FOX is using the post-Super Bowl slot Sunday night to launch its new series “24: Legacy.” On the surface, that seems like a perfectly sound idea — the game will, after all, deliver a massive audience into the show’s premiere.
But the history of series debuts after the Super Bowl is surprisingly spotty. There’s a reason networks have rarely used the game to launch new series in the past 20 years — and that reason is the decade or so before that.
“24: Legacy” will be the first show to have its series premiere after the Super Bowl since “Undercover Boss” on CBS in 2010. FOX is responsible for the previous two series debuts after the game: “American Dad” in 2005 and “Family Guy” in 1999 — although both didn’t begin their regular runs as series until a few months after their Super Bowl episodes.
All three shows are still on the air, and “Undercover Boss” is one of the few post-Super Bowl shows in recent years to enjoy any lasting ratings effect from the post-game exposure.
FOX is certainly hoping for that kind of beginning for “24: Legacy,” which also has the advantage of name recognition. “Legacy” has new characters, but the show’s format and story are very much in keeping with the original “24.”
If “24: Legacy” can carry some ratings momentum beyond Sunday, and if it does well enough to return for a second season, it will actually be an outlier among post-Super Bowl series premieres. Starting in 1984, networks aired a series premiere in 10 of the next 11 years. Only four of those shows lasted more than a single season (and one was the first half of a two-part movie).
At least the notion of launching a new show suggests some thought about what a big audience the Super Bowl brings to its lead-out — something that was absent in the game’s early years. Three of the first five Super Bowls were followed by episodes of “Lassie,” which was already in 13th year when Super Bowl I was played. Installments of “60 Minutes” followed three of the first 16 Super Bowls — which didn’t permanently become a primetime game until 1985 — and twice, coverage of a golf tournament came after.
A short-lived college comedy called “Brothers and Sisters” was the first series premiere to air after the game, kicking off a pretty ignominious run. Take at look at this murderers’ row of shows, and notice how much longer-running shows like the ones above, “The Wonder Years” and “Homicide” stand out:
|Year||Show||Network||Post-Super Bowl viewers (millions)||Fate|
|1979||Brothers and Sisters||NBC||31.72||Canceled after 12 episodes|
|1984||Airwolf||CBS||27.87||4 seasons (3 on CBS, 1 on USA), 80 episodes|
|1985||MacGruder and Loud||ABC||n/a||Canceled after 14 episodes|
|1986||The Last Precinct||NBC||39.73||Returned in April 1986, canceled after 8 episodes|
|1987||Hard Copy*||CBS||n/a||Canceled after 5 episodes|
|1988||The Wonder Years||ABC||28.98||6 seasons, 115 episodes|
|1989||Brotherhood of the Rose part 1||NBC||n/a||2-part movie was highest-rated TV movie of 1988-89|
|1990||Grand Slam||CBS||30.77||Canceled after 6 episodes|
|1991||Davis Rules||ABC||26.7||2 seasons (1 on ABC, 1 on CBS), 29 episodes|
|1993||Homicide: Life on the Street||NBC||28.12||7 seasons, 122 episodes|
|1994||The Good Life||NBC||23.01||Canceled after 13 episodes|
|1995||Extreme||ABC||22.59||Canceled after 7 episodes|
|1999||Family Guy||FOX||22.01||Currently in Season 14|
|2005||American Dad**||FOX||15.1||Currently in Season 13|
|2010||Undercover Boss||CBS||38.65||Currently in Season 8|
*This “Hard Copy” was a drama about newspaper reporters. The syndicated tabloid show of the same name debuted in 1989.
**”American Dad” aired following a new “Simpsons” episode.
The string of series premieres after the Super Bowl was broken with “Friends” in 1996. It remains the most-watched post-game episode of all with nearly 53 million viewers, and ever since networks have gone largely with established shows in the post-game slot.
We’ll know Monday how the “24: Legacy” premiere fares. Whether it’s more “Wonder Years” or “Grand Slam” will take a little longer to figure out.