Each year the network airing the game gets the same question: Which show will air after the Super Bowl?
And while the actual answer varies each year, the sentiment behind it does not. Ninety percent of the time, the networks want to give extra exposure to a show that’s already proven a hit but still has the chance of engaging a larger audience.
This year’s post-Super Bowl show, The Masked Singer, is a perfect example of that thinking. The show bowed last year and became an instant hit. Ratings for season two during the fall held up well, and Singer entered popular culture jargon. You know you’ve made it when Saturday Night Life spoofs you.
Other networks have been similarly cagey with their choice of post-Super Bowl programming in recent years. The slot guarantees a big audience, which isn’t easy to find in these days of fractured TV viewing, with so many choices competing for viewers’ attention.
A couple years ago, for instance, NBC programmed its then-red-hot drama This Is Us for after the Super Bowl. The show aired a Super Bowl-themed episode, about the death of family patriarch Jack. It drew 26.97 million total viewers, becoming the most-watched entertainment program on TV since the post-Super Bowl episode of House in 2008.
That is an example of the post-Super Bowl show selection done right. But sometimes networks take chances, attempting a big swing by putting a new program in that slot. These unproven shows have a great chance to gain exposure to a wide audience. Yet that doesn’t guarantee long-term success.
Last year, CBS debuted the competition reality program The World’s Best after the game. It drew an OK postgame audience of 22.2 million — not This Is Us numbers, but more than the 17.6 million who watched Fox’s 24: Legacy in 2017. But World’s Best certainly did not live up to its name. By the end of its first-season run, it had dipped below 3 million viewers, and last summer CBS said it hadn’t decided whether to bring the show back for season two.
Of course, putting an already-popular show at the height of its popularity on after the Super Bowl is the best strategy of all. ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and NBC’s The Voice”both drew more than 37 million in their post-Super Bowl slots. Season two of CBS’s Survivor bowed to more than 45 million in 2001. And NBC’s Friends holds the all-time record for a show after the Super Bowl, with almost 53 million tuning in.
On the other end of the spectrum, there have been six shows dating back to 1974 that failed to draw at least 20 million after the Super Bowl. Based on the popularity of Masked Singer, it probably won’t be one of them.