sweeps period ends, Fox's highest-profile project in November is The Brady Bunch in the White House (8 p.m. Nov. 29), starring Gary Cole and Shelley Long, who played Mike and Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch Movie and its sequel.
A new crop of actors play the Brady children, who find themselves living in the White House after Mike becomes president.
NBC: With several theatrical movies on its schedule (Jurassic Park, The Bone Collector, Runaway Bride), the Peacock has fewer original productions than some of its competitors.
NBC offers a remake of Carrie (8 p.m. Nov. 4) starring newcomer Angela Bettis in the Sissy Spacek title role.
Former prime-time mainstays Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer return to play the characters from their '80s cop series in Hunter: Return to Justice (9 p.m. Nov. 16).
NBC gets a couple of concerts out of country singers Tim McGraw (8 p.m Nov. 27) and Faith Hill (9 p.m. Nov. 28).
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor of the Post-Gazette.