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7 Worst Moments of February TV Sweeps

LOS ANGELES ( TheStreet) -- A bit of special-guest-star, special-episode, special-reality-show-launch showmanship is to be expected during sweeps month, but a little shame isn't too much for audiences to ask for.

This month, just as in May, July and November, Nielsen hands out little paper diaries to sample homes in its 210 test markets and lets households riff about what they've watched that week. The goal is to see what's most popular, set local ad rates for each program and try to bleed those advertisers dry. The result is a hypercompetitve week when the folks at CBS (CBS) realize you're watching Chuck on NBC, House on Fox (NEWS), The Bachelor on ABC (DIS) or even a re-airing of The 40-Year-Old Virgin on Comedy Central, but hope that a special episode of How I Met Your Mother starring Katy Perry -- you know, the fetching young lady who sings about kissing girls and melting popsicles -- will draw you to their network for a night and inflate their sweeps rating enough to balance the books for yet another quarter.

Yes, Justin Bieber will be on a sweeps-week edition of CSI -- a sweet callback for his fans to the CSI season finale starring Justin Bieber they also didn't watch.

Is it really that important? Not in a revolution-in-Egypt way, but after a year in which total spending on advertising rose 6.4%, to more than $94 billion, in the first nine months -- including an 8.7% spike in the third quarter alone, according to ad tracker Kantar Media -- it's a big step towards post-recession recovery for the television industry. According to SNL Kagan, cable television lost 4% of its ad revenue from 2008 to 2009, with broadcast ads dropping 7.7% and local affiliates' ad take plummeting 22.4%. Kantar, however, saw spot TV ads surge 27.8% last year, with cable TV (9%) and network TV (6.1%) also posting ad gains.

That's translated to some programming masterstrokes this winter -- HBO's (TWX) adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's play The Sunset Limited with Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones, NBC bringing Dana Carvey back to host Saturday Night Live, Glee hauling out big guns such as Michael Jackson's P.Y.T., Perry's Firework and Wings' Silly Love Songs for its Valentine's episode -- but it's also reminded us that winter is a dark, punishing, seemingly endless season. Kind of like sweeps.

With that in mind, we share with you seven of the worst sweeps gimmicks we've seen since, well, November:
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