Fox Preps The Following for Post-NFC Championship Game Slot

No Super Sunday debut for Rake as history suggests that’s a dicey strategy

Fox is changing course on its new drama series Rake, bumping it from the plum post-NFC Championship Game spot on Jan. 19 in favor of the returning thriller The Following.

Last season’s highest-rated new drama series, The Following, will reap the benefit of what will almost certainly be a massive NFL audience. January’s 49ers-Falcons broadcast averaged a solid 42 million viewers; given the numbers the game usually delivers, that actually marks the low end of the ratings spectrum. (In 2010, Fox set a personal best for an NFC Championship tilt, delivering 57.9 million viewers with a 31-28 Saints-Vikings nail-biter.)  

Given its pitch-dark subject matter, The Following may turn out to be a better fit for the testosterone-fueled audience that will be tuned in for the season’s penultimate NFL game. (Which isn’t to say that there won’t be a lot of women watching the Super Bowl qualifier: per Nielsen, women last season accounted for 33 percent of the total audience for Fox’s late national games.)

The Following will assume its regular Monday 9 p.m. time slot on Jan. 20, when it will lead out of the new J.J. Abrams drama, Almost Human. Rake will premiere out of American Idol on Thursday, Jan. 23.

While the post-playoff spot has changed hands, Fox’s Super Bowl programming strategy remains unaltered. In a bid to take full advantage of the 50 million-plus women that are expected to be locked into the big game, the Thursday night comedy New Girl will air immediately after the Feb. 2 broadcast. Freshman comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine will follow Zooey Deschanel and the boys.

So why is Fox not ceding its prime real estate to Rake or one of its freshman comedies? Might not the gruff but loveable Christopher Meloni sitcom Surviving Jack prove a cozy fit for football?

As it turns out, the practice of using the Super Bowl as a launching pad for a new series has fallen out of favor, largely because it’s not particularly effective. Since 1979, 13 broadcast series have debuted on America’s greatest secular holiday (put a sock in it, Thanksgiving)—of these, seven were not renewed.

That said, a few shows that did air out of the Super Bowl went on to become long-running hits. ABC bowed The Wonder Years after Washington’s 42-10 shellacking of Denver in Super Bowl XXII (1988) and the comedy remained on the network’s prime time lineup for six seasons. Another powerhouse series was born of a blowout in 1993, when NBC rolled out Homicide: Life on the Street after Dallas’ 52-17 evisceration of Buffalo.

Any correlation between one-sided contests and a series’ life expectancy is coincidental. In 2005, Fox took the wraps off the animated comedy American Dad! after the Patriots squeaked past the Eagles by a 3-point margin. (A new episode of The Simpsons aired immediately following Super Bowl XXXIX, and American Dad! premiered after that.)

Per Nielsen, the American Dad! pilot delivered 15.1 million viewers and a 7.5 in the 18-49 demo. Seth MacFarlane’s show wraps its tenth and final season on Fox this spring, whereupon it will move to its new home on TBS.

Of all the shows that were first introduced on Super Sunday, CBS’ Undercover Boss was the most-watched and highest-rated. Rolling out behind Super Bowl XLIV, Boss scared up a whopping 38.7 million viewers and a 16.2 in the dollar demo. 

The following is a list of recent post-Super Bowl debuts and their subsequent fates:

Brothers and Sisters* (NBC), 1979 — LASTED 12 EPISODES

Airwolf (CBS), 1984 — 4 SEASONS

MacGruder and Loud (ABC), 1985 — LASTED 14 EPISODES

The Last Precinct (NBC), 1986 — LASTED 8 EPISODES