It's the last gasp for the February sweeps (running through Wednesday), and the mini-series "events" are coming fast and furious.
NBC leads the way this week with its ambitious test of our collective attention span, "The 10th Kingdom" (9-11 p.m. EST/PST, Sunday; 8-11 p.m. Monday; 8-11 p.m. Wednesday; 9-11 p.m. March 5; 8-11 p.m. March 6 ... See what we mean?). Executive producer Robert Halmi Sr., who has scored with some bold and nifty TV productions in the past ("Gulliver's Travels," "Merlin"), along with the occasional air ball ("Leprechauns"), seems to be taking a "bigger is better" approach this time around. More of a maxi than a mini, with a pretty slim story about a Central Park "vortex" that links Manhattan with the world of fairy tales, "Kingdom" looks to be a bit of a programming gamble. It might be a little too grown-up and lengthy for kids and a little too goofy (and lengthy) for grown-ups. The ensemble cast includes Kimberly Williams, John Larroquette, Dianne Wiest, Ed O'Neill, Rutger Hauer and Camryn Manheim. If you're hungry for fantasy, and "Kingdom" doesn't quite do it for you, hang on until Halmi returns this spring, with what looks to be a more "event" worthy production of "Arabian Nights" for ABC.
"A Perfect Murder, A Perfect Town" (9-11 p.m. EST/PST; 9-11 p.m. Wednesday), CBS's entry into this week's mini-series battle, also challenges the audience to stay interested. While "The 10th Kingdom" might seem like it has no ending, this four-hour portrayal of the JonBenet Ramsey murder and aftermath actually has no ending. Ronny Cox and Marg Helgenberger deliver admirable studies in subtext as the grieving parents or crazed murderers, since no one knows for sure who is what in this story. In the end, "Perfect" (our second JonBenet biopic of the month, after Fox's "The JonBenet Ramsey Story") is a dramatization of speculation about an unsolved murder investigation. This one might work better as a documentary.
Hoping to counter other programming that is either "heavy" or just plain ponderous, ABC jumps in with yet another multi-parter, "The Beach Boys: An American Family" (9-11 p.m. EST/PST Sunday; 9-11 p.m. Monday). It might be a long way to go, from humble birth to humble rebirth as one of rock 'n' roll's greatest bands, but the soap-opera-like conflicts between the Wilson and Love clans and the groovy soundtrack make for a pretty good ride.
Of the first-run productions offered this week, "Freedom Song" (7 p.m. EST/PST Sunday), another made-for-cable original from cable's TNT, might be the most worthwhile. The cable studio just continues to bring big star power to its projects. Danny Glover ("Buffalo Soldiers") returns to the TNT fold as producer and star, teaming with writer/director Phil Alden Robinson ("Field of Dreams") for this wrenching story of a young man trying to join a black voter registration drive in an early 1960s Mississippi.
In conjunction with "Sport's Illustrated's" continuing effort to convince the American public that a bunch of girls lying around in bikinis is actually a very rare sight worthy of major promotional tours, TNT offers "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2000" (which actually premiered Saturday but encores Monday at 10 p.m. EST/PST). Of course, what has always set the annual SI swimsuit issue apart from the competition is the element of class that the magazine brings to the subject matter of "a bunch of girls lying around in bikinis." This year, SI classes things up a little more by presenting some of the pictures in 3-D (free glasses provided). The TNT show will be presented in the standard 2-D.
Speaking of class, it's "Greed" week on Fox. New episodes air Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 9 p.m. EST/PST. "Greed" is entertaining enough, but what's most interesting about this entry into the primetime game-show wars is that a contestant's stupidity can actually cost other people hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time. With its ability to crush self-esteem and generate real resentment among contestants, "Greed" is not exactly the "feel-good hit of the season," but it can get pretty dramatic.
And finally ... for fans of pop-culture documentaries such as VH-1's "Behind the Music," Fox offers "TV Guide's Truth Behind the Sitcoms" (8 p.m. EST/PST Fox). Romance, jealousy, drug abuse and racial tension on the sets of three 1970s staples -- "Happy Days," "One Day at a Time" and "The Jeffersons." Ladies, you might finally get an answer to one of that decade's most burning questions: "What is Anson Williams really like?"
White House scandal, suburban weirdness, murder. ...
Nope, this isn't a rundown of the hourly news. It's some of the more juicy, ratings-grabbing tidbits the networks have masterminded for the famed (or infamous) February sweeps.
For the next 28 days -- from today until March 1 -- our TV nation will be bombarded with special programs concocted to induce ratings, the better to spike ad rates for the upcoming season.
From cameo appearances to splashy adventures to tabloid melodrama, the networks have pulled out all their stops to keep viewers complacently glued to the tube. Needless to say, the revolution will not be televised during the sweeps period.
Here are some of the sweeps hopefuls that caught our eyes:
"Sally Hemings: An American Scandal" (Feb. 13 and 16, CBS) -- The four-hour "setting-the-record-straight" historical dramatization chronicles the "love story" between President Thomas Jefferson (Sam Neill) and his slave Sally Hemings (Carmen Ejogo).
"Perfect Murder, Perfect Town" (Feb. 27 and Mar. 1, CBS) -- The four-hour mini-serialization of the disturbing murder mystery of kiddie beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey in a moneyed Colorado town. Marg Helgenberger and Ronny Cox co-star.
"Mary and Rhoda" (Feb. 7, ABC) -- Comeback kids Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper reprise their 1970s sitcom selves as Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern in this TV movie about two older women starting over in the Big Apple.
"The 10th Kingdom" (Feb 27-28, Mar. 1 and Mar. 5-6, NBC) -- A mishmash of fairy tales, this 10-hour uber-fantasy finds a NYC waitress (Kimberly Williams) and her deadbeat father (John Laroquette) stumbling into an alternate dimension. There, they battle a wicked queen (Dianne Wiest), save a deposed prince (Daniel Lapaine) and tread through other similarly identifiable fairy tale scenarios.
"Flowers for Algernon" (Feb. 20, CBS) -- In the adaptation of Daniel Keyes classic tale, Matthew Modine plays the mentally challenged lead character who becomes super intelligent as the result of a scientific experiment.
"Friends" (Feb. 3, NBC) Golden Globe nominee Reese Witherspoon ("Election") becomes an honorary "Friend," beginning a guest stint on the hit sitcom as Jennifer Aniston's little sister.
"Law & Order" (Feb. 9, NBC) -- Michael C. Williams, aka the guy who played Mike in "The Blair Witch Project," is slated for a guest appearance on the popular legal drama as the father of a dead baby in the episode titled "Mother's Milk."
"The Simpsons" (Feb. 13, Fox) -- Marge Flanders, compulsively perky wife of the compulsively perky Ned Flanders, will reportedly be killed off for (what else?) higher ratings.
"Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2000" (Feb. 26, TNT) -- In the vein of "Baywatch" minus the attempt at a narrative, this one-hour special promises to provide behind-the-scenes coverage of the sports mag's annual swimsuit issue. Damon Wayans and a surprise guest will host.