Super Bowl counterprogramming

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Although it is consistently one of the most watched television programs in the United States annually,[1] 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 XXV, 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). These halftime shows were frequently lambasted by critics for being dated and out of touch with modern popular culture, with Up With People's shows being considered the worst in Super Bowl history.[2] 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 and a clock counting down to the end of halftime, drew 22 million viewers; Nielsen estimated that CBS lost 10 ratings points during halftime as a result of the special.[3]

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 at Super Bowl XXXVIII's halftime show involving Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson (where Timberlake ripped a part of Jackson's outfit off, briefly exposing one of her breasts) prompted a string of halftime shows featuring "safer" acts (including classic rock performers such as Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones), which aimed to prevent a repeat of the incident. The streak lasted until Super Bowl XLV, where The Black Eyed Peas became the first pop act in six years to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show.[4][3]

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.[5]

List of notable Super Bowl halftime counterprograms[edit]

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), 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.[6]

As all four major U.S. television networks now have ties in some way to the NFL (CBS, Fox, and NBC alternate airing the Super Bowl yearly, while ABC's parent company owns ESPN, who also broadcasts NFL games), they 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."[3] Fox itself provided somewhat of an exception in 2010, when it aired new episodes of 'Til Death during the game, though that was more to quietly burn off the series, which finished its run solely in its last two seasons to compile enough episodes for syndication.[7][8] Cable channels often air special marathons of existing programming prior to or against 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.[9]

Super Bowl Year Network Program Notes
XXVI 1992 Fox In Living Color "Doritos Zaptime/In Living Color Super Halftime Party"[10][3]
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"[11]
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
XXXVII 2003 NBC Weekend Update aired live with Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey[10]
NBC Fear Factor Playboy Playmates edition; 11.4 million viewers[10]
XXXVIII 2004 PPV Lingerie Bowl
XXXIX 2005 PPV Girls Gone Wild "Halftime Games"
Animal Planet Puppy Bowl[10][12]
XL 2006 Animal Planet Puppy Bowl II[10][12]
PPV Lingerie Bowl II
XLI 2007 Animal Planet Puppy Bowl III[10][12]
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).[13][14]
Hallmark Channel From the Heart: Favorite Commercials from Hallmark Cards Aired during a marathon of Little House on the Prairie[13]
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.[15]
XLII 2008 Animal Planet Puppy Bowl IV[10][12][16]
PPV Lingerie Bowl IV
Spike Major League Eating Chowdown[16] 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.[17]
XLIII 2009 ABC Wipeout "Wipeout Bowl", Cheerleaders vs. Couch Potatoes. [9]
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.[8][7]
XLV 2011 Animal Planet Puppy Bowl VII Seen by 9.2 million viewers across all of its airings throughout the day.[18]
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.[19]
XLVII 2013 Animal Planet Puppy Bowl IX[19]
XLVIII 2014 Animal Planet Puppy Bowl X[20]
Hallmark Channel Kitten Bowl As a direct parallel to the Puppy Bowl, the broadcast consisted of kittens at play[21]
Nat Geo Wild Fish Bowl Similarly to the Puppy Bowl, the 4-hour broadcast consists purely of a goldfish in a fishbowl.[22] [23]


  1. ^ "Super Bowl 2nd-most watched show ever". Associated Press. February 7, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2007. 
  2. ^ Williams, Doug. "When Up With People dominated halftime". ESPN. Retrieved February 1, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Goal of spectacle colors NFL's thinking about Super Bowl halftime show". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 
  4. ^ Sandomir, Richard. "How Jackson Redefined the Super Bowl". The New York Times. Retrieved February 1, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Green Bay Packers fan "Chuck FM" will play "nothing during the game" Sunday". February 4, 2011. Retrieved February 6, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Lingerie Football League changes name; players to wear uniforms". Los Angeles Times. January 11, 2013. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "TV ratings: Super Bowl on pace for a record audience". Zap2It. Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "Fox finally finds a way to kill “‘Til Death”". Variety. Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b "Football not your thing? Tee up these televised 'bowls'". USA Today. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Hibberd, James (December 8, 2008). "'Wipeout' special set for Super Sunday". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 26, 2008. 
  11. ^ Pawlak, Dan (1998). "'Beavis and Butt-Head': The Episode Guide". 
  12. ^ a b c d Ryzik, Melena (February 2, 2008). "'Just Fine as Tackles, but They Can’t Pass". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ a b "The Super Bowl isn't for everyone; here are choices". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved February 1, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Prince to perform at Super Bowl halftime". December 10, 2006. Archived from the original on December 14, 2006. Retrieved December 10, 2006. 
  15. ^ "Super Alternatives To The Super Bowl". Retrieved March 23, 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Ardent, Joe (January 31, 2008). "ABC's of Super Bowl XLII". The Press-Enterprise. Retrieved December 26, 2008. 
  17. ^ "Oxygen Slates 'SuperSneak'". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  18. ^ Hibberd, James. "Puppy Bowl draws 9.2 million viewers". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 3, 2013. 
  19. ^ a b Chandler, Rick (January 17, 2013). "Hedging a Super Bowl Bet Is One Thing, But What About Hedgehog Cheerleaders?". Lake Tahoe Action. Retrieved January 22, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Puppy Bowl books Keyboard Cat for halftime show (plus Lil Bub, penguin cheerleaders, more) -- EXCLUSIVE". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 8, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Kitten Bowl 2014 lineup, streaming, TV schedule and more". SB Nation. Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  22. ^ "Now it's getting silly: 'Fish Bowl' to air opposite Super Bowl". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Nat Geo Wild Announces Fish Bowl: Stand Down, Puppies". The Wrap. Retrieved January 11, 2014.