THE MAY RATINGS SWEEPS--You hear the same questions every November, February and May, the three months whose audience measurements are most critical in setting local advertising rates:
Why the concentrated glamour? Why do the networks schedule all those interesting-looking or blockbuster programs against each other, costing non-VCR households the opportunity to see everything they may want to see?
It's simple. The networks are competitors, not pals. From their perspectives, the purpose of the May ratings period and all the other sweeps is to clobber the competition, not to cooperate in a friendly manner so that viewers are insured access to all programs that seem appealing.
So . . .
Sunday night brings "Queenie" on ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42), "A Gathering of Old Men" on CBS (Channels 2 and 8) and "Hands of a Stranger" on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39)--all airing at 9.
A two-part dramatization of Michael Korda's book, "Queenie" (illustrated on the cover) is set in England and India in the 1930s and stars Mia Sara and Kirk Douglas in a five-hour story about a young half-caste beauty who entrances men and angers bigots in her native Calcutta. Part 2 follows at 8 p.m. Monday.
The two-hour "A Gathering of Old Men" (also shown on the cover) stars Louis Gossett Jr. and Richard Widmark in a story, set in the rural South, about the courage of a group of aged black men in the face of white vigilantism.
"Hands of a Stranger" is another two-parter, starring Armand Assante, Beverly D'Angelo and Blair Brown in a version of Robert Daley's suspense novel about a cop trying to discover the truth concerning his wife's rape. The concluding two-hour segment airs at 9 p.m. Monday.
To make the choice more difficult, moreover, a new "Masterpiece Theatre"--the lighthearted "Love Song"--premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday (on Channels 28 and 15; at 8 p.m. on Channels 50 and 24), with the conclusion coming next Sunday. Michael Kitchen, Diana Hardcastle, Maurice Denham and Constance Cummings star in a story about a couple who remain contentious even into old age.
There's also more of particular interest this week, including John Travolta and Tom Conti (seen on the cover) in ABC's "The Dumb Waiter" at 10 p.m. Tuesday. In this one-hour special, Robert Altman produces and directs Harold Pinter's one-act play about two hit men awaiting their unknown victim.
And cable's HBO premieres "Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8" at 10 p.m. Saturday, re-creating the famous and chaotic 1969 trial of Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale and Lee Weiner.
For viewers, this week's biggest trial may be in the choosing.