The Top 10 Best TV Episodes to Win a Plum Post-Super Bowl Time Slot

Warner Bros. Television
(Credit: Warner Bros. Television)

The series premiere of The Equalizer landed a time slot without equal: The CBS drama makes its big debut immediately after Super Bowl LV on Sunday, February 7, 2021, marking a rare network launching of a scripted series on football’s biggest night.

The scheduling decision is a huge vote of confidence in The Equalizer, in which Queen Latifah plays Robyn McCall, an “enigmatic woman with a mysterious background who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn,” according to the series logline.

With so many households watching the Big Game and leaving the TV on afterward, recent Super Bowl lead-outs have racked up huge ratings. Just last year, The Masked Singer’s post-game episode, for instance, racked up nearly 24 million viewers according to multiple reports.

Over the years, the broadcast networks have used these post-game time slots to launch shows they believe can draw a big audience; game-changing episodes of existing shows; and to deliver some of their hit series’ best installments. Here are 10 post-Super Bowl episodes we won’t soon forget.

1988: The Wonder Years, ‘Pilot’

Viewers met the Arnold family after the 1988 Super Bowl. In the episode, Kevin (Fred Savage) is crushing hard on Winnie (Danica McKellar), who in the meantime learns that her older brother has been killed in the Vietnam War.

1993: Homicide: Life on the Street, ‘Gone for Goode’

Barry Levinson won an Emmy for his direction of this pilot for the seminal cop drama. The episode also introduced Det. John Munch (Richard Belzer) of Law & Order: SVU fame.

1996: Friends, ‘The One After the Superbowl’

Ross (David Schwimmer) reunites with monkey Marcel, Chandler (Matthew Perry) gets bested by a vengeful childhood friend (Julia Roberts), Joey (Matt LeBlanc) dates a soap-obsessed stalker (Brooke Shields), and Monica (Courteney Cox) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) compete over Jean-Claude Van Damme in what is the most-watched post-game broadcast ever.

1997: The X-Files, ‘Leonard Betts’

What seems like a standard monster-of-the-week episode for this spooky drama — albeit one in which the monster is an EMT who feeds on cancer and regenerates body parts — is actually the start of a much longer, life-changing saga for Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson).

1999: Family Guy, ‘Death Has a Shadow’

Neither Fox nor creator Seth MacFarlane could have known that Family Guy would still be going two decades after this pilot episode. In it, Peter dumps his ill-gotten welfare gains from a blimp above Super Bowl XXXIII.

2003: Alias, ‘Phase One’

Remember when lingerie-clad super-spy Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) seduced and incapacitated a dude mid-flight… then parachuted out of the plummeting plane moments later? And then rescued her dad and took down the whole Alliance? Yeah, that was this one.

2006: Grey’s Anatomy, ‘It’s the End of the World’

Christina Ricci earned an Emmy nod for her performance in this blockbuster episode in which a patient arrives with a bomb in his chest. But it’s what ultimately happens to Kyle Chandler’s character that blew Grey’s fans away.

2009: The Office, ‘Stress Relief’

Come for the fire Dwight (Rainn Wilson) stages at Dunder Mifflin — with Angela (Angela Kinsey) throwing her cat up to safety in the crawl space — but stay for the fake movie starring Jack Black and Jessica Alba.

2014: New Girl, ‘Prince’

Prince, who reportedly was a big fan of the show, was an actual guest star.

2018: This Is Us, ‘Super Bowl Sunday’

In the most-watched TV drama episode since 2008 — all TV episodes, not just Super Bowl lead-outs, according to a Comcast press release — This Is Us viewers finally found out how Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) met his long-teased demise. (We’ll never look at a slow cooker the same way.)

The Equalizer, Sunday, February 7, 2021, Following Super Bowl LV, Approximately 10/9c, CBS