Ok, it's more than five months until Super Bowl XLIV, and still a ways before CBS will announce its plans, but commenter Forg got this ball rolling early in another post not really dedicated to the topic. But though the season has not yet begun, it’s never too early to talk about this topic.
It’s one of my favorite topics because it’s one where even reasonable people can disagree and second-guess before and after, no matter how it goes down.
This year might be more interesting because at least on the surface it seems like CBS has so many options. Generally, the simplest way to look at this is that CBS will want to make as much money as possible. However, if it thinks it can make (numbers completely made up) $12 million dollars with an hour of The Big Bang Theory & Two and a Half Men, and only $11.2 million with The Mentalist, they might want to go with The Mentalist if they think the big promotion will bring a longer-term benefit. But you can also bet they would not go with any shows that would make millions less.
One thing we can be sure of is that CBS will want to program a full hour. Whether that’s with two episodes of the same comedies, two episodes of different comedies, a one hour drama, or even Survivor (the second season of Survivor premiered after Super Bowl XXXV, so I threw it onto the poll below more as a nostalgic choice!) they will get an hour out of it.
From a pure dollars standpoint, I would probably go with a Two and a Half Men/The Big Bang Theory combo. Besides the money, the other benefit is that both of those shows air the next night. Last year, when NBC aired a one hour episode of The Office after the Super Bowl might lead one to believe that no matter how big the promotion on Sunday night, the effects are long-forgotten by Thursday night. I’m not so sure, though, in CBS’ case whether that’s really true though. It seems a show like The Mentalist which did great in its first year could still benefit from additional exposure. Two and a Half Men has so much exposure between original and syndicated airings, there doesn't seem to be any long-term benefit of promoting it.
CBS really does have a lot of choices though and that's good if you're CBS.
One thing to note is that it’s a bit different for FOX and CBS when they have the Super Bowls than when NBC has it. Due to NBC’s Sunday Night Football arrangement it is in the Super Bowl rotation. However, when it comes to playoff games, all NBC gets is a wild card round. But FOX and CBS get the NFC and AFC conference championships. While not as big as the Super Bowls in terms of viewing they are bigger than just about everything besides the Super Bowl, including American Idol.
When FOX last had the Super Bowl, it promoted Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles after the conference championship, and House after the Super Bowl. But that was a wacky year due to the writer’s strike. This time around, CBS is going to have a lot of options. And if I’m working at CBS, I think it’s a very good position to be in. Except in the eyes of the fans, CBS probably can’t go wrong no matter what it does.
8/30 Update: Here's the ratings history of post-Super Bowl shows through 2008. In 2009, The Office was seen by about 23 million viewers.