Clearly, CBS is pulling for a tight Super Bowl in three weeks. The closer the game, the likelihood viewership will remain high throughout. And, by the same token, the more people will likely stick around for “Elementary,” the first-year drama CBS is airing after the game, looking to expose it to loads of potential new viewers.
Of course, a blowout could hurt CBS’s chances of maximizing “Elementary’s” prime spot, but that’s hardly a given. Using one metric, there’s no relationship between the final score and how many viewers stay tuned to the lead-out program that comes after the post-game show.
In the last 25 years, “Friends” held on to the largest percentage of Super Bowl viewers when it followed Dallas beating Pittsburgh in 1996. “Friends,” which was in the middle of its second season, drew an average of 53 million viewers -- 56% of the game average. The score was a reasonably close 27-17.
But, the next four games with the highest retention rate came when the winning team prevailed by more than 10 points -- sometimes by a lot more. In 2001, after Baltimore trounced the New York Giants 34-7, CBS's second-season premiere of "Survivor" held on to 54% of the average game viewership.
In 1992, “60 Minutes” – the one with Bill and Hillary Clinton -- kept 43% of the average game audience, following Washington winning by 13 points. In 1990, CBS’s “Grand Slam” held on to 42% after San Francisco crushed Denver by 45. ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” also retained 42% in 2006 after Pittsburgh’s 11-point win.
Of the 10 shows with the highest retention rate, six came when the game was decided by more than 10 points. That list also includes the “Wonder Years” on ABC in 1988 with a 36% retention rate after Washington won by 32. “Undercover Boss” held on to the same 36% in 2010 after New Orleans topped Indianapolis by two touchdowns.
Among the five shows with the worst retention rate in the last 25 years, three came after games decided by fewer than six points: “The Office” on NBC (23% in 2009), “Glee” on Fox (24% in 2011) and Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle" (25% in 2002).
In terms of total viewers, “Friends” (53 million) and the second-season debut of “Survivor” (45 million) drew the highest average audiences for lead-out programming since at least 1988. CBS’s “Undercover Boss” was third with 39 million in 2010, followed by ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” (2006) and NBC’s “The Voice” (last year) – both with 38 million.
Networks have taken different approaches with the lead-out spot over the years. In the 1990s, there were a slew of series premieres, but only two – NBC’s “Homicide” and Fox’s “Family Guy” -- became hits. Shows such as “Davis Rules” on ABC and “Good Life” on NBC flopped.
In the last 10-plus years, the only series premiere has been CBS’s “Undercover Boss,” which remains on the air, but has been shifted to the low-profile Friday night.
Otherwise, networks have mostly gone with established shows, looking to build on a strong base, rather than establish one. Last year, the New York Giants won a down-to-the-wire game and "The Voice" followed with a large audience. Did the stirring game keep people around for the singing? After review, the call would be inconclusive.