The long-term effect of airing a "special episode" of an established show in the plum Super Bowl lead-out position has waned in recent years. So this year, CBS shook things up by handing that prime spot to Stephen Colbert and his 5-month-old Late Show.
That's a far cry from the early days of the Super Bowl, when CBS put Lassie behind the first three Big Games it carried. The '70s were populated with golf tournaments and news programs. But as Super Bowl TV audiences started to boom in the '80s and '90s, networks started using the post-game slot to debut new shows. The results have been mixed:
Brothers and Sisters (1979, NBC)
NBC was the first network to try to tap into the massive audience to boost a new series. Unfortunately, Brothers and Sisters—one of three "frat house" comedies hoping to capitalize on the success of Animal House—only lasted 12 episodes.
Airwolf (1984, CBS)
Riding high on the success of Magnum P.I., CBS picked up Donald P. Bellisario's Airwolf, and debuted it after Super Bowl XVIII. The series lasted three seasons, and Bellisario would go on to have hits with Quantum Leap, JAG and NCIS.
MacGruder and Loud (1985, ABC)
Police procedurals were all the rage in the '80s, so ABC tried to make a go of MacGruder and Loud. John Getz and Kathryn Harrold played married police officers who tried to keep that a secret from their boss, played by Lee de Broux. The series, which lasted only 14 episodes, was one of Aaron Spelling's few failures.
The Wonder Years (1988, ABC)
This Emmy-winning series is among the most successful to launch out of the Super Bowl. The first episode introduced Fred Savage's Kevin Arnold, along with Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano) and Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), as they began Junior High in the late 1960s. The episode featured a very dark cliffhanger, and viewers had to wait two months to see the resolution.
Davis Rules (1991, ABC)
In another Super Bowl bust, Randy Quaid starred as Dwight Davis, a widowed elementary school principal who raising three sons with the help of his wacky father, Gunny Davis (played by Jonathan Winters, who won an Emmy for the role). After ABC canceled the show, CBS picked it up for an additional season.
Homicide: Life on the Street (1993, NBC)
This crime drama, which launched the career of Andre Braugher and ran for seven seasons and a movie on NBC, is arguably the most critically acclaimed drama to get the post-Super Bowl push. Homicide marked the beginning of Richard Belzer's John Munch, who would go on to appear in 10 different shows on five different networks.
Extreme (1995, ABC)
Extreme, which starred James Brolin as the leader of a search-and-rescue team, lasted just seven episodes before it got the hook by ABC. But since it gave the series the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot, ABC had ordered 13 episodes. Extreme's failure would lead networks to largely move away from their strategy of airing new shows following the Big Game.
Family Guy (1999, Fox)
If not for DVD sales and reruns on Adult Swim, this long-running series would have been another Super Bowl premiere failure. The boundary-pushing comedy from Seth MacFarlane was originally canceled after three seasons but is currently in the middle of its 14th, with no end in sight.
Jimmy Kimmel Live (2003, ABC)
OK, we're cheating a little bit with this one, since it didn't air immediately following the Super Bowl, but it's the only late-night talk show to debut on Super Bowl Sunday. (Alias got the plum spot that year.) When Kimmel launched, it was notable for breaking the mold of traditional talk shows, even adding a fully stocked bar. But after an audience member vomited on her chair, the bar was quickly shut down after the first broadcast.
Undercover Boss (2010, CBS)
This reality series, the most recent to have its debut out of the Super Bowl, featured Larry O'Donnell, president and CEO of Waste Management, Inc., going undercover and doing things like cleaning Porta Potties with his workforce. Currently in its seventh season, the show was the top new show of 2009-2010.