Sunday, February 04, 2007

How important is the post-Super Bowl slot? 

I've been reading about -- and thinking about -- the history of the Post-Super-Bowl (hereafter "PSB") TV timeslot.

I mentioned in passing last year what Grey's Anatomy did on Super Bowl Sunday. It was one of the shrewdest programming and writing decisions of all time, on the part of both ABC and the producers. And the aftereffects proved it to be even more brilliant.

The show roped in male viewers with a first scene that was a nonsequitur dream sequence with the three female leads showering together. Then the episode's plot revolved around a bomb stuck inside a person. More ER's over-the-top style than Grey's, but it got even more men hooked and its audience rose 15%, to the Top 3 in the Nielsens.

The strategery surrounding the PSB slot throughout history is fascinating.

For a while networks used the PSB slot to launch new shows. It didn't work often.

In 1988, ABC successfully premiered The Wonder Years. The other two successes were: The A-Team and Homicide: Life on the Street.

But, many others bombed, and in 1996, some visionary at NBC decided to go in a different direction: trying to score huge ratings while giving an existing show a boost. It worked better than any year in history. The '96 airing of Friends still stands as the most-watched PSB program of all-time -- and also the most watched episode in the series' history, including the finale.

Friends got an immediate bump: the next episode broke the series viewership record, and several other of the most highly rated episodes were in the weeks and months following that. But it's hard to say what the effect really was, because the PSB episode coincided with arguably the most exciting time in the show's history anyway.

In 1999, FOX tried to go back to the "new show" thang with Family Guy. Its story is now well-known. Never really found a huge audience, cancelled in 2001, discovered on cable, and brought back to life in 2004 to much acclaim and a powerful 18-49 rating.

Sometimes it's not a scripted program at all. Remember that the 1992 PSB program was the 60 Minutes with Bill and Hillary?

This year the PSB show is Criminal Minds. I watched the series premiere in the Fall of '05 and it was fine... but I don't much care for such episodic dramas, like CSI, etc. They generally put me to sleep.

That said, I think it's a great decision by CBS -- in the mold of Grey's: a show that has a lot of viewers but wants to take the next big step. It doesn't have a high profile, and I'm not sure that will change. Much like NCIS, Without a Trace, etc., it gets solid ratings but relies on older viewers and isn't ever going to be sexy or buzzworthy. But it could definitely get a bump. And I'm assuming they've tapped a particularly cool or timely episode to air tonight.

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