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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Willis joins ratings war
The cast of Friends
The Friends cast will be joined by the show's biggest guest yet
Bruce Willis and Michael J Fox are leading the way in American TV's ratings battle - the sweeps.

NBC has enlisted the pulling powers of Die Hard star Bruce Willis, as the all-action hero joins the cast of Friends.

Elsewhere, ABC is hoping Michael J Fox's departure from Spin City will pull in viewers.

Bruce WIllis
Willis recently starred with Perry in The Whole Nine Yards

Also relying on the power of an emotional farewell is Fox, which is axeing hit teen shows Party of Five and Beverly Hills 90210.

These are just a few of the network highlights planned for the late-April and May sweep - one of the four-week periods when audiences nationwide are measured to determine future advertising rates.

Not surprisingly, networks stock up on big-event programming for this period, hoping to win themselves that necessary boost.

Hello, goodbye

The arrival of box office winner Willis on the set of a hit series like Friends is virtually guaranteed to give NBC at least one success.

Willis, who recently co-starred with Friends star Matthew Perry in the movie The Whole Nine Yards, will strike up a romance with Jennifer Aniston during his stint.

NBC - and Willis - could also win extra sympathy points from viewers when they learn the actor is donating all his earnings to charity.

The Party of Five
No reprieve: The Party of Five has run its course

Fox will be looking for the same degree of emotional support from viewers when it bids farewell to two of its most successful series.

Party of Five, a drama about five siblings left to fend for themselves when their parents are killed in a car wreck, ends its sixth season with a two-hour show on 3 May.

And Beverly Hills, 90210 - centred around the personal angsts of a group of rich kids - ends after 10 seasons in another two-hour finale on 17 May.

But the highlight of the sweeps promises to be the departure of Michael J Fox's character - the wise-cracking New York Deputy Mayor Michael Flaherty - from Spin City.

Spin City star Michael J Fox
Spin City star Fox has always been good for the ratings

The one-hour special will feature a guest appearance by actor Michael Gross, who played Fox's father in the 1980s comedy Family Ties.

Fox announced in January that he was leaving Spin City to battle Parkinson's Disease. He hopes to return for several guest appearances next season.

His replacement, Charlie Sheen, will be introduced on the show next season.

Old and new

Other events to look out for during sweeps time include an episode of The X-Files on Fox on 30 April in which David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are joined by Duchnovy's real-life wife Tea Leoni and comedian Garry Shandling.

Duchovny can also be seen joining other celebrities - including Drew Carey and Vanessa Williams - as guests on a special charity edition of hit quiz Who Wants to be a Millionaire? on ABC between 1 and 3 May.

A celebrity edition of the original British show is also planned by ITV.

BBC blockbuster Arabian Nights
BBC blockbuster Arabian Nights is set to add heat to this season's battle

Networks will also be seen banking on the popularity of big-event made-for-TV movies.

ABC has plumped for the four-hour BBC spectacular Arabian Nights starring heart-throb Rufus Sewell between 30 April and 1 May.

CBS has drawn on the perennial appeal of late country hero John Denver with Take Me Home: The John Denver Story on 30 April.

The network is also hoping nostalgic viewers will switch onto a new movie of The Dukes of Hazzard - the 1979 series about outlaws Bo and Luke Duke.

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See also:

19 Nov 99 | Tom Brook
US TV's sweeps madness
10 Jan 00 | Entertainment
Willis is people's choice
19 Jan 00 | Entertainment
Fox quits Spin City
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