In thinking about the post-Super Bowl episode of “This Is Us,” the comparison that jumped to mind first was “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Like “Grey’s” was when it aired after the Super Bowl in 2006, “This Is Us” is a hit show in its second season. The “Grey’s” episode “It’s the End of the World” was the beginning of a two-part story that ended on a cliffhanger and funneled a huge audience to the next week’s airing.
Part 2 of the story, “As We Know It,” drew an 11.3 rating among adults 18-49, up 34 percent from the show’s pre-Super Bowl average of 8.45. It stayed at or above 8.4 for an astounding 29 of its next 30 episodes — almost to the end of Season 3 — with the lone exception being a Thanksgiving-night 2006 airing when TV usage was lower than average.
“This Is Us” will almost certainly score series-high ratings when it airs Sunday night after Super Bowl LII. In the past 10 years, the post-Super Bowl show has averaged a 10.9 rating in adults 18-49. The low is 6.1 for “24: Legacy” last year — and even that would be 56 percent better than “This Is Us'” previous series high.
The sustained run “Grey’s” had after its Super Bowl airing is an outlier, to be sure. Only two shows since then — “Undercover Boss” in 2010 and “The Voice” in 2012 — have received lasting positive ratings halos following the game. In each of the past five years, the post-Super Bowl show has immediately returned to its normal ratings when regular airings resumed.
Recent history, then, is working against “This Is Us,” but so are a couple other factors that other shows haven’t faced.
The first is that after Sunday’s episode, “This Is Us” will air a new episode Tuesday, then take the next two weeks off for the Winter Olympics. NBC is going to have 18 nights of Olympics coverage that will be way above its usual ratings, so the network will come out ahead. But the time away for “This Is Us” will probably diminish the chances for to keep any elevated ratings going.
And even if “This Is Us” gets a post-Super Bowl halo on Feb. 6, and if it manages to sustain through the Olympics hiatus and its return on Feb. 27, there’s just not much show left this season. “This Is Us” makes only 18 episodes a year, and Sunday’s will be No. 14. That leaves only four episodes until its finale, then a good six months before viewers see it again.
Yes, “Grey’s Anatomy” sustained its elevated numbers through an offseason, but viewers had 11 episodes after its Super Bowl night airing to make the show a habit.
Finally, “This Is Us” is running the inverse of the “Grey’s” playbook a little on Sunday. The episode after the game will be the second half of a story that began in the Jan. 23 episode — and may answer a question that’s been hanging over the series from the beginning. The fact that casual viewers may have to catch up via the “previously on” scenes could be a bit of a turnoff.
If, on the other hand, NBC had scheduled episode 13 — the one that aired Jan. 23 — for the post-game showcase, it would have ended on a cliffhanger and possibly driven some curious new viewers to the Tuesday airing. We’ll never be able to tell if that would have made a difference, obviously, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.
“This Is Us” is scheduled for 10:15 p.m. ET/7:15 PT following the Super Bowl on Sunday. NBC has padded the episode’s running time in listings so DVRs are more likely to record the whole thing should it start later than that.