A History of Post-Super Bowl TV Stunt Casting

After the Super Bowl airs, another game begins: How many viewers can a network hold on to for their post-game programming? One tried-and-true strategy has been celebrity cameos. We've ranked ten of the most notable.

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After the Super Bowl airs another game begins: How many viewers can a network hold on to for their post-game programming? Often that means loading up a hit TV show with flashy guest stars, and this year is no different. Fox is airing episodes of New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine after the Super Bowl, and while New Girl will be graced by his holy purpleness himself—Prince—Brooklyn Nine-Nine gets Adam Sandler.

Not all celebrity cameos are created equal, though. In honor of yet another glitzy Super Bowl lead-out, let's rank the post-super bowl episodes by their use of famous people.

10. Glee - "The Sue Sylvester Shuffle" 
Throwing Katie Couric into the end of the episode as herself to interview Sue Sylvester—who has been named Loser of the Year—does not a great cameo make. Plus, as she had already proved on Will & Grace years earlier, Couric seems awkward reading the jokey dialogue.

9. The Simpsons (2005) - "Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass"
In their second of two post-Super Bowl appearances, The Simpsons were already in their 16th season, and thus well into the downside of its long, loooong existence. At this point, guest stars were not only not novel for the show, they were dreadfully cliché. The usual big sports names you might have expected from 2005—Tom Brady, Lebron James, Michelle Kwan, Yao Ming—didn't really provide much spark.

8. House - "Frozen"
Fox's #1 drama at the time got a shot at the brass ring with a post-Super Bowl episode set in icy Antarctica and starring an Academy Award winner! George Clooney? No. Cate Blanchett? No. Daniel Day-Lewis? No. Roberto Benigni? No. We could honestly go on like this for hours before arriving at Mira Sorvino. She's not even the highlight of the episode, as a character has to end up drinking urine (Sorvino's character's urine, granted) in order to help House make a diagnosis.

7. The Office - "Stress Relief" 

The Office got Jack Black, Jessica Alba and Cloris Leachman to guest in their 2009 post-Super Bowl episode, but didn't really give them much to do. They play themselves as the stars of a movie Andy illegally downloads. Plus, Leachman and Black make out, so that image is in your head. Stars as themselves, even as themselves in fake movies is always slightly disappointing.

6. Criminal Minds - "The Big Game"
The CBS procedural hit opted for an episode that was thematically tied to the Super Bowl—a tactic which always seems a bit cheap and kiss-assy, if you ask us—but whatever. The episode featured a guest-starring turn by none other than James Van Der Beek, who at this point was less than four years removed from the Dawson's Creek finale and several years prior to his wave of post-ironic respect, in shows like Don't Trust the B— in Apartment 23. Even better news for Creek fans was that Dawson was joined on the show by Meredith Monroe, a.k.a. sad old Andie McPhee.

5. Malcolm in the Middle - "Company Picnic" 

This 2002 Malcolm episode ranks, appropriately enough, in the middle because it's almost too packed with cameos, including blink and you miss 'em turns from Heidi Klum and Magic Johnson. There are of course some gems here, and MVP status goes to Susan Sarandon as a nutcase of a woman that harasses Lois at said titular company picnic, and Bradley Whitford—Jane Kaczmarek's then husband—as her equally crazy husband. Sarandon's turn is pretty fearless—she and Lois' confrontation ends with mud wrestling—but it doesn't make up for the too-crowded playing field. Terry Bradshaw, Christina Ricci, and Tom Green are among the others who make appearances. (Yes, it was the point in time when Tom Green merited a celebrity cameo.)

4. 3rd Rock from the Sun - "36! 24! 36! Dick!"
This two-part episode with the provocative title involved Cindy Crawford leading a cadre of supermodels (really invaders from Venus) on a mission to Earth ... with sexy results! There was also, yes, a Super Bowl subplot with a Greg Gumbel cameo, but Crawford was the draw here. She pulls the episode up so high on this list not because she was so great but because she is the quintessential Super Bowl celebrity, as her many Pepsi ads can attest.

3. The Simpsons (1999) - "Sunday Cruddy Sunday"
Celebrity cameos on The Simpsons are still NBD, but this first of the show's two Super Bowl episodes was clearly superior, and not just for the delightfully goofy Vincent Price's Egg-Decorating Kit subplot. The major guest star work was handled by Fred Willard, always a reliable source of comedy. The cameos were headlined by the usual gang of football people (John Madden, Pat Summerall) but also Dolly Parton and the much-maligned-by-the-show Rupert Murdoch.

2. Grey's Anatomy - "It's the End of the World"

The guest stars in this episode weren't nearly as flashy as those in our #1 choice. In fact, we only really count one as an example of stunt casting, and it just barely counts. Christina Ricci visited Seattle Grace in this 2006 episode as a paramedic with her hand stuck inside a patient who in turn has live ammunition stuck inside of him. Yeah, it's that episode. (Kyle Chandler also guests as the leader of the bomb squad, but this was still months before he would debut as Friday Night Lights' Coach Taylor, so he doesn't really count.) Ricci, meanwhile provides some of the tear-jerkiest moments, of this tear-jerk-fest.

1. Friends - "The One After the Superbowl" 

This is essentially the holy grail of post-Super Bowl stunt casting. Friends was in its second season when this episode aired in 1996 and was as hot as it could be. The titular friends even starred in a Diet Coke campaign that tied into this and other episodes. It was the era of The Rachel, for goodness sakes. But! The two-part Super Bowl episode used its guest stars very well, both taking advantage of their star power, while also really giving them some fun stuff to do. Brooke Shields—who would quickly parlay this role into her own NBC sitcom, Suddenly Susan—was the woman who thought Joey was really Dr. Drake Ramoray. Julia Roberts sought revenge on Chandler for her grade school humiliation. Chris Isaak was the sweet guy who thought, for some reason, it was a good idea to have Phoebe sing to a bunch of kids. Jean-Claude Van Damme was, well, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Especially in the cases of Shields and Roberts, the episode allowed its famous guest stars to let loose while still exploiting their star power. And, you know, Brooke Shields licked Joey's hand.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.