Once upon a time, the Super Bowl served as a launching pad for new television shows. In the ’80s especially, the post-game time slot was considered a coveted spot for that year’s appointed Super Bowl network to launch its buzziest pilots.
Unfortunately, many of them didn’t turn out to be as buzzy as initially anticipated.
Remember “MacGruder and Loud,” which was canceled weeks after its post-1985 Super Bowl premiere? Kind of figured you didn’t.
But who could forget NBC’s “The Last Precinct” starring Adam West? Oh, that’s right. Pretty much everyone, with the possible exception of Adam West.
Of course, some after-the-Super-Bowl episodes have not been colossal failures. A couple of those ’80s premieres went on to become enduringly popular shows. And in the years that followed — as the networks abandoned the series-launch model in favor of airing splashy installments of existing sitcoms and dramas — we actually got some pretty compelling television to end our Super Bowl Sundays.
As evidence of that fact, here’s my list of the five most culturally significant post-Super Bowl TV episodes. (And yes, it really is pure coincidence that so many of them sync up with victories by the Washington Redskins.)
Will this year’s post-Super Bowl edition of “The Voice” be worthy of this list come next year? And what have I wrongly neglected to include here? Chime in by posting a comment.
5. “The X-Files”: “Leonard Betts” (Jan. 26, 1997, following the Green Bay Packers’ victory over the New England Patriots)
Significant within the “X-Files” narrative because the episode revealed that Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson) was suffering from cancer, this episode is worth remembering because it demonstrates how a series should handle its post-Super Bowl berth: by not compromising tone because of its high-profile time slot. With that in mind, “The X Files” was able to be its usual creepy self and introduce America to one of its more, uh, revered monsters: Leonard Betts, a guy who can literally lose his head and keep on ticking, thanks to his ability to regenerate body parts.
4. “The A-Team”: “Children of Jamestown” (Jan. 30, 1983, after the Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins)
Technically, this was the second episode of the NBC series that made everyone fall in love with Mr. T and Murdock. But following on the heels of the pilot, which aired the previous Sunday, this broadcast cemented the popularity of the show, which would air for five seasons and, decades later, inspire a so-so summer movie starring Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper. It also started the aforementioned, not-always successful trend of launching new shows after the Super Bowl.
3. “Friends”: “The One After the Super Bowl” (Jan. 26, 1996, following the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers)
Everything I said above about “The X-Files” approach? That’s the opposite of what the crew at Central Perk did when they landed the Football Sunday slot. The episode was super-sized to make it an hour long and jammed with guest appearances from Chris Isaak, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Brooke Shields and Julia Roberts. (Remember when she dated Matthew Perry? Ah, the ’90s.)
It wasn’t a particularly great episode, but it was culturally significant because it pumped new life into Shields’s career (she landed her own show, “Suddenly Susan,” as a direct result of her wacked-out role as Joey’s stalker) and set a precedent that, for better or worse, other post-Super Bowl episodes (“Malcolm in the Middle” and “The Office,” among others) would attempt to emulate.
2. “The Wonder Years”: “Pilot” (Jan. 31, 1988, the day the Washington Redskins beat the Denver Broncos)
As I’ve previously stated in this blog, this was the best television episode to ever air after the Super Bowl. As pilots go, yes, “The Wonder Years” ladled on the schmaltz pretty thickly. But from my perspective, it was a poignant half-hour of TV that did something very few pilots do: It provided an accurate template for what this series — which gave us six seasons of heart-tugging Winnie Cooper/Kevin Arnold drama — would become.
1. “60 Minutes”: The Bill Clinton/Gennifer Flowers interview (Jan. 26, 1992, after the Redskins win over the Buffalo Bills)
The “episode” technically lasted only 13 minutes and consisted solely of an interview with Bill and Hillary Clinton, one that allowed the then-presidential candidate to address swirling rumors of an affair between himself and Flowers. It became a major news story that overshadowed the game. And it captured a conversation that featured a Tammy Wynette reference from the future first lady that has never been forgotten.
What should have been on this list that wasn’t? The pilot for “Homicide: Life on the Street”? The “Grey’s Anatomy” episode with the bomb and Kyle Chandler? Weigh in by posting a comment.