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The 11 Best Post-Super Bowl TV Shows, Ranked

They're just as important as the game itself

Joyce Eng

The best part of the Super Bowl is what comes afterward: the lead-out program. Getting the coveted slot is a huge honor -- one that comes with lots o' advertising $$$, lots o' (potential) viewers and lots o' pressure. A great post-Super Bowl episode can be a game-changer (pun fully intended) for a TV show.

Back in the day, following years of treating the slot as an afterthought with airings of Lassie, 60 Minutes, The Wonderful World of Disney and golf tournaments (really), networks realized, "Hey, we're dumbasses. We can really cash in on this," and started strategically selecting shows. For a while, they used the slot as a launching pad for new series, but have since regularly tapped current hits or beloved shows in need of a ratings boost. Fox's pick this year is a mix of the two: After the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons face off Sunday, the network will premiere the 24 spin-off 24: Legacy.
What time is the Super Bowl?

While we count down (heh) the hours 'til that premiere, let's look back at the 11 best Super Bowl lead-outs of all time.
11. All in the Family, "Archie and the Super Bowl" (Super Bowl XII, Dallas Cowboys def. Denver Broncos, Jan. 15, 1978)
CBS was the first network to take advantage of the post-Super Bowl slot, scheduling a new All in the Family episode that drew 35.47 million viewers. What's more, the show embraced the meta-ness and concocted a Super Bowl-themed episode, in which Archie's (Carroll O'Connor) bar gets robbed during the game. Archie may have lost his dough, but All in the Family changed the lead-out game forever.

10. The A-Team, "Children of Jamestown" (Super Bowl XVII, Washington Redskins def. Miami Dolphins, Jan. 30, 1983)

Most new shows that premiered after the Super Bowl were colossal failures never to be heard from again (Grand Slam, anyone? How about Extreme? Or MacGruder and Loud?), but Mr. T & Co. defied the odds in 1983. Technically, the show had already premiered the week before as a two-hour movie, but this was its first regular episode -- in which the team had to rescue a rich man's daughter from a religious cult -- and singlehandedly popularized the series. It drew 21.9 million viewers.

9. Family Guy, "Death Has a Shadow" (Super Bowl XXXIII, Denver Broncos def. Atlanta Falcons, Jan. 31, 1999)
Family Guy premiered after a lopsided Broncos victory (it was paired with a Simpsons episode that followed), introducing Seth McFarlane's absurd, provocative humor to 22 million viewers who were probably not ready for it. They've toned it down since then and survived cancellation, no thanks to any Super Bowl bump, but this was literally the first taste of the show at its rawest.

8. New Girl, "Prince" (Super Bowl XLVIII, Seattle Seahawks def. Denver Broncos, Feb. 2, 2014)

After a 43-8 blowout, we all needed the Purple One in our lives, especially Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson), to whom Prince dispensed some romantic advice. But not before giving them enough time to freak out, of course. New Girl creator Liz Meriwether details how the late rocker's guest spot came about here. The episode, which was paired with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, drew 26.3 million viewers.

7. Grey's Anatomy, "It's the End of the World" (Super Bowl XL, Pittsburgh Steelers def. Seattle Seahawks, Feb. 5, 2006)

By now, every disaster known to man has descended upon The Artist Formerly Known As Seattle Grace Hospital, but it all truly started here, with Part 1 of the "bomb episode." Christina Ricci's young paramedic Hannah must keep her hand inside a victim's chest cavity to stop the bleeding and, oh yeah, possibly prevent an explosive lodged inside his chest from going off. No biggie. The suspense and stakes were never higher during Grey's peak second season and the cliff-hanger -- when Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) sticks her hand inside the dude's chest after Hannah runs off -- damn near forced you to watch the conclusion a week later. A pre-Friday Night Lights Kyle Chandler received his first Emmy nomination for his guest turn as the doomed bomb squad expert. With 37.88 million viewers, it remains the show's most-watched episode.

6. Homicide: Life on the Street, "Gone for Goode" (Super Bowl XXVII, Dallas Cowboys def. Buffalo Bills, Jan. 31, 1993)

A show like Homicide -- much less an episode like its pilot -- would never air after the Super Bowl now. Based on David Simon's book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, the pilot dropped viewers in in media res and didn't pander to the audience at all, despite debuting in a timeslot that pretty much demands you go for the lowest common denominator. That might explain why it drew one of the lowest post-Super Bowl viewership numbers, 18.24 million, which was said to have disappointed NBC. But the network smartly stuck with the critically acclaimed drama for seven years. Homicide was intelligent, complex and most importantly, introduced us to John Munch (Richard Belzer).

5. The X-Files, "Leonard Betts" (Super Bowl XXXI, Green Bay Packers def. New England Patriots, Jan. 26, 1997)

The X-Files put its mythology on the backburner for the Super Bowl for one of its most memorable standalone Monster-of-the-Week episodes, co-written by future Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. ER star Paul McCrane played the title character, a regenerative cancer-eating mutant. It was gruesome and creepy, and by the end, it kicked off Scully's (Gillian Anderson) cancer storyline. The episode was the show's most-watched, earning 29.1 million viewers.

4. The Office, "Stress Relief" (Super Bowl XLIII, Pittsburgh Steelers def. Arizona Cardinals, Feb. 1, 2009)

The Office belongs here just for its cold open alone: Dwight (Rainn Wilson) starts a fire drill to teach everyone about safety, leading to four minutes of hysterical, panicked, brilliant chaos. The hour-long episode garnered 22.9 million viewers, making it the show's most-watched episode.

3. The Wonder Years, "Pilot" (Super Bowl XXII, Washington Redskins def. Denver Broncos, Jan. 31, 1988)
The Wonder Years probably would've succeeded without a Super Bowl lead-in, but 29 million people tuned in for the series premiere after a 42-10 rout. With its nostalgia-fueled warmth, slice of Americana and coming-of-age relatability, the show arrived fully formed and gave us one of the most iconic TV scenes ever: Kevin (Fred Savage) and Winnie's (Danica McKellar) first kiss.

2. Friends, "The One After the Super Bowl" (Super Bowl XXX, Dallas Cowboys def. Pittsburgh Steelers, Jan. 28, 1996)

If All in the Family changed the lead-out game, then Friends fine-tuned it. After seeing the failure-to-launch of the umpteenth new series after the Super Bowl, NBC wisely tapped Friends, already a huge hit in its second season, for the slot, ushering the current age of established shows getting the honor. Friends went all out for the episode, securing guest stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself (it was 1996); Brooke Shields as Joey's (Matt LeBlanc) stalker; Chris Isaak as Phoebe's (Lisa Kudrow) beau-of-the-episode; and Julia Roberts, who was dating Matthew Perry at the time, as Chandler's (Perry) childhood friend who he humiliated and is now plotting revenge. And who can forget Marcel's big return as an in-demand monkey movie star in Outbreak 2: The Virus Takes Manhattan? With 52.9 million viewers, it's by far the most-watched post-Super Bowl episode and most-watched Friends episode ever.

1. Alias, "Phase One" (Super Bowl XXXVII, Tampa Bay Buccaneers def. Oakland Raiders, Jan. 26, 2003)

Alias has the dubious honor of being the least-watched post-Super Bowl show, drawing just 17.4 million viewers. You can partially blame ABC's stupid decision to air a post-game special with a Bon Jovi performance before airing Alias. You can't blame Alias for shamelessly luring viewers with Jennifer Garner in lingerie in the opening minutes. The episode, written and directed by J.J. Abrams, had to delicately navigate for non-fans and gets all the points for blowing up the complete premise of the show. SD-6 is taken down. Sydney Bristow (Garner) is no longer a double agent. Syd and Vaughn (Michael Vartan) had a major make-out sesh in the middle of the SD-6 ruins. It was totally unexpected and thrilling, in the middle of one of Alias' best seasons (Season 1 is the other), and then there was the bombshell at the end: EVIL FRANCIE.

This year's Super Bowl airs Sunday, Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. ET on Fox. 24: Legacy will air after the conclusion of the game.