Ken Tucker explains why viewers favored both Lewinsky and 'Alice in Wonderland'

By Ken Tucker
Updated March 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
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Alice in Wonderland (TV Movie - 1999)

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Monica Lewinsky Conquers Sweeps Week

In case you’re wondering why just about all your favorite TV shows are suddenly airing reruns, I’m here to tell you it’s because the sweeps period just ended.

Sweeps — it’s when the major networks load up their schedules with specials and guest stars to drive up ratings and, thus, their advertising rates. In the sweeps session that concluded this past Wednesday, the big winner for a single show was ”20/20,” whose two-hour Barbara Walters-Monica Lewinsky jaw session attracted about 49 million pairs of eyeballs. This has enabled ABC to pronounce that particular broadcast as the most-watched news program ever presented by a single network. This final-sweeps-day victory for ABC is tempered by the fact that the network ultimately came in third place for the sweeps period overall, behind NBC (never underestimate the ongoing power of shows like ”ER” and ”Friends”) and CBS (never underestimate the attraction of a still-growing hit like ”Everybody Loves Raymond” or a venerable warhorse like ”60 Minutes”).

Lewinsky-Walters I can understand: No matter how high-minded you are, how could you resist tuning in to see what the most famous seductress in America was going to say? No, the baffler to me is the ratings success of NBC’s Feb. 28 ”Alice in Wonderland.” Sure, the production looked great, and it had hilarious performances by Martin Short as the Mad Hatter and Miranda Richardson as the Red Queen, but this three-hour TV-movie had a slow, flat pace that deadened nearly every scene — I’m amazed that most viewers didn’t tune out after the first couple of commercial breaks.

Well, not really. I have a theory: ”Alice” had the spinach factor going for it — i.e., people thought it was good for them to consume a piece of televised great literature, especially great lit for kiddies, so they stuck with it. ”Alice” possessed the exact opposite appeal of the Lewinsky special — instead of a guilty pleasure, it was a virtuous torture.

Alice in Wonderland (TV Movie - 1999)

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  • In Season

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