The Super Bowl is almost always the highest rated broadcast of the year (and this year was no exception). It makes sense to try and take advantage of those new viewers by airing a series that is hopeful to become a hit. At one time the belief was to launch a new series in the slot, but it has proven to be a failure almost every time (The Wonder Years and A-Team being two major exceptions). The last 20 years it has mostly been airing established shows that networks desire to snag a bigger audience. Here is a ranking of the last 20 years (including this year’s New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) of lead-out shows based on their TV ratings along with some thoughts on their success afterwards.
#20 Alias, 17.3 million
Super Bowl XXXVII: 88.6 million. Despite a promise of the sexy Jennifer Garner in lingerie, ABC failed in luring the exact audience you’d think such a ploy would work on. This was a disastrous rating for the series that at the time had a built-in audience on Sundays. Even though it almost doubled its average rating with “Phase One”, it was a poor Super Bowl lead-out performance. The series still stuck around for 3 more seasons after this, though the convoluted plot seemed to stop this fun series from ever rising above a decent ratings generator.
#19 Elementary, 20.8 million
Super Bowl XLVII: 108.4 million. The infamous black-out Super Bowl still ended up becoming the third most watched Super Bowl. The late running time caused poor Elementary to have the latest start time of any lead-out show. It clearly suffered from the air time being pushed way back, and didn’t gain the substantial new audience it had hoped. “The Deductionist” still grabbed an all-time series high and is looking at a decent shelf life on CBS.
#18 New Girl/Brooklyn Nine-Nine, 20.8 million
Super Bowl XLVIII: 105.2 million On the surface these rating don’t look great as they’re the second lowest lead-out since Alias lost viewers in droves. This rating is actually much more positive than many of the other “lower rated” shows when you consider what both these series do in their normal time slot. Both ended up tripling their normal numbers, which is exactly what the networks are striving for. It is hard to believe they’d have expected much better ratings wise from these shows. You also have to factor in that the game was a blow out, and some may have been knocked out and ready to call it a night. The real question will be if it leads to any ratings increase when the two shows start back-to-back on Tuesdays.
#17 Malcolm in the Middle, 21.4 million
Super Bowl XXXVI: 86.8 million. This was the first Super Bowl after the atrocious 9/11 attacks, and so it made perfect sense for FOX to slot in a family sitcom. Malcolm’s ratings actually slipped every proceeding season, and by the fourth season started tumbling at a more rapid rate. The ratings for this episode, “Company Picnic,” not only didn’t end up being anything extraordinary, but it doesn’t look like the big game gave it any new long term viewers. Though it still had four more seasons after this, so it was far from a failure either.
#16 Family Guy/The Simpsons, 22 million
Super Bowl XXXIII: 83.7 million. Already by this time, it started become rare for networks to premiere a series after the Super Bowl. Family Guy launched to decent ratings after what was a pretty lackluster game. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to immediate long term success as the show was cancelled a few seasons after. It ended up being its huge popularity on DVD and reruns that lead its revival by FOX. Really none of its success can be attributed to its launch after the big game.
#15 Extreme, 22.5 million
Super Bowl XXIX: 83.4 million. This was the last ever live-action scripted TV series to be premiered after the Super Bowl. The James Brolin starring adventure about a Rocky Mountain search and rescue team had a strong start for ABC. Obviously the football audience didn’t approve of what they saw as the ratings fell off the cliff after. The series was cancelled after seven episodes, along with permanently losing the idea of launching new scripted dramas after the Super Bowl.
#14 The Office, 22.9 million
Super Bowl XLIII: 98.8 million. The Office never achieved the status of being ratings behemoth like NBC’s sitcoms from the golden Must-See TV era of Seinfeld and Friends. Nothing was as strong for the peacock during this time, and so The Office was likely its best bet. Creatively speaking The Office was still going pretty strong in 2009 and its ratings kept up still for a few more years. It had to be a bit of a disappointment that it loaded the episode, “Stress Relief,” up with stars (at the time) like Jack Black and Jessica Alba but couldn’t pull in a giant rating compared to other years. It more than doubled its usual rating, but doesn’t appear the exposure did anything that The Office, other than this lone episode, would have been able to do without it. It is still one of the more entertaining Super Bowl lead-out shows.
#13 The Simpsons/American Dad, 23.07 million
Super Bowl XXXIX: 86.1 million. This was another example of the now fairly rare (but once common) practice of premiering a new show after the Super Bowl with the series premiere of American Dad following right after the The Simpsons. The 23.07 is actually a credit to The Simpsons which scored a much higher Super Bowl rating the second time around likely benefiting from being the direct lead-in. American Dad actually dropped to having an even worse rating than Alias with a 15.2. While that is still much higher than it regularly gets on a weekly basis, it isn’t likely the Super Bowl can take any credit for the show still being around. Actually, most of the cartoons on Sunday night can more just thank FOX for seemingly wanting an evening devoted to animation rather than any currently being huge rating hits. The Simpsons were once a ratings juggernaut, but that time had passed by 2005.
#12 The Practice, 23.8 million
Super Bowl XXXIV: 88.5 million. The Practice was never a major hit, but more just a consistent ratings draw. ABC had hoped to ignite interest in the critically well-received show by slotting it into this coveted spot with a well-hyped episode, “New Evidence.” The fifth season did end up being the highest rated season, which premiered the fall after the Super Bowl episode. But it dropped after that one season and never really caught the massive audience ABC would have hoped for. It ended up lasting eight seasons and had a decent following for most of its run. This could be one of the cases where the Super Bowl did help spike it for a short time by grabbing a few new eyeballs.
#11 Criminal Minds, 26.3 million
Super Bowl XLI: 81.5 million. Criminal Minds always has delivered relatively strong ratings, especially since you consider the subject matter is fairly dark and grim for network television. It was a little surprising at the time that probably the most disturbing of all the procedurals was chosen as the show to grab the Super Bowl audience. They even decided to do it by making Dawson Leery the killer for the episode, “The Big Game”. It lead to what would have been relatively disappointing ratings for a show they were trying to elevate to a major hit in its second season. In the end, it doesn’t matter as it has continued to be a strong deliverer of ratings since that time, and most years still cracks the top twenty most-watched shows.
#10 Glee, 26.7 million
Super Bowl XLV: 111 million Considering how many people tuned into the Super Bowl in 2011, Glee should have garnered a much higher rating. This was likely an example of the target audience not matching with those who just watched grown men smash each other around for a ball. The weekly ratings had dropped since the Super Bowl, so in that regards the lead-out position didn’t benefit the series. It still has a strong following with “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle”, but it likely just was never a good choice to be matched with the biggest sporting event of the year. Though there is a chance that they were hoping to capitalize on the crowd who tunes in for the musical half time, and hoped they survived the second half of the game to stick with the show.
#9 House, 29 million
Super Bowl XLII: 97.5 million. FOX seems to have struggled getting people to stick around for their shows after the big game. The 29 million viewers is a great number and more than House usually got, but a success as a lead-out usually means at least doubling the usual rating, which didn’t happen here with “Frozen”. It also was an incredibly exciting game where the underdog New York Giants came back to beat the New England Patriots, so the viewership held steady through the game. House ended up losing more than two-thirds of the audience, which has to be considered a disappointment. The series still remained on the air for four more seasons, though the rating dipped each year. It is another case of the Super Bowl not helping a series in any significant way.
#8 The X-Files, 29.09 million
Super Bowl XXXI: 87.9 million. The X-Files was at its peak when it became the lead-out for the Super Bowl. This is another case where it failed to double its ratings with “Leonard Betts”, even though it still performed really well considering it was a lower rated Super Bowl compared to many others on this list. The X-Files would also be a hard show to just jump into cold, so it was an odd choice for this slot anyway. All things considered it has to be considered a big success since it is essentially a genre show that never normally garners those types of ratings. X-Files proved to be a show that really did resonate more than most other shows of this type, and proved to do better than many others shows on this list that people would have predicted to be strike golden ratings.
#7 Survivor: All-Stars, 33.5 million
Super Bowl XXXVIII: 89.8 million. This episode of Survivor was following the infamous Nipplegate Super Bowl. There is a chance some people were still busy angrily phoning CBS over their young child seeing Janet Jackson’s cleavage. By the eighth season, Survivor was not the phenomenon it was just a few years prior, but it was still a huge hit that always cracked the top ten most viewed each season. This episode had the advantage of being the season premiere of the first ever season to bring back former players in what was billed as Survivor: All-Stars. Remember when returning players were something fresh and exciting?
#6 3rd Rock from the Sun, 33.6 million
Super Bowl XXXII: 90 million. This was back when NBC was a bit of a sitcom powerhouse, so it was a bit surprising they went with one of their midlist hits. Likely, the reasoning was Friends and Seinfeld didn’t need the help, and the network maybe hoped the extra viewers would turn this into a surprise hit. The ratings here are a massive success considering the sitcom never would have garnered anything close to those numbers in its regular slot. By the third season it was already dropping in the ratings and becoming less relevant to pop culture. This episode, “36! 24! 36! Dick,” ended up being football themed, which likely helped things, and plus it was a very good, close game that would have kept viewers right to the end. Despite the great numbers, it didn’t translate to any new loyal viewers, and it actually dropped a significant degree by the next season.
#5 The Voice, 37.6 million
Super Bowl XLVI: 111.3 million. The last decade had not been a great time for NBC as it lost all of its hits and wasn’t able to find anything of that level again. TV critics started to joke it wasn’t even a network anymore. Then NBC jumped on the reality music competition craze and discovered a major hit in The Voice. It had a pretty strong first season but NBC had hopes for more, and slotted the season 2 premiere to follow the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl ended up becoming the highest rated show of all-time, which was obviously a very good thing for the young song competition series. The Voice not only scored incredible ratings, but a strong percentage of the audience followed it to the next night. This is one of the best examples of the Super Bowl slot actually helping a show find a new audience and becoming a hit due to the exposure.
#4 Grey’s Anatomy, 37.8 million
Super Bowl XL: 90.8 million. Season 2 Grey’s Anatomy was a massive hit consistently making the top five most watched shows every week. It also was the proverbial water cooler show everyone was talking about. Maybe that is why it felt like such a lonely year for me? I have to confess to never seeing an episode, but the rating for this Super Bowl episode proves I may be one of the few. It is more impressive that it turned out to be a pretty dull game, but people stuck around, because they really wanted to see Grey’s Anatomy. The popularity of the show stayed strong for four more season as it continually hit the top 20 most-watched. It likely had more to do with being a popular show that stayed entertaining rather than growing a massive audience from this particular episode, “It’s the End of the World”.
#3 Undercover Boss, 38.65 million
Super Bowl XLIV: 106.5 million. This is the last series to premiere after the Super Bowl, and is by far the most successful start. Apparently, the world was itching to find out what COO Larry O’Donnell would learn working on site for his Waste Management Inc. company. Or everyone just forgot to turn off the TV. The first episode was an undeniable hit, and the first season was considered a big success. It has largely been a forgotten show since, despite still being on TV. But did you even know that? This is an example of how a major Super Bowl lead-out rating hit doesn’t necessarily translate to long term viewers.
#2 Survivor: The Australian Outback, 45.3 million
Super Bowl XXXV: 84.3 million. Survivor was already a smash hit before the second season premiered after the Super Bowl. The finale of the inaugural season scored 50 million viewers despite being aired in the traditionally quiet month of August. By the time the Super Bowl came around, reality shows were becoming the driving force on network TV. Survivor was the king of the genre at this point, and everyone was eager for the second season. It was an obvious choice to premiere the next season after the big game, and despite what turned out to be a one-sided affair, people stuck around. It turned out to be the most watched show of the TV season, and launched what has been a massive TV franchise. In the case of this episode, it likely would have done major ratings no matter what, and had become a huge hit without much need for the Super Bowl slot. It probably didn’t hurt in kicking off the franchise’s most popular season.
#1 Friends, 52.9 million
Super Bowl XXX: 94.1 million. Friends was already incredibly popular before this episode. “The One After the Super Bowl” ended up cementing it as a pop culture icon. This turned out to be the highest rated post-Super Bowl show of all time. It also remained the highest rated Friends episode ever. This is seen as the moment that Friends became event television. It is an incredibly influential episode, because it transformed how networks viewed the Super Bowl lead-out spot. They now wanted to put popular shows in that spot as an attempt to launch it to the next level and become ingrained in the culture and transform into a ratings goldmine. The idea was also formed from this point on to make the Super Bowl episodes into something extra special. Friends loaded it up with massive guest stars like Julia Roberts and Jean-Claude Van Damme (hey, he was a star then). From that point on, most years the networks tried to get big names to make their episode seem like spectacles. No series has ever truly been able to duplicate the incredible success of this episode, and likely never will.