Until the 1980s, the networks didn’t give much thought about what they aired after the Super Bowl — it was sometimes golf, “Lassie,” or nothing at all. But then, in 1983, NBC aired the second episode of new action hour “The A-Team,” turning it into an immediate hit. The next year, “Airwolf” launched behind the Super Bowl, and in 1988, ABC found success debuting “The Wonder Years” after the game, solidifying the strategy of premiering brand new shows — at least temporarily.
The gambit wound becoming a bust by the 1990s, as post-Super Bowl shows turned into quick failures: “Grand Slam,” “Davis Rules,” “The Good Life” and “Extreme.” NBC came up with a new strategy in 1996, running an episode of its biggest show there — “Friends” — which allowed it to charge hefty ad rates for what was assuredly a big event.
A few new shows have still premiered since then — notably “Family Guy” and “Undercover Boss” — but the networks continue to stick mostly with signature shows in the slot. This year, the honor falls to NBC’s “This Is Us,” which is promising a landmark episode revealing the exact details behind the death of Pearson family patriarch Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). Below, IndieWire combed through the list of post-Super Bowl episodes to rate the most impactful.
15. “Family Guy”
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Episode: Season 1, Episode 1, “Death Has a Shadow”
Date/Game: January 31, 1999 – Super Bowl XXXIII
This show’s been on so long, it’s almost hard to believe that it premiered during the Clinton Administration. After nearly 300 episodes, it’s also interesting to see how different this pilot is from more recent seasons. Everyone’s voice performance is looser — Lois is softer, Peter is less of a caricature, Brian sounds more like Rod Serling at times, and Lacey Chabert is a different Meg entirely. But some of the show’s same hallmarks are there: endless cutaway gags, TV references decades past their sell-by date, even a episode-closing gag about sexual harassment. There are some more inspired touches here, though, including a extra-level twist on the shoulder devils and angels. And, for the first time it pops up, the straightforwardness of Stewie/Lois feud stuff works, too. Explicitly tying into the Super Bowl, for the first episode this group certainly went big as the Goodyear blimp, for better and worse.
14. “Undercover Boss”
Episode: Series Premiere, “Waste Management”
Date/Game: February 7, 2010 – Super Bowl XLIV
What an odd and sedate sort of offering to follow up the big game! Nevertheless, the charms of “Undercover Boss” somehow overcame its dismally un-sexy first episode that literally was about garbage. It put into motion the premise of a benevolent but out-of-touch boss who, through Prince & the Pauper-style slumming and a ridiculous disguise, realized what his hoi polloi employees were subjected to. While indubitably cheesy, the show couldn’t hide its earnestness and heart that celebrated kindness, heart work, selflessness, and understanding. No, we’re not crying! You are!
13. “Malcolm in the Middle”
Episode: Season 3, Episodes 11/12, “Company Picnic (Parts 1 and 2)”
Date/Game: February 3, 2002 – Super Bowl XXXVI
How many sitcoms would have the guts to use TV’s biggest stage to have someone tell their title character “There is something wrong with you!” or center an entire subplot around…hockey? This has all the manic energy that “Malcolm in the Middle” had over its seven-season run, also bringing in a bevy of guest stars, from Susan Sarandon and Patrick Warburton to the nascent acting career of Terry Bradshaw. (Fifteen years before “Get Out,” this show was the first to bring together Stephen Root and Bradley Whitford in an ominous social gathering set in an otherwise-serene wooded area.) As a double episode play for dunking audiences right into this world, it’s a crash-course primer in this crazy family, from Hal’s insecurity at work all the way down to Dewey’s sugar-fueled hysteria. Bullie, unrequited love, awkward social interactions, and photocopying your butt on the office printer. It’s the “Malcolm in the Middle” way.
12. “The A-Team”
Episode: Season 1, Episode 3, “Children of Jamestown”
Date/Game: January 30, 1983 – Super Bowl XVII
Lore has grown over the years that “The A-Team” premiered after the Super Bowl, but it had actually launched as a special two-hour movie the week before. This was the first regular episode of “The A-Team” to air on NBC, and it introduced the majority of audiences to a ragtag group of former soldiers, on the run for a crime they didn’t commit. For five seasons and nearly 100 episodes, if you had a problem, if no one else could help, and if you could find them, maybe you could hire… the A-Team. In this episode, Hannibal (George Peppard), B.A. (Mr. T) and crew rescue a young woman from a religious cult near the Oregon border run by maniacal leader Martin James (John Saxon). Clearly “Jamestown” was inspired by the actual Jonestown cult and the tragedy that took place in 1978. It was pure “A-Team” camp, but the huge success of the episode convinced network executives that the post-Super Bowl slot was the place to launch new shows — and for the next decade, most of the shows that aired after the Big Game were premiere episodes.
11. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Episode: Season 1, Episode 15, “Operation: Broken Feather”
Date/Game: February 2, 2014 – Super Bowl XLVIII
This isn’t quite the best episode of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s” freshman season, but it does have a lot of the checkpoints that made the show such a strong workplace sitcom in its early going. There’s Peralta/Santiago proto-flirting, incomparable Holt deadpan, even some good Boyle culinary obsession thrown in for good measure. As far as a lead-out from the game itself, nothing in that abysmal Seahawks/Broncos game was as good as watching Terry Crews knock around defenders like Terry Tate and victory dance like Michael Jackson. Above all, this episode did its job as an entry point into the comedic rhythms of the show. Everything you’d want to know about “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” can be summed up into two distinct sequences: the switch-out of Rosa’s computer (and her subsequent property-destroying freak out), and Andre Braugher sitting breathlessly in a theater extolling the virtues of “Moneyball.” The rest is just a nice glaze of butter on the precinct panini press.
10. “The Simpsons”
Episode: Season 16, Episode 8, “Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass”
Date/Game: February 5, 2005 – Super Bowl XXIX
This was actually the second time a “Simpsons” episode had appeared after the Super Bowl, but in 1999 it ran after the series premiere of “Family Guy,” which aired first. This time, “The Simpsons” created a Super Bowl-themed storyline: A video of Homer doing a victory dance goes viral, and suddenly Homer is asked for advice by sports stars to come up with their own celebratory moves. Soon, Homer is even asked to choreograph the Super Bowl halftime — but after recruiting Ned Flanders for help, their religious-themed show falls flat. Also, Comic Book Guy’s name is famously revealed in this episode: Jeff Albertson.
Episode: Season 2, Episode 1, “Stranded”
Date/Game: January 28, 2001 – Super Bowl XXXV
The first round of “Survivor” had been a summer hit for CBS the previous year, and some worried that launching so close to that first season might lessen its impact. Instead, 45 million viewers tuned in for the premiere of “The Australian Outback,” which introduced a whole new cast of future reality stars — most notably future “The View” and “Fox & Friends” co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck — but continued delivering the elements of the show that still felt fresh and exciting. Seventeen years and 33 seasons later, “Stranded” still showcases everything that has made “Survivor” such a massive hit for CBS all these years.
8. “The Office”
Episode: Season 5, Episodes 14 and 15, “Stress Relief”
Date/Game: February 1, 2009 – Super Bowl XLIII
A classic Dwight (Rainn Wilson) disaster kicks off and highlights an hour-long episode focused on relieving stress. Upset that no one paid attention to his safety seminar, Dwight locks all the doors and starts a fire in the hallway. The ensuing panic illustrates the ensemble’s individual and collaborative talents, even if the consequences can’t quite live up to that first scene. Michael ends up throwing himself a roast in the second episode, which he (of course) can’t tolerate; the roast itself is too painful to be funny. Though Michael feeding the birds with whole slices of bread and Andy misinterpreting reactions to the (fake) Jack Black & Cloris Leachman movie are pretty outstanding bits on their own, the whole hour doesn’t really come together until Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) bond over her parents’ separation — it’s a lot sweeter than it sounds and a lot sweeter than you’d expect.