November brings that sweeping feeling

A night of very special episodes, guest stars and controversy: it can only mean that we're knee-deep in sweeps month stuntsmanship.

"8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" (7 p.m., ABC) returns for an hourlong episode, the first filmed since the death of star John Ritter. James Garner and Suzanne Pleshette guest star as Cate's (Katey Sagal) estranged parents, who reunite to console their daughter and grandchildren.

While much will be made of the poignant nature of this episode, the casting of Pleshette confuses me. And I'm not alone. The last time we saw her, she was playing Jake's rather foul-mouthed and sex-obsessed granny on "Good Morning, Miami." She has been dropped from that show's current storylines and removed from the "Miami" credits, but as far as I know, she's still Jake's grandma. How can one actress be the grandmother for two TV families? It's a crime against TV nature, and defies the immutable laws of prime-time metaphysics. Nothing good can come of this. Mark my words.

Other sweeps moments include the return of Niles' ex-wife, Maris (as ever, unseen), on "Frasier" (8:30 p.m., NBC). "Whoopi" and "Happy Family" may have gotten season-long pickups from NBC, but they aren't strong enough to stand up to tonight's sweeps competition. NBC has scheduled a 90-minute "Fear Factor" (7 p.m., NBC) in their place.

"One on One" (7 p.m., UPN) lifts plotlines from "Phenomenon" and "What Women Want." After getting hit by lightning, Flex develops a strange case of ESP: he can hear what white people are thinking.

Mariette Hartley (who used to co-star in commercials with James Garner, see above) and Shirley Jones guest star on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC) as lawyers taking opposite sides on the abortion issue.

Not ready for such controversial fare? Amy walks (not all that confidently) down the aisle on "Judging Amy" (9 p.m., CBS). Sookie's baby is due on an episode of "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m., WB) that somehow combines Lorelai's efforts to get Stars Hollow residents to re-enact scenes from famous paintings and a guest-star stint from Skid Row guitarist Sebastian Bach.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Anderson Cooper hosts a "Rock the Vote" forum presidential debate between the nine 2004 Democratic Candidates (6 p.m., CNN).
  • While on court-ordered community service, Nick meets an old client on "The Guardian" (8 p.m., CBS).
  • The three-part look at modern physics "The Elegant Universe" concludes on "Nova" (7 p.m., PBS).
  • Jack and Chase pursue the dealers behind the new plague on "24" (8 p.m., Fox).

Late night

Amy Brenneman, Wyclef Jean and Bernie Williams appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno welcomes Barbara Bush on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).


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