Sweeps Unchained

Rad Berky got armed and dangerous. Carmel Cafiero got Joe Gersten. Ike Seamans got a heart attack. And we watched it all.

Cafiero neglects to ask if he'd make the trade for a million dollars in crack cocaine.

Alliterative title: -10
Nice title nonetheless: +10
Sex: As in with a prostitute. +10
Hidden camera: 0
Howard Finkelstein: 0
Intangibles: Wigs. +20.
References to Gersten as "a likable bloke." +40
Total score: 120

Title: "Driving Schools for Scandal"
Station: Channel 4
Reporter: Mark Hyman
Date: November 7-9

"You see them every day on the way to work," Hyman opens. "They are the morons who cut you off. The nimrods who barrel by you on the shoulder of the expressway, and the pinheads who ride your bumper."

How do they get that way? Hyman shows instructors from private driving schools who sell their students the answers to the state driving test. In a much more interesting segment of the expose, he pays one of the driving instructors $100 to "guarantee" that a deliberately incompetent driver will pass. (The viewer is left to assume that the instructor will in turn bribe the state worker who conducts the student's driving test.) Indeed, the student passes the driving test despite steering his car off the road, failing to parallel park, and, yes, failing to use his blinkers. The state worker abruptly resigns after Hyman starts asking whether she accepted a kickback.

"Who knows, this could help keep a few more idiots off the road," the reporter surmises.

Anchor comments: "Unbelievable. Excellent job. Very enlightening." +15
Hidden camera: Extensive. +15
Sex: 0
Ambush: Several. +20
Quote from a politician, preferably Alex Penelas: 0

Intangibles: Hyman actually appears to catch bad people doing bad things. +25

Use of "nimrods" in context. +10
Ditto for "pinheads." +10
Total score: 145

Title: "The Secret to Sex Tapes"
Station: Channel 10
Reporter: Laurie Stein
Date: November 24

"We begin tonight with a situation that affects many of you watching this right now, whether you admit it or not," anchor Dwight Lauderdale coos. "Here's an easy way to understand it. Imagine eating baked chicken for every meal for every day of your life. Now, at what point would you grow tired of eating baked chicken?"

Kristi Krueger joins in: "Now, substitute your sex life for that baked chicken and you can understand the frustration of many couples. And they're doing something about it."

Cut to Stein, the station's consumer reporter, who has purchased a cartonful of the self-help sex tapes advertised in the back of many national magazines. She takes them to a marriage counselor and a sex therapist and asks if the tapes can help sexually struggling couples. To her astonishment, they both deliver a qualified yes. Therapist William Samek reasons that the videos may assist the "release" process. "I don't think they will replace therapy or counseling," he quickly injects.

At first the story seems to be a typical sweeps sex entry, minus only the whips and slaves. We begin tabulating the score. Ten points for the alliterative title. Subtract ten each for no hidden camera and the regrettable lack of reporter participation. Add points for mentioning sex. Throw in more for perseverating about it. Finally, deduct a whole bunch of points because we'll never be able to eat baked chicken again.

But during the standard anchor-reporter repartee that follows the piece, something takes place that renders the numerical analysis irrelevant, something that makes this story the clear winner of the November sweeps ratings period: Stein and Lauderdale (whose on-air mien is usually so deadpan that it's hard to tell whether he's breathing) briefly lift a little corner of the figurative curtain that separates newscaster from viewer.

It begins when Stein notes that if the sex videos are less than helpful, there are many good self-help books on the market. She points to a number of tomes arrayed before her, written by Dr. Ruth Westheimer and the like.

Fingering the stack, Lauderdale turns to Stein with a wry expression. "Have you read any of these?" he queries.

"I've skimmed them," she replies, giving him a little jab on the arm. Her colleagues gave her a hard time for exploring the sex tape topic, she adds. "When this story was assigned to me, you heard it around the newsroom: There was a lot of snickering. People didn't think that this was really going to be educational. I was surprised to hear that even the therapists really thought it was." Stein pauses and smiles. "It's not just pornography to them."

Unmistakably, a sardonic grin flashes across Lauderdale's usually inert visage. And then, incredibly, he adds a dose of sarcasm: "We're here to help, aren't we, Lori?" he asks.

"We are," Stein concurs, equally caustically, raising a thumbs-up salute that could well apply to all of sweeps month. "We want to do good for people."

Although not every news story was good enough to make New Times's final ratings cut, several reporters and topics did merit special recognition:

Best Live Camerawork Channel 10 reporter Mark Shumacher, who used multiple cameras to show people how to survive a high-rise fire, how to survive a tire blowout, and how, if the car should veer under the bed of an eighteen-wheel truck, its passengers would be instantly decapitated.

Most Awkward Quote Channel 6 reporter Steve Daniels, who in his two-part series "The Lemon List" asked Richard Baker of the South Florida Auto Dealers Association to explain who was responsible for the fact that some people buy used cars without knowing that the cars had previously been declared "buybacks" or lemons. Baker may have thought he was talking to Al Sunshine. "I would say the dealer should have disclosed it if he was aware of it. I think he's facing some possible liability, so I would say, 'Shame on the dealer and step up.'"

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