And understandably so. After all, the cost of a 30-second commercial during Super Bowl XLVIII was $4 million. During Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX, it’ll be $4.5 million. But it’s not just big business for advertisers – the networks themselves now use the Big Game as launching pad for their programming, debuting new shows or airing blockbuster episodes of old favorites, hoping against hope that the majority of TV sets won’t be shut off once the Lombardi Trophy is handed out.
On Sunday, NBC will bring back The Blacklist as soon as the Patriots and Seahawks are finished battling, proving once again that the lead-out program is as much an American tradition as the Big Game itself. Here’s a look back at some memorable moments in post-Super Bowl programming.
All in the Family, Super Bowl XII
Prior to this, Super Bowl lead-outs were mostly episodes of Lassie and the occasional Wonderful World of Disney special (“The Mystery in Dracula’s Castle”). But in 1978, the Big Game made its debut in prime time, and CBS brought out the big guns with a special Super Bowl-themed ep of All in the Family. Archie plans big things for his bar during the game – like charging a buck fifty for a ham sandwich – only to be foiled by a pair of robbers, who abscond with patrons’ cash and ensure a clean getaway by making everyone drop trou. There’s a lesson to be learned here: If you want to rob a bar, make sure everyone’s pants are down when you initiate your escape.
The A-Team, Super Bowl XVII
I pity the fool that doesn’t know that Mr. T never actually said “I pity the fool” on The A-Team. I don’t pity running back and Super Bowl MVP John Riggins, who led the Washington Redskins to victory over the Miami Dolphins and rushed for a (then) record 166 yards. NBC used the game to debut its brand-new action series, the first Super Bowl lead-out to become an established hit. The network even had Mr T. show up at the Big Game to hype the premiere. It was the beginning of an era.
The Wonder Years, Super Bowl XXII
The game itself was a clunker – the Redskins routed the Denver Broncos 42-10 – but afterwards, viewers (those still watching, at least) witnessed the debut of The Wonder Years, which ran for six seasons, becoming the second successful show to bow after the Big Game. In the pilot, precocious Kevin Arnold is forced to confront his own mortality when he learns that Winnie Cooper’s older brother has been killed in the Vietnam War. Sufficed to say, Super Bowl lead-outs would get substantially sunnier from here.
60 Minutes, Super Bowl XXVI
The 1992 clash between the Redskins and the Buffalo Bills also featured a battle between networks, as upstart Fox successfully launched a halftime counterstrike featuring a football-themed episode of In Living Color. Immediately following the Super Bowl, CBS struck back with legendary edition of 60 Minutes, where then-candidate Bill Clinton addressed the rumors of his affair with Gennifer Flowers. With some 50 million people watching (and Hillary by his side), Clinton denied the affair, but by stepping up and admitting to difficulties in his marriage, he managed to humanize himself to the public, not to mention turn his campaign around.
Homicide: Life on the Street, Super Bowl XXVII
The Bills got routed by the Dallas Cowboys 52-17 (their third of four consecutive Super Bowl losses), but that was the only disappointment of the night. The game was followed by the premiere of the lauded cop drama Homicide: Life on the Street. Based on David Simon’s book, it chronicled dealings within the Baltimore Police Department’s Homicide Division, won three Peabody Awards in seven seasons, gave us the gift that is Detective John Munch and would lead (inadvertently or otherwise) to Simon’s The Wire, only the greatest TV show of all time. Who cares about the Cowboys?
Friends, Super Bowl XXX
Despite its name, Super Bowl XXX was no raunchier than any preceding it, including the halftime show (no offense to Diana Ross). That night gave us the Steelers’ first Super Bowl loss and the return of Marcel the monkey, only one of which occurred on the Friends‘ episode “The One After the Super Bowl.” A staggering 52.9 million viewers made it the show’s most-watched episode, and with a list of guest stars that included Brooke Shields, Chris Isaak, Julia Roberts and, uh, Jean-Claude Van Damme, they definitely got their money’s worth.
Family Guy, Super Bowl XXXIII
The Broncos got their second straight Super Bowl title, John Elway got to ride off into the sunset and America got their first taste of Fox’s pop-culture juggernaut, Family Guy. The pilot episode, “Death Has a Shadow,” bowed after the Big Game, royally pissing off some viewers with its mature content. After a cancelation and couple of revivals, Family Guy found its stride (and its audience), and, in 2011, Brian and Stewie even time-traveled back to this episode, which allowed Lacey Chabert to reprise her role as Meg, whom she had voiced during the show’s first 15 episodes.
Alias, Super Bowl XXXVII
Just as the game was a huge flop for the favored Raiders – they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48-21, thanks mainly to Rich Gannon’s record five interceptions – so too was the post-Super Bowl episode of Alias. A pivotal episode that marked a shift for the series, it garnered a whopping 17.4 million viewers, but retained just 19 percent of them, despite the critical acclaim (and the opening scene included above, which featured Jennifer Garner in lingerie). Of course, that number was hampered by ABC’s decision to air some 40 minutes of content – including a Bon Jovi concert – before putting Alias on at 11 p.m., the latest a Super Bowl lead-out show has ever aired. The premiere episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! followed at 12:35 a.m. ET, but suffered a similar fate in the ratings. Things improved for Kimmel’s show, but apparently Bon Jovi gives late night television a bad name.
The Simpsons, Super Bowl XXXIX
Not only did the Big Game live up to the hype – a memorable battle between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles – but it also served as the lead-in to “Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass.” A ray of hope in an otherwise lackluster season, the episode captured the ridiculousness of touchdown celebrations, movies based on the bible (I’m looking at you Exodus: Gods and Kings) and halftime shows. That being said, while Homer and Ned’s “blatant display of decency” couldn’t match Paul McCartney’s halftime extravaganza, the real highlight of the episode was when they revealed Comic Book Guy’s real name: Jeff Albertson.
Glee, Super Bowl XLV
Forget the game (and the atrocious Black Eyed Peas halftime show, featuring Slash and a throaty butchering of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”). What stole the show that night was Glee. The episode that aired after the game, “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle,” featured over 500 extras – including Katie Couric, who made a joke about Dina Lohan – versions of songs by Katy Perry, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Michael Jackson (the latter two of which were mashed together) and cost somewhere between $3-5 million to produce. Or roughly the same as a 30-second ad during the game itself.