Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Super Bowl show

It's that time of year again -- the time of year when we TV types wonder just what is going to get the Super Bowl postgame slot.

For many years, the slot after the Super Bowl went to new shows. This almost never worked. The A-Team and The Wonder Years both became top ten hits, and Homicide: Life on the Street had a long, low-rated run, but most of the shows that debuted after the Super Bowl were flops, even if 10-year-old me just LOVED Jonathan Winters in Davis Rules.

In 1996, NBC put on a star-studded episode of Friends that skyrocketed in the ratings and took the show itself to a whole new level of popularity (immediately followed by a huge backlash that crippled the show in the critical community for a season or so). And after that, the networks were ready to follow up the game with a big episode of an established hit. Just this year, the 10th anniversary of the big Friends episode, ABC's Grey's Anatomy reached its popularity apex with an episode involving a man with a bomb in his chest and a faux-lesbian shower scene. In fact, if you'll check out the list of shows that aired after the Super Bowl since Friends, most of them did quite well for themselves after their Super Bowl airing.

1996: Friends
1997: The X-Files
1998: Third Rock from the Sun (one of the few not to hit it big)
1999: The Simpsons leading into the Family Guy pilot
2000: The Practice
2001: Survivor: Outback
2002: Malcolm in the Middle
2003: Alias (another not to get a boost)
2004: Survivor: All-Stars
2005: The Simpsons leading into the American Dad pilot
2006: Grey's Anatomy

This year, the big game is on CBS, and the network could use the opportunity to kick off another round of Survivor, turn a cult show into a hit or shore up a flagging hit.

Let's take a look at the many options CBS has available.

Some combination of two of the four Monday comedies: How I Met Your Mother is growing both in buzz and the ratings. The Class could use the help, though it's got some breathing room in its new time slot after Mother. Two-and-a-Half Men is, of course, the one sitcom in the Nielsen top ten. And The New Adventures of Old Christine is probably the best traditionally-shot sitcom out there (HIMYM is better, but it's also, technically, shot single-camera style). What's more, the moment is primed for a sitcom to explode. The new sitcoms on the schedule didn't exactly make that happen (even if 30 Rock and Knights of Prosperity deserve to take off), but CBS could potentially turn one of its smaller sitcoms into a sensation. If I were to pick two, I would go with HIMYM and Christine, which would give CBS a chance to spin one (or both) of the shows to another night if the strategy worked.

NCIS or The Unit: NCIS probably doesn't need the help (it's hard to imagine it growing much beyond the peak it hit last season), but The Unit will be heading into a tough competition with a House that's beefed up by American Idol. What's more, its brand of action drama could play well with the Super Bowl.

Criminal Minds: I've seen this idea bandied about elsewhere, but I'm not so thrilled by it. CM is holding up well against Lost and did well when it didn't have to face Lost, but it's another show I have trouble imagining people getting horribly, horribly excited by -- I think most of its audience has already found it.

Survivor or The Amazing Race: Survivor is played out. The Amazing Race always struggles to get much beyond 10 million viewers. Still, an all-star Amazing Race COULD be a big draw after the game. I can't imagine Survivor being what makes it, though.

Any CSI: Grey's Anatomy took a chunk out of the original flavor, but Miami and New York are still doing well. Really, the franchise would have to be doing a lot more poorly to need the resucitation of a post-Super Bowl slot.

Without a Trace: If Brothers and Sisters had killed it in the ratings, I might have expected this to get the spot, but it doesn't need the help, and people seem to know it's on Sundays now.

Numb3rs: Another intriguing possibility. CBS always flirts with moving this show to a more high-profile timeslot during scheduling season, but first they'll need to get the buzz going. This would be a way to do that.

A new show: If 3 Lbs is still on the shelf, it will probably get this slot -- medical dramas are hot right now. Other than that, Rules of Engagement and Waterfront probably wouldn't mesh well with the game.

If I had to place bets at this point in time, I would wager that CBS will go with one or two of its sitcoms or The Unit. But all of this could be upended by 3 Lbs staying on the shelf or an all-star reality show.

What say you all?


David Sims said...

Ooh, I'd love to see it be HIMYM. I bet it ends up being something boring like Criminal Minds, though.

Jon said...

3 Lbs is premiering in November to replace Smith, so that idea is gone.

My money is on either an hour-long HIMYM (That would work better ratings-wise than two back-to-back sitcoms, as a lot of audience would tune out after the first show), The Unit (Like you said) or Criminal Minds (It's about ready to pass Lost, so they might want to give it the final push). The Super Bowl is usually used to turn mid-size hits into something more. However, the only exception would be Survivor, so they just might go with CSI.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

The Unit is a perfect fit: macho, jocular, smart when it wants to be, resolutely middlebrow, and never leaving you in doubt as to who you should root for. Much like the Super Bowl itself.