How the Super Bowl LVI Broadcast Is Ending a Near 30-Year Tradition

by Matthew Memrick
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NBC will break a 30-year-old tradition by jumping back into the Winter Olympics after Sunday’s Super Bowl LVI.

The big three networks usually take turns with each Super Bowl, and with the game’s conclusion, each aired show is a long-running series or a special show for an already top hit.

The Hollywood Reporter picked on the moment this week.

NBCUniversal wanted this moment years ago, swapping with CBS in 2019 to break up the usual rotation. NBC last had the Super Bowl in 2018 and would have had the game in 2021 if not for the switch.

Long NFL Season Set Up Interesting Moment

So, the pro league’s decision to go 17 regular-season weekends led to this moment. NBC decided to go five hours of pregame coverage instead of the regular daytime Olympic stuff

But soon as that Super Bowl trophy raises into the air, it’s back to Beijing, baby, around 10:45 p.m. Eastern. Yawn. 

After an hour, the network will throw it back to local news broadcasts before showing 90 more minutes of Olympic events in the late-night hours.

The Hollywood Reporter guesses that NBC would’ve done this even if the NFL stuck with 16-games. That would have had the Super Bowl last week with the Olympics just three days into its schedule.

Rare Moment Has Happened Before With Interesting Shows

In 1992, Super Bowl XXVI had an interesting setup. After the trophy presentation, CBS showed a shortened “60 Minutes” with presidential candidate Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton.

The last-minute show came in light of allegations that Bill Clinton had an extramarital affair at the time. The interview and a “48 Hours” episode scored 24.8 million viewers for CBS that night.

NBC debuted “Homicide: Life on the Street” the following year.

For 29 years, an entertainment show got the prime TV viewing spot. The Hollywood Reporter noted that another sports event after the Super Bowl had not happened in 46 years.

Here’s some Super Bowl history for you. For the first ten years of the Super Bowl, the game would not start any later than 4:15 p.m. Eastern. After two Super Bowls, NBC (1971) and CBS (1976) went to golf tournament coverage. Those events served as filler until the local news came on.

When the idea came to switch the game to primetime in 1977, everyone went to entertainment programming. Those exceptions, of course, happened with three “60 Minutes” editions in 1980, 1982, and 1992. 

NBC Stuck With Olympics

So, instead of going with a new show or a particular series show, the network uses that prime spot for its Olympic coverage. These days, if NBC put on a “Chicago Fire” or a “This Is Us,” many TV executives guessed they wouldn’t have much of a bump in ratings.

It’s such a throwaway night that ABC held off on its “The Rookie” episode for that week. The show took a mini-hiatus at the end of January.

It’s been about ten years since any bump has helped a post-Super Bowl show. “The Voice” in 2012 had an exception, pulling in a series-high 37.6 million viewers. Since then, the game hasn’t helped anyone. Two of the three series to debut (“24: Legacy” in 2017 and “The World’s Best” in 2019) after the big game got canceled after their first season. 

So, will the Super Bowl help the Olympics? Probably not. 

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