Although it is consistently one of the most watched sports television events in the United States, television broadcasters have often attempted to counterprogram against the Super Bowl by intentionally running new original programming against the game, often during its halftime break.
The practice was popularized by Fox: prior to Super Bowl XXVI in 1992, the performance group Up with People performed in four Super Bowl halftime shows between 1976 and 1986 (the most of any act in the game's history), and performed at the pre-game show of Super Bowl XXV in 1991. By the 1990's, the style of halftime performance they helped define during the 1970's and 80's were frequently lambasted by critics for being too dated and not in touch with modern popular culture, while some of Up With People's halftime shows were regarded by critics as being the worst in Super Bowl history. As an alternative, Fox aired a special episode of its popular sketch comedy show In Living Color during halftime at Super Bowl XXVI (which featured a halftime show entitled "Winter Magic", starring Gloria Estefan). The live episode (which featured football-themed sketches and a clock counting down to the end of halftime) drew 22 million viewers; Nielsen estimated that CBS lost 10 ratings points during halftime as a result of the special.
The unexpected success of the In Living Color special prompted the NFL to take steps to prevent the further loss of viewers at halftime during future games: beginning at Super Bowl XXVII, the league began to invite major pop music performers to perform during the halftime show. The first of these, featuring Michael Jackson, led to a dramatic increase in viewership between halves—the first in the game's history. This practice continued until 2005, when an incident at Super Bowl XXXVIII's halftime show involving Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson prompted a string of halftime shows featuring classic rock acts (such as The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, aiming to prevent a repeat of the incident) until Super Bowl XLV, where The Black Eyed Peas became the first pop act in six years to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show.
Recurring Super Bowl counters have included Animal Planet's annual Puppy Bowl, a special featuring dogs playing in a model football stadium, and the Lingerie Bowl, a series of pay-per-view broadcasts of all-female football games played in lingerie—proving popular enough to be spun-off into its own Lingerie Football League. Out of respect to its fellow NFL broadcasters, the three major networks who regularly broadcast NFL games and alternate airing the game (specifically CBS, Fox, and NBC) will typically not schedule new programming on the night of the Super Bowl. Many cable channels also air sometimes themed marathons of existing programming prior to or against the game: in 2009, AMC aired the first three Death Wish films and ESPN aired a marathon of World Series of Poker episodes,
Counterprogramming efforts are not limited to television; for Super Bowl XLV in 2011, WCHK-FM, a station in the Green Bay, Wisconsin area announced it would counterprogram the game with dead air, since the hometown Packers were in the game. However, its goal was not to attract listeners from the game, but to do the opposite.
List of notable Super Bowl halftime counterprograms
|XXVI||1992||Fox||In Living Color||"Doritos Zaptime/In Living Color Super Halftime Party"|
|XXVIII||1994||MTV||Beavis and Butt-head||"Butt Bowl I"|
|XXIX||1995||MTV||Beavis and Butt-head||"Butt Bowl II"|
|XXX||1996||MTV||Beavis and Butt-head||"Butt Bowl III"|
|XXXI||1997||MTV||Beavis and Butt-head||"Butt Bowl IV"|
|XXXII||1998||MTV||Celebrity Deathmatch '98||Howard Stern vs. Kathie Lee Gifford; Pamela Anderson Lee vs. RuPaul; Hanson vs. The Spice Girls.|
|XXXIII||1999||USA||WWF Sunday Night Heat||"Halftime Heat": The Rock vs Mankind; 5 million viewers|
|XXXVII||2003||NBC||Weekend Update||aired live with Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey|
|NBC||Fear Factor||Playboy Playmates edition; 11.4 million viewers|
|Bravo||Gay Weddings||The success of Bravo's Gay Weddings marathon led the network to create additional gay-themed programming, including Queer Eye and the gay dating show Boy Meets Boy.|
|XXXIX||2005||PPV||Girls Gone Wild||"Halftime Games"|
|Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl|
|XL||2006||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl II|
|PPV||Lingerie Bowl II|
|XLI||2007||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl III|
|Fuse||Pants-Off Dance-Off||"Pancer Bowl I", featuring women stripping football clothing to the music of Prince.|
|Hallmark Channel||From the Heart: Favorite Commercials from Hallmark Cards||Aired during a marathon of Little House on the Prairie|
|PPV||Lingerie Bowl III|
|PPV||Howard Stern's Stupid Bowl III||"Boys vs. Girls"|
|XLII||2008||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl IV|
|PPV||Lingerie Bowl IV|
|Spike||Major League Eating Chowdown||Ham 'n Eggs|
|Oxygen||Deion & Pilar: Prime Time Love||"Supersneak"|
|XLIII||2009||ABC||Wipeout||"Wipeout Bowl", Cheerleaders vs. Couch Potatoes|
|Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl V|
|XLIV||2010||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl VI|
|XLV||2011||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl VII||Seen by 9.2 million viewers across all of its airings throughout the day.|
|PPV||Lingerie Bowl VIII|
|XLVI||2012||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl VIII||Seen by a total of over 10 million viewers, and was the 2nd most popular program of the day on social media behind the Super Bowl itself.|
|XLVII||2013||Animal Planet||Puppy Bowl IX|
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- Hibberd, James (December 8, 2008). "'Wipeout' special set for Super Sunday". The Hollywood Reporter. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/television/news/e3iea59cb79796a9dff7024386d316b0583. Retrieved 2008-12-26.
- Williams, Doug. "When Up With People dominated halftime". ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/blog/playbook/fandom/post/_/id/17649/when-up-with-people-dominated-halftime. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
- "Goal of spectacle colors NFL's thinking about Super Bowl halftime show". Chicago Tribune. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-02-06/business/ct-biz-0206-rosenthal--20110206_1_super-halftime-party-doritos-zaptime-halftime-show. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- Sandomir, Richard. "How Jackson Redefined the Super Bowl". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/sports/football/30sandomir.html?_r=0. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
- "Lingerie Football League changes name; players to wear uniforms". 11 January 2013. http://www.latimes.com/sports/sportsnow/la-sp-sn-lingerie-football-league-20130111,0,2469689.story. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
- "Football not your thing? Tee up these televised 'bowls'". USA Today. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/television/news/2009-01-29-super-bowl-alternatives_N.htm. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- "Green Bay Packers fan "Chuck FM" will play "nothing during the game" Sunday". Radio-Info.com. 2011-02-04. http://www.radio-info.com/news/green-bay-packers-fan-chuck-fm-will-play-nothing-during-the-game-sunday. Retrieved 2011-02-06.
- Pawlak, Dan (1998). "'BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD THE EPISODE GUIDE". http://www.beavis-butthead.ru/yellow_articles_episode.html.
- Engstrom, p. 346
- D'Abell, Farren (2003-06-04). "Boy Meets Boy: Gay Dating TV". Windy City Times. http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=1560. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
- Ryzik, Melena (February 2, 2008). "'Just Fine as Tackles, but They Can’t Pass". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/02/arts/television/02bark.html.
- "The Super Bowl isn't for everyone; here are choices". Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/entertainment/article/The-Super-Bowl-isn-t-for-everyone-here-are-1540356.php. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
- Ardent, Joe (January 31, 2008). "ABC's of Super Bowl XLII". The Press-Enterprise. http://www.pe.com/lifestyles/stories/PE_Fea_Daily_D_super_abc01.1ec8eb5.html. Retrieved 2008-12-26.
- Hibberd, James. "Puppy Bowl draws 9.2 million viewers". Entertainment Weekly. http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/02/08/puppy-bowl-rating. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- Chandler, Rick. "Hedging a Super Bowl Bet Is One Thing, But What About Hedgehog Cheerleaders?" Lake Tahoe Action. January 17, 2013. Accessed 2013-01-22.
- Engstrom, Erika. "The 'Reality' of Reality Television Wedding Programs". Based on Engstrom's "Hegemony in Reality-Based TV Programming: The World According to A Wedding Story (Media Report to Women (2003) 31(1) 10–14) and "Hegemony and Counterhegemony in Bravo's Gay Weddings (Popular Culture Review (2004) 15(2) 34–35). Collected as chapter 13 in Galician, Mary-Lou and Debra L. Merskin (2007). Critical Thinking about Sex, Love, and Romance in the Mass Media: Media Literacy Applications. Routledge. ISBN 0-8058-5615-3. pp. 335–53.