From sleaze to stars, it's time for TV ratings sweeps


Capt. Jean-Luc Picard flies out of the TV universe for good. The Nancy and Tonya story unfolds all over again. Joan Rivers plays herself.

And Stephen King envisions a colossal battle between good and evil. (No, Roseanne and Tom are not at it again.)

It's the May sweeps, that strange time after the official end of the TV season, four weeks that are crucial to ratings, ad rates and network fortunes.

NBC, which finished third this season, hopes to win its 10th consecutive May sweeps. No. 1 CBS and No. 2 ABC hope to keep the momentum for the fall. In the sweeps, beginning Thursday night and ending May 25, the networks unload the last of their big projects before summer reruns.

None is bigger than "The Stand," or as ABC bills it, "Stephen King's The Stand," so you won't confuse it with "Danielle Steel's The Stand." An epidemic wipes out most of the world's population, and the survivors (including Molly Ringwald and Gary Sinise) must face the forces of evil, led by Jamey Sheridan. "The Stand" airs May 8, 9, 11 and 12.

CBS, to its credit, has opted for shorter mini-series. The four-hour "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All" allows two actresses (Diane Lane, Anne Bancroft) to share the role of a 100-year-old woman who recalls her tumultuous marriage to a Confederate veteran (Donald Sutherland). The TV version of Allan Gurganus' best-seller starts Sunday and concludes Tuesday.

The four-hour "Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills," also from CBS, replays the Lyle and Erik Menendez story that Fox so wretchedly rendered. Edward James Olmos plays slain patriarch Jose, and Beverly D'Angelo is slain mom Kitty. It airs May 24 and 25.

Also from the fact-based story pile: The Winter Olympics are long gone, but NBC is going for the ratings gold with "Tonya and Nancy: The Inside Story," airing Saturday. Sure, it's the inside story, and I'm Whistler's mother. But Alexandra Powers ("L.A. Law") does look like Tonya. To see real figure skaters in action, try CBS's "Artistry on Ice" May 7.

Michele Greene lets her baby's heart be transplanted into Ann Jillian's baby in "Heart of a Child" (NBC, May 9). Meredith Baxter portrays a New York journalist battling breast cancer in "My Breast" (CBS, May 15). Lorraine Bracco plays the assistant U.S. attorney determined to stop crime boss John Gotti in "Getting Gotti" (CBS, May 10).

Visions of the past haunt Lisa Hartman Black in "The Search for Grace" (CBS, May 17). Could it be reincarnation? CBS says the movie was "inspired by an actual case history." That makes me feel better.

Joan Rivers and daughter Melissa play themselves in "Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story" (NBC, May 15). It follows their relationship after Joan's husband, Edgar Rosenberg, killed himself in 1987. Call me old-fashioned, but doesn't this sound unseemly?

They're back: CBS tries to revive true TV magic with "Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics," based on two works discovered by the revered writer's widow. Jack Palance and Amy Irving star on May 19.

Carol Burnett looks back over 30 years of specials in a CBS special May 20. CBS also pays tribute to "The Dick Van Dyke Show" with an hour special May 23.

In "Columbo: Undercover," Peter Falk tangles with Ed Begley Jr. and Tyne Daly (ABC, Monday). ABC brings back MacGyver for the movie "Lost Treasure of Atlantis" May 14.

With Raymond Burr gone, Hal Holbrook takes over as "Wild Bill" McKenzie in a new Perry Mason movie that also stars Mrs. Holbrook, Dixie Carter (NBC, May 10).

In the We're Outta Here category: "In the Heat of the Night" will end its run May 11 on CBS, and "L.A. Law" shuts down May 19 on NBC. Brenda leaves "Beverly Hills, 90210" on Fox on May 25. But the real high point of sweeps could be the finale of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The syndicated series ends its run the week of May 22. Farewell, Patrick Stewart. You will be missed.

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