Monday, January 29, 2007

Sweeps Theory

I have this theory that, like many of my theories, says that real life is highly influenced by pop culture. In Sweeps Theory, that bit of influential pop culture is television.

In the months of November, February and April, television writers always bust out their most dramatic, life-changing, character-based plot structures. In November, they do it to get a nice ratings push before the half-season mark in early December, after which the networks will usually take a hiatus in showing new episodes of a show. So the plot lines of shows in November start to get pretty intense.

If the show example we were using to illustrate this were Friends, this would be a point in time where Ross and Rachel would either begin to break up, or begin to get back together, depending on what season you watch. If this were a show like The X-Files in this example, you would notice a change from MOTW episodes to plot-driving episodes developing complications in either a. Scully’s abduction/harvesting/motherhood issues/crisis of faith storyline or b. Mulder’s sister’s abduction/Syndicate plot/conspiracies/”the black ooze” storyline. In the X-Files example, whether the storyline they choose to develop is A or B, you will probably also see some intense relationshipping going on between our two FBI agents.

Sweeps is also repeated in February to get a ratings boost after the winter hiatus, which is now actually formally recognized by networks who place filler material like game shows and specialty competitions in the spots of their normal shows to avoid showing reruns during Winter. I think that because of this change, Sweeps is no longer during the month of February specifically, but really the period of mid-January through mid-February when the new episodes resume. Sweeps are some of the best written TV episodes you will ever see. They’re awesomely riveting and dramatic, even in comedies like Friends.

Sweeps also happens during April, though I'm not entirely sure why, from a network television standpoint. Maybe to keep people watching TV when the weather starts to get nicer? (That would be pretty evil, I'd say.) In any case, you will also see Sweeps episodes in April.

So that's how Sweeps works in the television world. Now let me apply the lessons of television Sweeps into day-to-day, non-television related existence.

Some time during high school, I noticed that all of our dramatic events coincided with Sweeps seasons. People would break up with their boyfriends or girlfriends, struggle with grades, battle addictions, etc. at a higher rate during these time periods. In high school, these things also often coincided with quarterly report card time, auditions for plays, speech competitions and, of course, dances. There would be spectacular catfights between myself and some other friends regarding who got what role in the musical (which were cast in November), and, come spring, why I never received a role in a comedy unless there was a spot for a dumb blonde. (Though a redhead now, I was a blonde for all of high school, except for the brief summer during which my hair was blue.) I think some of us would literally go for the entire week post-casting deliberately not talking to each other. I can guarantee that during sweeps, I spent more time on the phone with Eric working crisis control for each other than I did doing anything else.

I think the theory works outside of the dramatic world of theatre kids. We, as a rule, spend our lives trying to make them as much like film and television as possible. But this business happened, I believe, in every high school social group. (Including some weird Sweeps-crossovers where, say, a theatre kid would date a jock for the duration of Sweeps.)

I hadn't thought about Sweeps Theory in quite some time, as I'm sure you can tell by my examples. Clearly, when I was developing this theory, The X-Files was still on, I still occasionally watched Friends, and reality television was far less prevalent. I do not, as yet, have a stance on how the world of reality television relates to Sweeps Theory. I only know that real reality, my reality, coincides its drama with the drama on television.

Sweeps Theory just came to mind at the end of last week when discussing the recent events in my friend Jenn's life. Suddenly, I remembered Sweeps Theory. It actually was a great explanation for her as to why the drama was so suddenly following her absolutely everywhere. Simple: It's Jenn's Sweeps.

That’s Sweeps Theory, a theory which, in short, might state: the theory that plot lines of television shows and plot lines of real life converge with dramatic consequences during periods in which networks attempt to boost ratings.


Bri said...

Hmm... I like it.
My first thought is: November Sweeps in "real life" might coincide with a lot of people's stressful (and exciting) holiday build-up, family coming together, buying lots and lots of crap, etc. February Sweeps IRL might have to do with the whole Valentine's Day thing: hooking up, angst over not being with someone, etc. April seems to be the enigma for the IRL scenario, as well. My only thought being that it might affect the high school (and some college) crowd in that April is often when you hear back from school's you've applied to.
Overall, though, it's an interesting bit of synchronicity.

Meg said...

Yeah, I wonder if it's a seasonal thing, since the months you mention are typically times when the seasons change. Maybe some part of us synchs up to that, and does a bit of subconcious cleaning up in response to change, which snowballs into more change, which eventually turns into high drama.

I like it, though.