Since the first Super Bowl on January 15, 1967, there’s always been a show that follows the Super Bowl. During the first Super Bowl, both CBS & NBC, that aired the Super Bowl in one of the rare times two networks have aired the big game, aired special episodes of Lassie & Disney’s Wonderful World Of Color.
Over the 47 years since then, the big four networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, & FOX, have all aired special episodes of their hit shows including The New Perry Mason, All In The Family, 60 Minuts, 48 Hours, Friends, The X-Files, 3rd Rock From The Sun, The Simpsons, The Practice, Survivor, Malcolm In The Middle, Alias, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, House, The Office, Glee, The Voice, Elementary, and this year, New Girl & Brookyln Nine Nine.
The networks have also used the big game to promote new shows by debuting their first episodes after the big game with some of the most noted successes including The A-Team, Airwolf, The Wonder Years, Homicide: Life On The Street, Family Guy, American Dad, and Undercover Boss and some of the most notable failures being MacGruder & Loud, The Last Precinct, Hard Copy, Grand Slam, Davis Rules, Extreme, The Good Life, and Brothers & Sisters.
So, what makes some of these post Super Bowl programs work for audiences? And what things doesn’t make post Super Bowl programming work?
When you first hear news that a series that you love is getting a special episode to air after the Super Bowl, your first thought is, “Good, that means a lot of people are going to see a great series.” Your next thought is, “Okay, what are they possibly going to do to follow this big event?”
Well, most of the time they pull out all the stops to make an entertaining and fun episode that audiences who are sticking with the show following the big game can usually stick with it. Usually packing on big time guest stars or upping the ante on some of their stories or especially in the case of Alias, upping up the sex appeal. I’m not even kidding, I remember watching that Super Bowl in 2003 and I swear, the Alias promos they were showing were promoting more of Jennifer Garner in skimpy lingerie than the actual show itself, not that there’s anything wrong with that of course but honestly, when I see people talking about when Alias followed the Super Bowl, that’s the one thing they always remember.
So, does upping the ante on some things make the shows work? For the most part, yes. When you follow the most watched television event of the year, it’s incredibly necessary to up the ante on your show because after the biggest football game of the year, you need to keep your audiences involved and you can’t slow things down after that.
Some of the best examples of shows that have upped the ante and delivered solid Super Bowl episodes include The Office, Alias, Malcolm In The Middle, Friends, 3rd Rock From The Sun, & The X-Files. All of these shows used the same tactics that I talked about to make a memorable episode of TV worthy of following the big game.
However, networks that use shows they are trying to make big to follow the Super Bowl can waste that opportunity by just doing a normal episode. Now for series premieres, that’s fine but the only time they don’t do anything big that actually works is The Simpsons, which did two Super Bowl themed episodes that were regular half hour episodes and honestly, they were good episodes.
Some of the worst examples of networks wasting the opportunity to make a bigger event out of their shows include The Practice, Survivor, and Undercover Boss. But the two worst ones of them all are Glee, which did absolutely nothing at all to distance itself from a regular episode and took away anything that made that show worth watching in its’ first season and a half and the other one being Elementary, which, again didn’t do a single thing to distance itself from a regular episode and I’m sorry, you can’t follow up an action packed testosterone heavy event like the Super Bowl with a slow paced regular episode of a TV show.
So, where do New Girl and Brooklyn Nine Nine likely stand to be at? As of now, New Girl seems likely to use its’ chance to up its’ ante by adding a pretty big guest star, Prince, for its’ episode. I mean, the episode is called “Prince” and Brooklyn Nine Nine also has the possibility to up its’ A game with NFL legend Joe Thiesmann and Fred Armisen guest starring along with a possible guest spot from Adam Sandler although FOX had no comment on the possible guest spot, which basically means, “Yeah, Adam Sandler is going to guest star.”, because when a network has no comment on stuff like this, chances are it’s happening, go back to when NBC was saying that Steve Carell wasn’t going to return for the final episode of The Office and sure enough, he shows up in the final episode.
So, what have we learned for what makes good post Super Bowl programming? A few things:
1. Packing on guest stars in one of the few examples of where stunt casting actually works.
2. Upping the ante in terms of a story doing something bigger than what’s to be expected on a regular episode.
3. Keeping what makes the series works but also managing to update things so that new audiences can get into the show.
It’s too early to tell if New Girl and Brooklyn Nine Nine will do those things but that’s why we have to watch them on Sunday to find out.
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