Post-Super Bowl TV Shows: The Good, The Bad, and Each Network’s Best Choices

Very Good TV Podcast: From "The X-Files" to "Friends," which episodes capitalized on the coveted TV slot following America's biggest game?
24: Legacy: Miranda Otto in 24: Legacy coming soon to FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co.
Michael Becker/FOX

Whether you’re a football fan or not, one of the best ways to wind down after what was more than likely a chaotic Super Bowl is to sit back and watch an episode of whatever show the host network deems worthy of airing after the big game. Maybe you’re actually looking forward to the episode, or you’re just curious as to what is on. The network broadcasting the game definitely has these things in mind when choosing which show to put on with the year’s biggest spotlight already on their station. But the question is raised: Which shows utilized this TV slot most effectively?

The Super Bowl has historically rotated between airing on four stations: Fox, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Each station has had individual success, but Fox, which hosted last night’s thrilling match between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, has never had a post-Super Bowl episode garner more than 30 million viewers. Not even this year’s pick — the reboot of “24,” “24: Legacy” — could break the streak for Fox, as it snagged a mere 17.6 million live viewers. Attribute that to the first overtime period in Super Bowl history or disinterest in “24” without Jack Bauer, but either way, it’s a disappointment.

READ MORE: ’24: Legacy’ Review: Timing Isn’t the Only Tone-Deaf Element in Fox’s Xenophobic Reboot

Fox’s biggest post-Super Bowl Episode came in 1997, when “The X-Files” brought in just over 29 million viewers. The sci-fi series certainly provided audiences an interesting juxtaposition following four-plus hours of football, but the series had such wide appeal it was an excellent show for Fox to attract maximum viewership. On a more recent note, Fox also brought in over 25 million views in 2008 and 2011 with episodes for “House” and “Glee,” respectively. Its interesting to note how Fox has showcased extremely different shows — from science-fictions mysteries to hospital dramas to musicals — and still maintained solid viewership thanks to that all-important lead-in.

ABC has been ousted from the carousel of stations carrying the Super Bowl since 2006, but it went out with a bang when it followed up the game with an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” pulling in an audience of nearly 38 million viewers. Featuring Christina Ricci and Kyle Chandler in guest roles, the episode has the fourth highest rating of any post-Super Bowl episode. Not bad for a station that hasn’t aired the game in over a decade.

Interestingly, ABC had the lowest rated episode since the ’70s, when in 2003 its episode of “Alias” mustered an audience of only 17 million. This was due to the station airing a performance by Bon Jovi prior to the episode. Unsurprisingly, this strategy has not been attempted since.

READ MORE: Super Bowl Commercials 2017: Reviews and Grades For The Best and Worst

CBS, which hosted last year’s game, impressively holds the second and third highest-rated post-Super Bowl episodes. In 2010, “Undercover Boss” attracted an audience of 38 million for its series premiere, following the most watched Super Bowl in history, when the Saints defeated the Colts. The station’s highest rating came back in 2001 with “Survivor: The Australian Outback” collecting 45 million viewers, where CBS employed an inverted tactic compared to “Undercover Boss” by airing the “Survivor” season finale after the game.

NBC hosted more Super-Bowls than any station in the ’90s (people must’ve really liked Dick Enberg’s commentary), and it hit its peak in 1996 when it delivered the most impressive post-Super Bowl episode rating: “Friends” had an audience just shy of 53 million. It’s no surprise that one of the most popular shows of all time is also the only post-Super Bowl episode to have a viewership higher than 50 million. NBC pulled out all the stops too, as the episode guest-starred Brooke Shields, Julia Roberts, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Now that’s how you do a Post-Super Bowl episode.

Listen to IndieWire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers discuss their favorite post-Super Bowl episodes on this week’s Very Good TV Podcast (above). Don’t forget to subscribe via Soundcloud or iTunes, and follow IndieWire on Twitter and Facebook for all your pertinent TV news. Check out Liz and Ben’s Twitter feeds for more, more, more. Plus, don’t forget to listen to IndieWire’s other podcastsScreen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson, as well as Michael Schneider’s new podcast, Turn It On, which spotlights the most important TV of each week.

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