May Sweeps: Wacky and Wild

Shows trot out their best programming

May sweeps kicked off April 26 to the typical mélange of serious, silly and sophomoric shows, from Regis Philbin's talking heart surgery with David Letterman on Live With Regis & Kelly to former President Bill Clinton's appearance on Rachael Ray. The rest of the month is studded with a variety of wacky features and celebrity appearances as the talk shows, magazines and game shows trot out their best programming for the sweeps race.

ACCESS HOLLYWOOD: The entertainment newsmagazine will be at the Cannes Film Festival for almost two weeks, the most extensive coverage the show has ever done from the event. Billy Bush and Maria Menonous are among the talent on-site.

DR. PHIL: Among the topics tackled by America's favorite shrink this month will be the plight of a 700-pound woman and a multi-show look at families who push their kids to become stars.

THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW: Apparently, DeGeneres hopes ratings take off when the show airs May 10 from a Delta Airlines 767 as it flies from Los Angeles to New York. One day later, the show will be more grounded with a special Mother's Day edition featuring an audience filled with first-time expectant moms, as well as Desperate Housewives star and recent first-time mother Marcia Cross.

ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT:ET kicked off its sweeps coverage last week with an interview with Olivia Newton-John and her daughter, who almost lost her life to anorexia.

JEOPARDY!: The veteran game show airs its two-week Jeopardy! College Championship April 30-May 11.

KING OF QUEENS: Fans were asked to vote for their favorite episodes through the end of April, and the top five shows will air the week of May 7, leading into the hour-long series finale on CBS May 14. The show's pilot will air in syndication that day.

LIVE WITH REGIS AND KELLY: The big news was Regis' return last week, and the Letterman appearance will be followed throughout the month with big-name guests like Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst of Spiderman 3, which opens this week, as well the winners of The Amazing Race and Survivor. The week of May 22, Live will air a series of shows from New Orleans.

MARTHA: The domestic diva has ordered up a slate of celebrity guests, including Heroes star Hayden Panettiere on May 9. Stewart will also feature highlights of her recent trip to Russia with billionaire boyfriend Charles Simonyi, who coughed up $25 million for a trip into space.

RACHAEL RAY:After kicking off the sweeps period with President Clinton, this season's only rookie talker to earn a second year has a slew of celebrity guests, including American Idol castoff Sanjaya Malakar. Ray's show is not above a good dose of corporate synergy either, with fellow CBS Television Distribution personalities Dr. Phil McGraw and Judge Judy Sheindlin scheduled to appear.

Ray also will throw an on-air prom April 30 for the seniors of an Alabama high school ravaged by a tornado.

SEINFELD: Sony Pictures Television is rolling out a spot aimed at the daytime court viewer to help key stations with strong court blocks cross-promote to Seinfeld. A series of watch-and-win contests in top markets will also give away trips to see Jerry Seinfeld's standup show in Las Vegas.

THE TYRA BANKS SHOW:Banks sits down May 7 with Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis, who luckily taped the appearance before he was ordered to jail on contempt charges.

Tyra also focused on female figures, though in a much different way than Francis, on April 26 when she continued her “So What!” campaign that inspires women to accept their body types. On May 22, the show will be the first talk show to go inside the Promises rehab center in Malibu, which recently played host to Britney Spears.

WHEEL OF FORTUNE: Three weeks of episodes taped on location in San Diego highlight sweeps for syndication's top-rated show. Among the theme weeks are one celebrating Mother's Day and another honoring the U.S. military.


Cover Story: The Great Reckoning

The end comes even for the most enduring hits. Deciding when to retire an aging show is one of the toughest choices a network has to make. And with only two weeks until the upfronts, time is running out.