TV Long View: The Problem With Post-Super Bowl Shows

Most shows that have aired after the big game in the past decade-plus haven't been able to sustain ratings momentum.
Monty Brinton/CBS
From left: RuPaul, Faith Hill, James Corden and Drew Barrymore of 'The World's Best'

CBS will almost certainly claim the highest-rated series premiere of 2018-19 on Sunday night, when talent competition The World's Best debuts following Super Bowl LIII.

Recent history says those big ratings will fade quickly, if not immediately — although the last couple of exceptions to that trend have some things in common with The World's Best.

The Super Bowl is still a huge showcase for whatever program follows it; that show consistently lands among the top-rated and most-watched entertainment programs of the year. But in the past decade-plus, only a handful of those shows have seen any lasting impact to their ratings.

In 2018, for example, NBC's This Is Us took a same-day 2.7 rating among adults 18-49 into its Super Bowl episode. The post-game airing more than tripled that average with a 9.3. Two days later, the show came right back down to its pre-Super Bowl average, scoring a 2.7 in the 18-49 demo.

Since 2006, only three post-Super Bowl shows have sustained any serious ratings momentum following the showcase spot:

– In 2006, ABC's Grey's Anatomy scored a huge 16.5 in adults 18-49 for the first half of a two-part story (the infamous "bomb in a body cavity"). It then exceeded its pre-Super Bowl average in the demo in 35 of the next 37 episodes — a season and a half's worth of shows. It is by far the longest sustained run of post-Super Bowl momentum in recent history.

– In 2010, the series premiere of CBS' Undercover Boss had the biggest total audience (38.65 million) for a post-Super Bowl show since 2001, along with a 16.2 in the 18-49 demo. It finished the 2009-10 season as a top-10 show in both the demo and in total viewers; even subtracting the Super Bowl episode, it would have ranked ninth in adults 18-49 and 11th in viewers. Eight of the show's 10 most-watched episodes since the series debut aired in season one.

– In 2012, the second-season premiere of NBC's The Voice drew a 16.3 in adults 18-49 and 37.6 million viewers, more than triple the season one averages of 4.5 and 11.5 million. It stayed above those marks for eight weeks.

In every other year since 2006, no post-Super Bowl show has posted ratings above its prior season average for more than a couple of weeks. In the past six years, the ratings halo has disappeared altogether.

That doesn't bode especially well for The World's Best, which will move to Wednesday nights following Sunday's debut. In a TV landscape of virtually limitless options for viewing, a Grey's Anatomy- or Undercover Boss-like run may be a thing of the past.

The two post-Super Bowl programs this decade that have bucked the trend were season or series premieres of unscripted shows, as The World's Best will be on Sunday. The show has some star power — it is hosted by James Corden and counts Drew Barrymore, RuPaul and Faith Hill as judges — and puts a bit of a twist on the talent-show format with a "wall" of experts from around the world weighing in on the acts.

Whether that's enough to convince a sizable number of viewers who stick around after the Super Bowl to keep watching in the following weeks remains to be seen. There's precedent for it happening, but the odds of sustained, above-average ratings aren't great.