The Super Bowl is usually the highest-rated single television broadcast of the year, so the post time slot is probably the most coveted in TV because of the massive lead-in audience (upwards of 100 million viewers). But if the program that airs right afterward typically draws big ratings, why don’t networks take advantage of this and premiere the pilot of a new series? Wouldn’t this be the best way to promote a show you think will be a huge hit? It would seem like a no-brainer, but in fact, that strategy isn’t always bulletproof. More often than not, a pilot for a new series won’t bring in the same high ratings as a special episode of an established series. Once the Big Game is over, most viewers will go ahead and switch the channel. Unless you are a fan of the winning team and care to sit through the post-game wrap-up, you’re most likely moving on. Here’s a look back at three notable post-Super Bowl premieres that not only scored high ratings but went on to be fan favourites.
The A-Team which was originally pitched as a combination of The Dirty Dozen, Mission Impossible, The Magnificent Seven and Hill Street Blues, followed a four-man band of ex-U.S. Army Special Forces who become mercenaries for hire while on the run for war crimes they didn’t commit. The show was an instant hit; the two-part series pilot “Mexican Slayride,” which aired after Super Bowl XVII on January 30, 1983, reached 26.4% of the television audience, placing fourth in the top 10 Nielsen-rated shows. The original show is very much of its time; but the show remains prominent in pop culture for its cartoonish, over-the-top violence, formulaic episodes, its distinctive theme song, and of course its team. There is their leader, Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith (George Peppard), a cunning master of disguise whose plans tend to be unorthodox and the smooth-talking con man and vehicles expert Lieutenant Templeton Peck (Dirk Benedict) — usually called Face or Faceman. But the two most memorable characters are Captain H.M. “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock (Dwight Schultz) — the resident pilot, who may or may not have been insane, and of course, Sergeant Bosco Baracus played by Mr. T.. Nicknamed “B.A.” (Bad Attitude), T’s strongman and mechanic not only provided the muscle, but most of the show’s humour. The series also featured tons of guest stars appearing as themselves including Boy George, Hulk Hogan, Rick James, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Pat Sajak and Vanna White, to name a few. The series has its share of famous catchphrases, such as “I pity the fool”, and “I ain’t gettin’ on no plane!” – and the black and metallic grey GMC Vandura van used by the A-Team, with its characteristic red stripe, black and red turbine mag wheels, and rooftop spoiler, has become an enduring pop culture icon. In 2003, in research conducted by web-portal Yahoo! amongst 1,000 television viewers, The A-Team was voted as the one “oldie” television show viewers would most like to see revived.
2. The Wonder Years
Created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black, The Wonder Years tells the story of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) facing the trials and tribulations of youth while growing up during the 1960s. The pilot aired on January 31, 1988, following ABC’s coverage of Super Bowl XXII, and went on to achieve a spot in the Nielsen Top Thirty for four of its six seasons. Ironically, as a 1988 show about the late ’60s, The Wonder Years was actually ahead of its time, and was awarded a Peabody Award in 1989 for pushing the boundaries of the sitcom format and using new modes of storytelling. Told through narration from an adult Kevin (Daniel Stern), He remembers his years in suburbia as a jumble of major world events and minor childhood concerns that somehow seemed equally important. For example: In the pilot, the mood shifts effectively from the trivial to the tragic, from Kevin’s minor school problem to the news that his neighbor, has been killed in Vietnam. As the narrator ponders the innocence and complexity of the suburbs, he underscores the point that ”there are people and stories in those houses.” He merely wants to share ”moments that made us cry with laughter, moments of sorrow and wonder.” What makes The Wonder Years so appealing, and timeless, is that most Americans can identify with what was happening in Kevin’s life. Not only could those who lived through the 60’s and 70’s relate to the historical events, but almost anyone who was a teenager can relate to Kevin’s personal adventures. TV Guide named the show one of the 20 best of the 1980s. After only six episodes aired, The Wonder Years won an Emmy for best comedy series in 1988. In addition, at age 13, Fred Savage became the youngest actor ever nominated as Outstanding Lead Actor for a Comedy Series. The series won 22 awards and was nominated for 54 more.
1. Homicide Life on the Streets
It’s hard to believe that despite premiering in the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot, one of the most innovative and influential dramas of all time – opened to lackluster ratings, and cancellation was an immediate threat. One of the best cop shows ever made, Homicide Life on the Streets chronicled the work of a fictional version of the Baltimore Police Department’s Homicide Unit. It ran for seven seasons (122 episodes) on NBC from 1993 to 1999, and was succeeded by a TV movie, which also acted as the de facto series finale. The series was originally based on David Simon’s book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and was brought to the screen by Baltimore’s very own, Barry Levinson (Diner, Tootsie, Rain Man), Paul Attanasio (the writer of Donnie Brasco), and Tom Fontana (St Elsewhere and later creator of Oz). Many of the characters and stories used throughout the show were based on events depicted in the book, which was also part of the basis for Simon’s own series, The Wire on HBO. Barry Levinson established the show’s groundbreaking visual style (aped by NYPD Blue) desaturating the colour and shooting entirely on hand-held cameras. This is the type of cop show that took risks with every turn, a show that weaves multiple intricate story-lines into single episodes, and a show that set out to debunk the myths TV had created about police work. It was a series that actually left the killing of schoolgirl Adena Watson unsolved. That never happens, and not even David Lynch could keep Laura Palmer’s death an ongoing mystery. The show won Television Critics Association Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Drama in 1996, 1997, and 1998. It also became the first drama ever to win three Peabody Awards for best drama in 1993, 1995, and 1997. Considered by critics to be one of television’s most authentic police dramas, as well as an excellent dramatic series propelled by a talented ensemble cast, Homicide is not only the greatest series to premiere after the Big Game, but one of the greatest of all time.