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The Most and Least Watched Post-Super Bowl TV Shows Since 1988: How Will ‘The Equalizer’ Add Up?
Queen Latifah’s new CBS series will be no “Friends” (1996) when it debuts Sunday night — and hopefully no “Alias” (2003)
We’ve got a Super Bowl LV prediction you can take straight to the sports books: Sunday’s big game on CBS will be the biggest TV event of 2021.
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OK, so that’s not exactly going out on a limb and you’re not going to get very good odds. Season in and season out, the Super Bowl is the most-watched broadcast across all of television for the calendar year. That means it’s also the best lead-in of the year for whatever airs right after the game — great news for Queen Latifah and “The Equalizer,” which debuts immediately after the Kansas City Chiefs vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Recent history pretty much guarantees the show — a reboot of a 1980s series that starred Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence agent turned vigilante justice-seeker — will bow to north of 20 million viewers. Yes, even with traditional TV ratings declining with each new season (especially this one). The series’ prospects are boosted by the fact that Sony produced two hit movies starring Denzel Washington based on the ’80s show, in 2014 and 2018.
But the high-profile premiere placement certainly gives the show an extra boost. Following last year’s Super Bowl, Fox’s Season 3 premiere of “The Masked Singer” drew an 8.1 rating in the key demo and 23.7 million total viewers, according to Nielsen’s Live + Same Day data. That viewer tally is good for 22nd place out of the past 33 years of post-Super Bowl airings.
On Jan. 28, 1996, “Friends,” the granddaddy of all post-Super Bowl shows on this side on 1987, scored a monstrous 52.9 million viewers after the Big Game, hauling in a 28.2 rating in the advertiser-sought 18-49 demographic. That dwarfs the second-place finisher, CBS’ “Survivor” from 2001, which earned 45.4 million viewers and a 21.8 rating. Those two are the only shows since 1988 (from which reliable records are readily available) to best the massive 40-million-plus viewer mark or a gaudy 20-plus rating.
In third place is 2010’s “Undercover Boss” (38.7 million total viewers), which bests 2006’s “Grey’s Anatomy” (37.9 million viewers) and 2012’s “The Voice” (37.6 million) in overall audience tallies, but not in the key demo rating.
At the bottom of the pile is 2003’s “Alias,” which got 17.4 million total viewers and an 8.2 demo rating for a tricked-out second season episode of the ABC Jennifer Garner spy series. Under normal circumstances, those numbers would be an absolutely massive smash hit these days. Of course, airing immediately after the largest TV event of the year — by far — is not normal circumstances.
Up one spot from the “Alias” is 2017’s “24: Legacy,” Fox’s short-lived attempt to reboot the action franchise but without original star Kiefer Sutherland. “Legacy” snagged more total viewers (17.6 million) than “Alias” but drew the lowest demo rating on our list (6.1).
Rounding out the Bottom 5 are Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” (20.6 million total viewers in 2016), CBS’ “Elementary” (20.9 million viewers in 2013) and ABC’s “Malcolm in the Middle” (21.5 million in 2002).
See how all 33 post-Super Bowl shows since 1988 have fared below.