Sometimes overlooked after the commercials and the game itself, the Super Bowl lead-out program has also become a hugely relevant part of the Super Bowl experience (sometimes, at least). It’s typically an opportunity for a network to either launch a new show, or bolster a young show it has a lot of faith in. Success on both scores has been mixed (anyone remember The Good Life, the Drew Carey sitcom that aired after the Super Bowl in 1994? No? Me neither.)
With a blow-out game like last night’s, it’s a mixed blessing: On the one hand, 30 seconds into the third quarter, the lead-out program was the only thing we had left to look forward to. On the other hand, a lot of people probably didn’t stick around to watch New Girl (and when ratings come in, I suspect that the New Girl/Brooklyn Nine-Nine combo will come in on the very low side of ratings relative to other lead-out programs).
Nevertheless, let’s take a look back at some of the more memorable and successful lead-out programs.
10. New Girl, “Prince” — I’m including last night’s episode of New Girl because it’s memorable by virtue of airing less than 24 hours ago. It wasn’t one of the series’ best episodes, and kind of forsook some of what makes the series usually so charming by shoe-horning in a very cool but unnecessary guest star. It had a couple of nice moments, and Nick’s freak-out was basically better than everything in the actual Super Bowl, but I doubt the episode is going to elevate New Girl’s ratings. Likewise, as immensely great as Brookly Nine-Nine typically is, besides a couple of great gags (Terry playing football, and Peralta falling from the ladder trying to slam dunk), it wasn’t a stellar episode, either. The execution on the Joe Theismann gag faltered a bit.
9. The A-Team “Children of Jamestown” (1983) — “Children of Jamestown” was the first regular episode of The A-Team (following a two-part pilot episode the week before) and The Super Bowl launch catapulted it into a pop-culture phenomenon, where it would stay for four years, until the formula grew incredibly state. (The episode also introduced Dirk Benedict as Face; he was played by Tim Dunigan in the pilot).
8. Homicide: Life on the Street, “Gone for Goode” (1993) — Maybe not an exceptionally memorable pilot episode itself, but Homicide: Life on the Street both introduced the mainstream to the brilliant talents of Andre Braugher and, even more importantly, was a hugely influential cop show based on David Simon’s novel. Simon, of course, later wrote a book that was adapted into a mini-series called The Corner, which would become the basis for The Wire. Had it not been for the Super Bowl lead-out, Homicide might never have been the minor hit that it was, and Simon may never have been able to create The Wire. So, THANKS SUPER BOWL.
7. Survivor: The Australian Outback , “Stranded” (2001) — It was not, ultimately, a very good season of Survivor, but it was nevertheless memorable because it was the season premiere of the second season of a series that had recently completely transformed reality television as a summer TV series. The Real World may have been the first popular reality show, but Survivor was the first huge primetime reality competition, and it would launch a thousand copycats. This episode — the second highest rated lead-out program in Super Bowl history — was instrumental in launching Survivor’s long-term success.
6. Grey’s Anatomy, “It’s the End of the World (2006) — PINK MIST EPISODE PINK MIST EPISODE PINK MIST EPISODE. Kyle Chandler was in this episode and a bomb squad guy, and he was fantastic. The episode itself was had a hell of a holy sh*t moment that those who watched will not soon forget. No one wants to think of Coach Taylor as pink mist.
5. The Office, “Stress Relief (2009) — This episode, though it came in the fifth season — when The Office had begun its descent — nevertheless contained to brilliant things. First, the best cold open in the history of The Office when Dwight staged a too-real fire drill, and second, it was the “Boom! You’re roasted” episode, a quote that’s still being quoted 5 years later.
4. Alias, “Phase One” (2003) — Actually, one of the lowest rated lead-out episodes in Super Bowl history, it’s nevertheless difficult to forget this episode in the midst of Alias‘ second season. Who could forget Francine being killed by her own doppelganger? Or Sydney coming out to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” rocking red, then black lingerie?
3. Friends, “The One After the Super Bowl” (1996) — This episode climbs this high because it had no choice but to be memorable — it’s the most watched lead-out program in Super Bowl history (52 million). In fact, it was the most watched episode in Friends history. What happened in it? On a trip to California, Ross went to see his monkey, Marcel, only to find out that he’d passed away. Julia Roberts was also in it, as was Jean Claude Van Damme, who attempted to convince Monica and Rachel to have a threesome with Drew Barrymore.
2. The Wonder Years, “Pilot” (1988) — One of my all-time favorite shows, The Wonder Years pilot is one of those absolutely perfect episodes of television, setting up the series-long relationship between Winnie Cooper and Kevin Arnold, ending with one of the most powerfully emotional moments — Winnie revealing to Kevin that her brother had been killed in Vietnam, leading to their first kiss — in sitcom history.
1. The X-Files, “Leonard Betts” (1997) — Right smack dab in the middle of The X-Files best run of episodes (midway through the fourth season), “Leonard Betts” (written, in part, by Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan) was not only a hugely memorable monster-of-the-week episode, it also introduced Scully’s cancer, which would play a major role in the series through the next two seasons. It’s probably the creepiest episode of television to ever air after the Super Bowl, as well. (Interestingly, in order to feature a monster-of-the-week episode after the Super Bowl, “Leonard Betts” was aired out of order, though — starting a trend in syndication — The X-Files was aired sequentially in reruns.