How do you get many tens of millions of football fans to watch a show about a high school show choir?
If you’re Fox’s “Glee,” you kick off your post-Super Bowl episode this Sunday with a Katy Perry dance number involving acrobatics, pyrotechnics and — wait for it — scantily clad cheerleaders.
With any luck, at least half the guys watching won’t realize it’s not a beer commercial till it’s too late.
(“Glee” fans who just can’t wait can find a clip of the number at insidetv.ew.com.)
“I’m surprised there were no fatalities after (filming) that episode, because it was insane,” “Glee” co-star Chris Colfer told reporters a few weeks ago about “The Sue Sylvester Bowl Shuffle” (some of which is expected to actually involve football). “There was one scene — I kid you not — they had two ambulances on standby, which is two more ambulances than they usually have.”
Presumably they weren’t there for CBS News anchor Katie Couric, who’ll play herself in Sunday’s show.
Lining up a couple of ambulance crews and a network anchor might seem like overkill any other night of the year, but this is the Super Bowl, a football game wrapped in a marketing opportunity inside a cultural phenomenon and “Glee’s” just the latest series to try to hold on to some of the more than 90 million pairs of eyeballs fixed on the game.
Or at least on the commercials.
And in choosing to showcase an up-and-comer in its second season rather than using the biggest lead-in of the year to launch a whole new show, Fox is probably playing it smart.
Because while the Nielsen Co. estimates that more than 38.6 million people stayed up last year to watch the president of Waste Management collect garbage in the CBS premiere of “Undercover Boss” — a show that’s still averaging a healthy 12.9 million viewers in its second season — not all newbies have fared so well.
Take “Davis Rules,” a sitcom starring Randy Quaid, Jonathan Winters and Bonnie Hunt, that ABC showed for the first time to an audience of 26.69 million after the 1991 Super Bowl.
Canceled later that year by ABC, it was picked up by CBS, where it lasted half a season before disappearing from prime time altogether.
What had ABC been hoping for? Something more like “The Wonder Years,” which, after bowing to nearly 29 million viewers in 1988, ran for six seasons.
Or maybe “The A-Team,” a far more obvious companion to a major football game that NBC launched after the 1983 Bowl and that lasted five seasons.
Wasted pilot opportunities include ABC’s “MacGruder & Loud,” a cop drama about patrol partners who were secretly married that premiered in January after the 1985 Super Bowl and was gone by the following September; CBS’ “Hard Copy,” a newspaper drama starring Michael Murphy that premiered Feb. 1, 1987, and was gone by July; CBS’ “Grand Slam,” a series about bounty hunters that premiered after Super Bowl XXIV in 1990 and appears, from its imdb.com listing, to have aired just IV episodes; and NBC’s “Brothers and Sisters,” a 1979 sitcom set in a frat house that didn’t fare nearly as well as the similarly titled ABC drama, toga-partying its way off the air in a few short months.
The record for the most-watched post-Super Bowl entertainment program ever — or at least since Nielsen started keeping track of total viewers, not just households — belongs to NBC’s “Friends,” which, like “Glee,” was in its second season when the Peacock tapped it for the honor in 1996.
The hour-long episode, “The One After the Super Bowl,” guest-starred Brooke Shields, Julia Roberts, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chris Isaak and averaged an estimated 52.9 million viewers in a year in which the Super Bowl itself was seen by 94 million.
It also ignited discussion, naturally, about whether NBC’s supersizing of the show, which was already a hit, amounted to overexposure, talk that had pretty much died down by the time “Friends” wrapped its 10th and final season, still in Nielsen’s Top 5.
“Glee,” which is averaging 10 million viewers a week this season, isn’t quite in “Friends” territory yet.
And Katie Couric’s no Julia Roberts.
But then it’s not always about the guest stars. Or the hype.
CBS’ “Lassie,” which quietly followed the first Super Bowl in 1967 (along with NBC’s presentation of “Walt Disney,” the game having been simulcast that year), was simply in the right place at the right time: early Sunday nights on CBS.
The show about a series of boys and men and their dog ran for 17 seasons and also scored the postgame slot in 1968 and 1970. It probably didn’t do anything special to get ready, like putting the resourceful collie in a bikini top.
And it’s probably too much to hope that trainer Rudd Weatherwax slipped a little something extra in Lassie’s own bowl to celebrate.
10:30 (ish) p.m. EST Sunday