Every Show That Followed the Super Bowl, Ranked
For as long as most of us can probably remember, the Super Bowl has been one of the most-watched live TV events of the year. And as the right to air it passes among the four major broadcast networks, each has made not just the game but the show after the game part of the night’s fun, either giving a brand-new show the boost of viewers programmers expect to be too full of seven-layer dip to change the channel, or making a spectacle out of an existing show.
But back in the day? Sometimes it was just the news.
I’ve only watched a handful of these Super Bowl lead-outs, but that hasn’t stopped me from ranking them according to how willing I might be to watch them. (In order for the count to go up to LVIII — i.e., 58 — shows that aired back-to-back have been scored as a single lead-out presentation.)
LVIII - The Phoenix Open, Following Super Bowl X
I understand the logic, for others, of chasing one sporting event with another one. But “others” aren’t making this list: IMO, golf is boring.
LVII - Bing Crosby National Pro-Am Golf Tournament, Following Super Bowl V
See above, although at least the Bing Crosby connection might mean viewers saw a celebrity or two.
LVI - NBC Nightly News, Following Super Bowl IX
I have no idea what was going on in national or world events on January 12, 1975. Still, I would rather watch that than one second of golf.
LV - Hard Copy, “Pilot,” Following Super Bowl XXI
I don’t know what was happening in current events on January 25, 1987 either, but this broadcast outranks the NBC Nightly News by virtue of probably being at least a little lurid and trashy.
LIV, LIII and LII - The 60 Minutes Episodes That Followed Super Bowls VI, XIV and XVI
More friggin’ news, though the magazine format of 60 Minutes might mean at least a couple of stories have more enduring entertainment value.
LI - 2022 Winter Olympics “2022 Winter Olympics Primetime Show,” Following Super Bowl LVI
This broadcast included ice dance, which I have occasionally gotten sucked into, but also something called “women’s monobob,” which I gather has nothing to do with haircuts. Pass!
L -The Wonderful World of Disney, “Mystery in Dracula’s Castle,” Following Super Bowl VII
Future horror king Clu Gulager appears in this story of two boys interrupting jewel thieves in a lighthouse? I don’t care if someone gets credited as “Grave Robber”; there’s a ceiling on how creepy this thing could actually be.
XLIX - The Big Event, “Kit Carson,” Following Super Bowl XI
The Big Event was a temporary rebrand of NBC’s Sunday Night Movie. Was it still mostly movies? Sure, including for this 1977 affair about a real-life “American frontiersman” (colonizer). Apparently co-starred The Brady Bunch’s Robert Reed, not in the titular role.
XLVIII, XLVII and XLVI - The Lassie Episodes That Followed Super Bowls I, II and IV
You’ve got an episode of a gentle canine adventure series: What better time to premiere it than right after the year’s most important NFL game?
For Lassie’s first post-Super Bowl outing, “Lassie’s Litter Bit,” Lassie comes across a raccoon who gets its head caught in a can left by a litterbug camper and teaches said camper a lesson! (This was followed by a Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color episode, “Willie And The Yank: The Mosby Raiders (Part II)”; not sure whose genius idea it was to use this time slot to conclude a story begun on some earlier date, but in 1967, TV viewers pretty much had to eat whatever was served to them if they didn’t want to watch PBS or something.)
The next year, in “The Foundling,” Lassie helped unite a fawn with a doe mother who had rejected her. Bambi much?!?!
After Super Bowl IV, Lassie brought the mood way down with “The Road Back,” in which Lassie gets injured in “an act of bravery” and has to be treated at an animal clinic that then catches fire?! Not only don’t I want to watch this; I want any producers who are still alive to go straight to prison, no trial necessary.
XLV - The Voice, “The Blind Auditions, Part 1” (Season Premiere), Following Super Bowl XLVI
I defy you to find me one person who has ever cared about this show.
XLIV - Undercover Boss, “Waste Management” (Series Premiere), Following Super Bowl XLIV
Laundering the reputations of the boss class is an immoral enterprise, and we’re all better off now that this show is over.
XLIII - The World’s Best, “Auditions 1” (Series Premiere), Following Super Bowl LIII
The World’s Best has the same shrug factor for me as The Voice, though at least you will see displays of talent other than singing.
XLII - Glee, “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle,” Following Super Bowl XLV
Speaking of shows that are immoral through and through and have only tarnished as time has gone on!
XLI - Next Level Chef, “A Next Level Welcome” (Season Premiere), Following Super Bowl LVII
How many Gordon Ramsay cooking shows does Fox actually need? Next Level Chef dares to answer “at least one more.”
XL - Grand Slam, “Pilot,” Following Super Bowl XXIV
This “action drama” starred Paul Rodriguez and future Secret Service investigation target John Schneider as San Diego bail bondsmen; I don’t know if it was any good, but the fact that it got canceled less than two months after its series premiere does not fill one with optimism about it.
XXXIX - The Masked Singer, “The Season Kick off (sic) Mask Off: Group A” (Season Premiere), Following Super Bowl LIV
“Wasn’t that the cursed season that Sarah Palin was in like two days before COVID lockdown?” Yes, yes it was.
XXXVIII - Airwolf, “Shadow of the Hawke,” Following Super Bowl XVIII
A Knight Rider-adjacent adventure show about a super-powered helicopter, co-starring Ernest Borgnine, from Magnum, P.I. creator Donald P. Bellisario? Okay, this might be a “take one thing off” situation, but I’m moderately intrigued.
XXXVII - Brothers and Sisters, “Pilot,” Following Super Bowl XIII
Not to be confused with the ABC family dramedy starring Calista Flockhart and Sally Field that would come along in the mid-aughts; in this one, the titular brothers and sisters are members of college frats and sororities, and was the second of three Animal House ripoffs to get rushed to air in 1977. Not even future Thunder in Paradise star and Jack’s son Chris Lemmon could get this one a second season.
XXXVI - The Last Precinct, “The Last Precinct” (Pilot), Following Super Bowl XX
Barney Miller, Night Court and the Police Academy movies had been hits by the mid-1980s; why not try another sitcom about the legal system? Probably because it was the only sitcom Stephen J. Cannell (The A-Team, The Rockford Files, The Greatest American Hero) had ever made. Imagining how offensively this show’s trans woman cop was probably written and portrayed in 1986 truly chills my blood.
XXXV - MacGruder and Loud, “Pilot,” Following Super Bowl XIX
ABC tried to launch a cop show the year before The Last Precinct, though at least this one is a drama and, coming from Aaron Spelling Productions, rests on a premise with a sexy secret: The titular detectives are married to each other, but their department has anti-fraternization policies so their boss cannot find out. Per Wikipedia, “Malcolm and Jenny lived in a duplex-type apartment complex where there was a secret door behind the grandfather clock in her apartment, where Malcolm could sneak in and enjoy her company.” Cute! Only cute enough to sustain 15 episodes, though.
XXXIV - Extreme, “Pilot,” Following Super Bowl XXIX
Adventure in the Rocky Mountains with a search and rescue team! This one probably features the most talent you’ve actually heard of — James Brolin, Julie Bowen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and (eek) Danny Masterson — only to result in the shortest run. It was canned after seven episodes, leaving six that have never aired in this country, a failure that put post-Super Bowl launches for brand-new series on hold for the next few years.
XXXIII - CHiPs, “11-99: Officer Needs Help,” Following Super Bowl XV
The officers get some new tech to help them fight… warehouse looters? There aren’t even any marquee guest stars?! I mean, it’s still CHiPs, but snooze.
XXXII - Brotherhood of the Rose, Part 1 of 2, Following Super Bowl XXIII
See, Disney, THIS is how you do it with a two-parter: put the first half after the game, then hook everyone to come back the next night! Peter Strauss and David Morse play orphans raised from childhood by Eliot (Robert Mitchum!), who trains them to be assassins! Co-stars M. Emmet Walsh and James Hong! I would watch this today — and maybe I will?
XXXI - 60 Minutes and 48 Hours, Following Super Bowl XXVI
Congratulations to 60 Minutes on this huge leap up from the basement of this list with a special 1992 mini-episode in which presidential candidate Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary gave an interview about his extramarital affair with Gennifer Flowers; I was enough of a nerd about that election to have watched it live even though I was still in high school, would not be 18 when the election happened, and, oh yeah, was a Canadian citizen living in Canada. Also good job 48 Hours for also being a footnote to this piece of American history.
XXX - The New Perry Mason, “The Case of the Tortured Titan,” Following Super Bowl VIII
This one might be ranked slightly high thanks to my love of HBO’s recent prequel with Matthew Rhys, but I’ll stand by it since this is obviously an enduring franchise and we love a defense attorney. The New Perry Mason is an accurate title, and warns the audience that it’s not the Perry they came to know: Here, the character is played by Monte Markham, best known to me for playing Blanche’s gay brother on The Golden Girls. Based on the blurb, this is pretty standard fare — something about an architecture student trying to run down her missing mentor — but it does guest star future Barney Miller star Ron Glass!
XXIX - G.E. College Bowl, Following Super Bowl III
All those Lassies we talked about earlier got interrupted by this trivia show, and I am a big enough geek to wonder how I might acquit myself on facts that 1969 college students were expected to know. Probably not well!
XXVIII - Davis Rules, “A Man for All Reasons” (Pilot), Following Super Bowl XXV
Once, there was a time when Randy Quaid could get cast as a nice, widowed elementary school principal living with his three sons and assisted by his kooky dad, played by Jonathan Winters. Carsey-Werner Productions made a lot of hit sitcoms; Davis Rules wasn’t one of them, but racking up 16 episodes puts it in the upper echelon of new show launches on this list so far!
XXVII - The John Larroquette Show, “Eggs,” and The Good Life, “Pilot,” Following Super Bowl XXVIII
Though it hasn’t made it into the streaming era (so far?), The John Larroquette Show was a decent ensemble comedy about a man, played by the titular star, navigating sobriety; that alone makes it kind of a weird choice as a Super Bowl lead-out, but I appreciate the swing. The Good Life is a lot less memorable, however. Apparently, it was based on the stand-up comedy of John Caponera, which situates it in sitcom history. Though I am pretty sure I have never once heard of Caponera, his sidekick was played by a young Drew Carey. This one was swiftly canceled, freeing Carey up to launch his own namesake sitcom the next year.
XXVI - The Simpsons, “Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass,” and American Dad!, “Pilot,” Following Super Bowl XXXIX
I was still watching new episodes of The Simpsons at this point, but without much enthusiasm. I probably didn’t watch American Dad! due to how quickly I had gone off Family Guy. Both of these shows are still producing new episodes today, and I’m happy for everyone who continues to enjoy them.
XXV - Family Guy, “Death Has A Shadow” (Pilot), and The Simpsons, “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday,” Following Super Bowl XXXIII
See above. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch either of these, but if forced to, I would probably find something to enjoy.
XXIV - Criminal Minds, “The Big Game,” Following Super Bowl XLI
Starting with CSI in 2000, CBS had a great track record for launching reliably successful crime dramas that could conceivably go on indefinitely — and, indeed, versions of both CSI and Criminal Minds are still with us in 2024. This episode, arriving midway through the second season of Minds, jumped off from a murder after a Super Bowl party. The synergy!
XXIII - 24: Legacy, “12:00 P.M. - 1:00 P.M.” (Series Premiere), Following Super Bowl LI
Speaking of durable franchises: after putting Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) through just about everything a man can endure and still survive, 24 briefly went fallow before starting back up with a new agent, Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins). It attracted the smallest Super Bowl lead-out audience since Alias in 2003, and while Fox committed to the entire season, its Legacy was one and done.
XXII - The Practice, “New Evidence (Part 1),” Following Super Bowl XXXIV
When Suits had its renaissance last summer and fall, I must assume that someone at Fox television started scrambling to make a deal on one of the streamers for The Practice, which was Suits before Suits — meaning, a perfectly average legal drama with just enough juicy cases-of-the-week to keep you watching. Case (heh) in point: This episode about a guy charged with murdering his internet girlfriend — a wildly year 2000 problem for this year 2000 outing, and probably one that drove lots of brand-new viewers to see how it turned out.
XXI - The Blacklist, “Luther Braxton (Part 1),” Following Super Bowl XLIX
What’s more shocking: that The Blacklist once got a Super Bowl lead-out slot, or that it was still on until last year?! Anyway, the big bad in this one is played by Ron Perlman, finally delivering the Sons of Anarchy/Blacklist crossover we were all clamoring for.
XX - House, “Frozen,” Following Super Bowl XLII
Another episode ripped from the latest tech headlines: When Dr. Cate Milton (Mira Sorvino, Oscar winner, nbd) has a health crisis while working at a research station in Antarctica, House (Hugh Laurie) has to try to examine and diagnose her via webcam. Given what we know about House’s bedside manner, it’s probably just as well that she never has to meet him in person.
XIX - Tracker “Klamath Falls” (Series Premiere), Following Super Bowl LVIII
This Is Us alumnus Justin Hartley plays the excessively named Colter Shaw. Having learned survival and tracking skills from his father Ashton (Lee Tergesen), Colter has made a career out of traveling the country finding lost people in exchange for hefty cash rewards — sometimes tangling with local cops who regard him as a mercenary and wish he wouldn’t get in their way. Not to brag, but as a TV critic, I have already watched the screener for this episode. It’s fine! Since it’s on CBS, I imagine it’ll get at least a second-season pickup, but I don’t see us all meeting back here in 20 years to discuss Tracker: Legacy.
XVIII - The A-Team, “Children of Jamestown,” Following Super Bowl XVII
As anyone knows who watches true-crime documentaries, the 1960s and 1970s were a fertile period for cults, which also crossed into pop culture in the years that followed. For instance: This spicy A-Team episode — just the third of the series! — in which the titular team is hired to break a girl out of a cult compound. It’s Dirk Benedict’s first episode as Templeton Peck, making it also the first episode I would have cared about back then (or, honestly, now).
XVII - Elementary, “The Deductionist,” Following Super Bowl XLVII
Unfortunately for Elementary, which was halfway through its freshman season when it got this plum time slot, this was the Super Bowl where the power went out. Maybe it could have hung on to more of its lead-in audience if not for the electrical mishap and the fact that the episode itself isn’t football-themed, nor feature any high-profile guest stars.
XVI - The Equalizer, “The Equalizer” (Series Premiere), Following Super Bowl LV
The Equalizer was a popular TV action drama in the 1980s, and a popular feature film action franchise in the 2010s. Why not… another show starring Queen Latifah? And Chris Noth, for a while? The show is kind of goofily overwrought, but Latifah is charming, and since she’s not quite a cop, you feel less guilty watching her go after bad guys.
XV - The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Following Super Bowl L
Colbert’s Late Show was still in its infancy when CBS gave it this boost in 2016, and high-profile guests turned out to make it an event, including Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, Will Ferrell, and for some reason Megyn Kelly. At the time, Colbert was lagging pretty far behind The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon; eight years later, he comfortably leads against both Jimmys. (Special episodes of The Late Show and After Midnight will also follow Tracker this year.)
XIV - All in the Family, “Super Bowl Sunday,” Following Super Bowl XII
I think this is the oldest scripted lead-out to incorporate the big game into its storyline. Because it’s All in the Family, however, it’s kind of a bummer: The fun of the football gets dampened when Archie’s Place gets robbed. Great argument for watching/getting drunk at home, I guess!
XIII - 3rd Rock From the Sun, “36! 24! 36! Dick!,” Following Super Bowl XXXII
This one seems like it’s about football, but no: The numbers refer to curvy women’s measurements, as Earth gets invaded by stunning women from, where else, Venus, requiring the central quartet of aliens to save the earth. Supermodels Cindy Crawford, Angie Everhart, Beverly Johnson and Irina Pantaeva appear as invading Venusians (as does, in a dark footnote, Brynn Hartman, just a few months before she killed her husband Phil, and then herself).
XII - This Is Us, “Super Bowl Sunday,” Following Super Bowl LII
When we meet the Pearson family in the pilot of This Is Us, we know that patriarch Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) is no longer with us in the present day; it takes until this special Season Two episode to find out what happened to him, which is death in a fire in the family home, on Super Bowl Sunday. (It seems crazy now to remember how obsessed the country was with this show for a second, right???) For the record: The Pearson Crock-Pot is not to blame.
XI - Malcolm in the Middle, “Company Picnic,” Following Super Bowl XXXVI
The Wilkerson family must attend the titular event, which is highly stressful for Hal (Bryan Cranston), given that making a good first impression has, historically, not been among their strengths. The great Stephen Root plays Hal’s new boss; Bradley Whitford, who at the time was married to Jane Kaczmarek (who plays family matriarch Lois) also guests; and while football is not a plot point, the episode does feature ex-NFL stars Howie Long and Terry Bradsaw, NFL player-sized actor Patrick Warburton and frequent Sports Illustrated model Heidi Klum.
X - Survivor: All-Stars Season Premiere, Following Super Bowl XXXVIII
About to premiere its 46th season (it really is; look it up), Survivor is old hat now. But when we knew its eighth season was going to bring back former players to compete again, it was a huge deal. The players would all know each other’s whole deals! How would they adjust to gain advantages over each other? Would anyone fall in love?! (The answer was yes, and Amber and Boston Rob are still together!) A great start to a great season.
IX - Grey’s Anatomy, “It’s the End of the World,” Following Super Bowl XL
About to premiere its 20th season (it really is, look it up), Grey’s Anatomy is old hat now. But it’s worth remembering that it’s always been bonkers by revisiting the post of its post-Super Bowl episode, in which an EMT brings in a patient who has a bomb in his chest. Future Friday Night Lights star Kyle Chandler plays a hot bomb squad guy, and Christina Ricci — who also happened to guest-star in the Malcolm lead-out above — plays the EMT having the worst day of her life. This was a two-parter that concluded later in the week, but this episode really does stand on its own.
VIII - The Wonder Years, “Pilot,” Following Super Bowl XXII
Now we’re all used to single-camera sitcoms shot on film with quasi-omniscient narration, but at the time The Wonder Years premiered, all of that was avant-garde, which is partly why — despite its initial setting in 1968 — the ultimate coming-of-age show still feels startlingly modern. If you loved the original in your youth, give the sidequel a shot: It’s streaming on Netflix and Disney+.
VII - The Office, “Stress Relief,” Following Super Bowl XLIII
Given The Office’s rough start in the ratings, no one would have probably guessed in the mid-aughts that it would ever be judged worthy of a Super Bowl lead-out. Cut to Season Five, and this fan-favorite two-parter. For Stanley (Leslie David Baker) to suffer a heart attack from the shock of an overly realistic fire drill — thanks to, who else?, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) — but for that to set off a series of events that ends in a roast of Michael (Steve Carell) is a comfort for us all.
VI - Friends, “The One After the Superbowl (sic),” Following Super Bowl XXX
After Extreme ate shit in 1995, NBC was taking no chances the next year, lining up a two-part episode featuring its cutest sitcom cuties midway through their second season. And just to make absolutely sure no one in the audience thought they could get away with missing the watercooler discussion the next day, the episode was also packed with huge guest stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chris Isaak, Brooke Shields (in a quasi-tryout for her own sitcom; Suddenly Susan would premiere on NBC that fall) and Julia Roberts. It worked: it’s the highest-rated Super Bowl lead-out of all time. (Until Tracker premieres on Sunday, perhaps!!! (Not really.))
V - The X-Files, “Leonard Betts,” Following Super Bowl XXXI
In its fourth season, The X-Files had already made the leap from cult to mainstream hit, but it was still a huge deal for it to be the first-ever Super Bowl lead-out on Fox. “Leonard Betts” is mostly a monster-of-the-week episode about the titular character (Paul McCrane), who is able to regrow traumatically amputated body parts, including his head. But it also marks the start of a cancer arc for Scully (Gillian Anderson), leading to some of the most emotional and tender moments for her and her co-lead, Mulder (David Duchovny). That aside, this may be the grossest lead-out on this list.
IV - New Girl, “Prince,” and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Operation: Broken Feather,” Following Super Bowl XLVIII
There’s kind of no topping the stuntcasting juice that New Girl pulled off by casting the titular Prince — yes, that Prince, the purple enthusiast from Minneapolis. All he really had to do was show up, but he shares a comedic scene with Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson and absolutely holds his own, may he rest in peace. That said, Brooklyn Nine-Nine took a shot with Adam Sandler and Joe Theismann: They both play themselves, and Theismann even pokes fun at himself by participating in a gag where Peralta (Andy Samberg) breaks his leg. A delightful programming rock block.
III - Survivor: The Australian Outback, “Stranded,” Following Super Bowl XXXV
The low expectations CBS had for the first season of its Swedish import reality show were evident in its having been scheduled as a summer replacement back when the networks were still mostly filling that time with reruns. But after Survivor was the undisputed biggest hit of summer 2000 — and maybe of that whole year in TV — the second season had to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke. And, uh, it wasn’t: In fact, Season Two brought us contestants who are still among the most memorable ever.
II - Alias, “Phase One,” Following Super Bowl XXXVII
As previously noted, Alias’ “Phase One” was notoriously low-rated among Super Bowl lead-outs — but also the highest-rated of all Alias episodes overall. Those 2003 viewers who checked out — and after a cold open that featured Jennifer Garner in not one but two very sexy lingerie sets! — were wrong. No spoilers if you haven’t watched the show (and, statistically, you haven’t), but as the episode title suggests, it represents a major pivot point for the series to date, and anyone who’d never seen it could have absolutely just started there and barely missed anything! Alias lost the plot toward the end, but this episode is a high point for sure.
I - Homicide: Life on the Street, “Gone for Goode” (Pilot), Following XXVII
In January 1993, Law & Order was well established as a solid case-of-the-week crime drama with compelling performers and twisty plots. “Surely,” executives must have thought, “we can re-create this success with Homicide, based on an acclaimed book by a Baltimore journalist, shooting in the city, and featuring some of the best actors of their generation!” It should have worked, but Homicide might have been too good, and was probably too thinky for a post-Super Bowl audience to hook into. Unfortunately, if you didn’t watch it in its day, it’s inconvenient to find it now — and, in the aftermath of star Andre Braugher’s recent untimely death, that’s a sin. But just because it’s inconvenient doesn’t mean it’s not worth searching for. Start here.