The hordes of football-obsessed, musical theatre-loving, teen soap opera fans will finally have their day on Sunday: Glee airs its much ballyhooed song-and-dance extravaganza in the coveted post-Super Bowl timeslot.
To be sure, the announcement that Fox had chosen its Journey-covering sensation to run after the gridiron championship had many people questioning the network's playbook—after all, Broadway and football do seem like strange bedfellows.
Even Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly acknowledges the gamble in promoting Glee in post-Super Bowl time slot—"There was a Jimmy Kimmel joke like, 'You're going to have 40 million drunk American guys going, 'What the f--- is this!?'" he told EW. Still, he's hoping the already zeitgeist-owning series could draw a new population of unconventional viewers into its ever-expanding buzzfield. "You got a show that some 14 million people love," Reilly said. "And I think it's a show that a lot of other people can still sample and discover." But will millions of Steelers fans really stick around for an hour of spunky teens flashing jazz hands while belting out Barbra Streisand torch songs?
Glee is certainly pulling out all the stops in the hopes that they will. The show will reimagine Michael Jackson's "Thriller," mashing it up with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit "Heads Will Roll." The entire episode is rumored to have cost Fox $3 to 5 million, and will feature BMX stunts, a guest appearance by Katie Couric, and girls wearing pyrotechnic bras. Following the examples of Grey's Anatomy and Alias—which opened their respective episodes with a lesbian shower scene and Jennifer Garner in lingerie—Glee will also resort to titillation to keep male butts glued to the sofa. "Then there's also us cheerleaders in blue wigs and all we do is shake our ass," Heather Morris, who plays Brittany on the show, told EW.
The most striking element of the Glee Super Bowl episode, though, is what's missing. Creator Ryan Murphy and Glee seem to be hedging their bets by shelving one of the show's touchier plotlines: the story of the openly gay character Kurt, whose struggle with homophobic high school bullies has been a central part of the series. Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt on the show, told TV Line that his character didn't even appear in a first draft of the Super Bowl script. He says that Murphy decided to throw in a musical number at the last minute, to be performed by Kurt and the a capella group at his private school, and that the appearance will be very brief—likely added after gauging the recent surge in both the actor's popularity (Hello, Golden Globe) and that of the budding romance between Kurt and his friend Blaine, played by Darren Criss.
This isn't the first time a network has lavished money and promotion on a TV show that's scheduled to run right after the Super Bowl—the post-game positioning has become the networks' ultimate pimp slot. A record 106 million viewers tuned in to the Super Bowl last year, contributing to the breakout success of the reality series Undercover Boss, which garnered a staggering 42 million viewers when it aired immediately after New Orleans took home the Lombardi trophy. The past five series to occupy it—Boss, The Office, House, Criminal Minds, and Grey's Anatomy—have seen an average ratings surge of 102 percent over their regularly scheduled episodes. Clever writing—like The Office's now-classic fire drill cold open and Grey's bomb-in-the-body cliffhanger—can propel the series to new levels of fandom and viewership, making it the perfect platform for networks to spotlight programs it has faith in creatively, or launch new series they hope will catch on.
That timeslot has also served up a strange jambalaya of programs over the years, from CHiPs to 60 Minutes. None other than Lassie was the very first show to benefit from the high profile lead-in in '67, and aired there twice more in '68 and '70. Wonder Years—a dramedy about adolescent romance in the '60s—became an unlikely hit when it launched after the 1988 Super Bowl. The A-Team and Family Guy parlayed post-Bowl debuts into long series runs.
But not every post-Super Bowl experiment has been a success. For every Malcolm in the Middle, which turned in its highest ratings ever after being exposed to a broader audience, there's Extreme, the James Brolin-starring Rocky Mountain adventure series that fizzled after six episodes when ABC failed at launching in the slot.
Still, it's inevitable that "The Sue Sylvester Super Bowl Shuffle" will be a ratings smash, just by virtue of when it's airing. Glee is, after all, already a hit show. That means in addition to the potential new viewers and the people just too lazy to change the channel, the show's massive, enthusiastic-is-an-understatement fans will show up in volumes to watch this "event" episode of their beloved show (and will probably stage viewing parties to rival the biggest Super Bowl bashes).
To that regard, the real barometer of whether the Glee gamble paid off for Fox will be in two weeks when the numbers come in for its Valentine's Day episode. The Super Bowl spike in viewers is assumed; whether it causes the show's ratings to continue to grow, even after it returns to normal, is the real test. The goal here isn't getting the football-loving masses to branch out and watch Glee just once, but to come back for more each week.
The gallery above lists the most successful post-Super Bowl episodes along with the oddest programming gambles in the game's history. Where willGlee fall on the spectrum?