Super Bowl counterprogramming
Although it is consistently one of the most watched television programs in the United States annually, broadcasters have sometimes attempted to intentionally counterprogram against the Super Bowl by running new original programming against the game as an alternative, often during its halftime break.
The most prominent success of the concept came in 1992, when Fox broadcast a special, live edition of its sketch comedy program In Living Color during halftime at Super Bowl XXVI, taking advantage of the then-unpopular format of Super Bowl halftime shows, successfully drawing 22 million viewers, and prompting the NFL to book more prominent pop music acts to compete.
The practice was popularized by Fox: in the 1970's and 80's, the majority of Super Bowl halftime shows were themed, musical spectacles that often featured marching bands and performance ensembles such as Up with People (who performed in four Super Bowl halftime shows between 1976 and 1986, the most of any act in the game's history, and performed at the pre-game show of Super Bowl XXV in 1991). The group's halftime shows were described as being "wholesome" and "inoffensive" by critics, but were frequently lambasted for being dated and out of touch with modern popular culture—Up With People's shows have been considered among the worst in Super Bowl history. As an alternative, Fox aired a special episode of its popular sketch comedy show In Living Color during halftime at Super Bowl XXVI (which featured a halftime show entitled "Winter Magic", a Winter Olympics-themed show starring Gloria Estefan). The live episode, which featured football-themed sketches, a $1-million special sweepstakes, and a clock counting down to the end of halftime (to remind the viewers on the resumption of the second half of the CBS games telecast), drew between 20 million and 25 million viewers; Nielsen estimated that CBS lost 10 ratings points during halftime as a result of the special. The programming stunt also served as a catalyst for the increasing strength of then-fledgling Fox against U.S.'s Big Three TV networks in the ratings games since its inception in 1986.
The unexpected success of the In Living Color special prompted the NFL to take steps to prevent the further loss of viewers at halftime during future games: beginning at Super Bowl XXVII, the league began to invite major pop music performers to perform during the halftime show. The first of these, featuring Michael Jackson, led to a dramatic increase in viewership between halves—the first in the game's history. This practice continued until 2005; after an incident occurred at Super Bowl XXXVIII's halftime show where Justin Timberlake briefly exposed one of Janet Jackson's breasts, a string of subsequent halftime shows featuring a single, headlining classic rock act were held instead. Even still, the league has continued stay true to its goal of ensuring that the halftime show is as much of a spectacle as the game itself.
Counterprogramming efforts are not limited to television; for Super Bowl XLV in 2011, WCHK-FM, a station in the Green Bay, Wisconsin area announced it would counterprogram the game with dead air, since the hometown Packers were in the game. However, its goal was not to attract listeners from the game, but to do the opposite. The freeform program Anything Anything with Rich Russo has counterprogrammed the Super Bowl with Dr. Demento.
On the day of the Super Bowl, cable channels often air special marathons of existing programming prior to and/or during the game: in 2009, AMC aired the first three Death Wish films, DIY Network broadcast a marathon of bathroom-related programming known as the "Toilet Bowl", and ESPN aired a marathon of the World Series of Poker.
List of notable Super Bowl halftime counterprograms
In regards to original programming, recurring Super Bowl counters have included Animal Planet's annual Puppy Bowl, a special featuring dogs at play in a model football stadium (which itself spawned imitators in the form of the Kitten Bowl and Fish Bowl in 2014), and the Lingerie Bowl, a series of pay-per-view broadcasts of all-female football games played in lingerie—proving popular enough to be spun-off into its own Lingerie Football League. The LFL has since re-launched as a more conventional women's football league, the Legends Football League, and moved its season to run during the NFL off-season instead.
The gentleman's agreement only applies with the three broadcast networks that carry the NFL (Fox, CBS, NBC), as they rotate the Super Bowl, one of two major events during the television season (the primetime Emmy Awards the other) where networks alternate broadcasting the event. All three networks now traditionally air reruns against the game so that they do not compromise the viewership of the Super Bowl; Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune believed that there was now "zero likelihood some broadcast network is going to launch a broadside against the NFL's showcase." Fox itself provided somewhat of an exception in 2010, when it aired new episodes of 'Til Death during the game—however, this move was part of Fox's efforts to quietly burn off the series, which finished its run solely in its last two seasons to compile enough episodes for syndication. ABC has aired Wipeout on occasion, as they are not under the gentleman's agreement that only applies to broadcast networks with an active NFL contract.
|XXVI||1992||Fox||In Living Color||"Doritos Zaptime/In Living Color Super Halftime Party"|
|XXVIII||1994||MTV||Beavis and Butt-head||"Butt Bowl I"|
|XXIX||1995||MTV||Beavis and Butt-head||"Butt Bowl II"|
|XXX||1996||MTV||Beavis and Butt-head||"Butt Bowl III"|
|XXXI||1997||MTV||Beavis and Butt-head||"Butt Bowl IV"|
|XXXII||1998||MTV||Celebrity Deathmatch '98||Howard Stern vs. Kathie Lee Gifford; Pamela Anderson Lee vs. RuPaul; Hanson vs. The Spice Girls.|
|XXXIII||1999||USA||WWF Sunday Night Heat||"Halftime Heat": The Rock vs Mankind; 5 million viewers|
|XXXVI||2002||NBC||Weekend Update||aired live with Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey|
|XXXVII||2003||NBC||Fear Factor||Playboy Playmates edition; 11.4 million viewers|
|XXXIX||2005||PPV||Girls Gone Wild||"Halftime Games"|
|Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl|
|XL||2006||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl II|
|PPV||Lingerie Bowl II|
|XLI||2007||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl III|
|Fuse||Pants-Off Dance-Off||"Pancer Bowl I", featuring women stripping football clothing to the music of Prince (who was performing during the halftime show).|
|Hallmark Channel||From the Heart: Favorite Commercials from Hallmark Cards||Aired during a marathon of Little House on the Prairie|
|PPV||Lingerie Bowl III|
|PPV||Howard Stern's Stupid Bowl III||A flag football game between the staff of The Howard Stern Show and a group of drag queens.|
|XLII||2008||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl IV|
|PPV||Lingerie Bowl IV|
|Spike||Major League Eating Chowdown||Ham 'n Eggs|
|Oxygen||Deion & Pilar: Prime Time Love||A preview of the then-upcoming series was aired against the halftime show during a marathon of Snapped.|
|XLIII||2009||ABC||Wipeout||"Wipeout Bowl", Cheerleaders vs. Couch Potatoes. |
|Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl V|
|XLIV||2010||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl VI|
|Fox||'Til Death||The fourth season of 'Til Death was produced solely so it could be burned off by Fox, as its distributor would then have enough episodes to syndicate the low-rated sitcom. With 1.7 million viewers, Fox finished third behind the Super Bowl itself and a rerun of America's Funniest Home Videos in the 7:00 p.m. hour.|
|XLV||2011||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl VII||Seen by 9.2 million viewers across all of its airings throughout the day.|
|PPV||Lingerie Bowl VIII|
|XLVI||2012||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl VIII||Seen by a total of over 10 million viewers, and was the 2nd most popular program of the day on social media behind the Super Bowl itself.|
|XLVII||2013||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl IX|
|XLVIII||2014||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl X|
|Hallmark Channel||Kitten Bowl||As a direct parallel to the Puppy Bowl, the broadcast consisted of kittens at play|
|Nat Geo Wild||Fish Bowl||Similarly to the Puppy Bowl, the 4-hour broadcast consists purely of a goldfish in a fishbowl. |
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