CBS is banking on a post-Bowl slot to launch its new reality series Undercover Boss, the first new show to land the plum gig since since drama Extreme in 1995. Never heard of it? Join the club.
In the last few years, networks have used the slot to boost existing shows’ profiles: The Office, House, Criminal Minds, Grey’s Anatomy. It’s not a bad strategy — proven shows pull in big ratings. An hour-long Friends that aired after Super Bowl XXX was seen by more than 52 million people; around 45 million watched the season premiere of Survivor: The Australian Outback in 2001;and 38 million watched what was probably the best Grey’s Anatomy episode ever, which aired in 2006.
Once upon a time, though, the lead-out from the Super Bowl was total pilot territory: Airwolf, MacGruder and Loud, The Last Precinct, Hard Copy (not the tabloid news one, a scripted drama), Grand Slam, and Davis Rules all debuted in the slot but then met quick deaths. (Airwolf hung on for a little while but…yeesh.) It wasn’t all bad, though: The A-Team premiered after Super Bowl XVII and became a huge hit, as did The Wonder Years, whose debut followed XXII. Most surprisingly? Homicide: Life on the Street was a post-Super Bowl pilot, too. It’s tough to imagine that happening today, but 1993 was a strange time, I guess. Fox launched both Family Guy and American Dad in post-Super Bowl slots, too, but not directly after the game; a new Simpsons aired before the Seth MacFarlane shows.
I’m partial to existing shows getting the lead-out spot: It’s a chance for a series to do something wildly special or different or huge. What about you, PopWatchers? Do you want an existing favorite to get the megaspotlight, or do you crave the unknown?