Stephen Colbert’s Late Show followed the Broncos’ surprise Super Bowl victory — how did its ratings compare to those of Friends, Grey’s Anatomy, and Survivor?
Friends (NBC, Jan. 28, 1996)
Brooke Shields and Matt LeBlanc.
52.9 million viewers
(Dallas beat Pittsburgh, 94.1 million viewers)
The Cowboys beat the Steelers in a close game, which made this Super Bowl the most-watched sporting event of all time (at the time). And NBC had stacked the deck of this two-part Friends with guest stars: Julia Roberts played Chandler's former grade-school nemesis, whom he now wants to date; Brooke Shields appeared as Joey's stalker (she's obsessed with his soap opera character); and Jean-Claude Van Damme appeared as himself…with Monica and Rachel fighting over him, good lord. It's the most-watched post-Super Bowl episode ever, the most-watched Friends ever, and ushered in the modern era of using the game as a platform to try to launch an already popular show into the ratings stratosphere by introducing it to a wider audience.
Survivor: The Australian Outback (Jan. 28, 2001)
Elisabeth Filarski! (Now Hasselbeck.)
45.4 million viewers
(Baltimore Ravens beat the New York Giants 84.3 million viewers)
In the summer of 2000, Survivor had been a shockingly huge hit and changed television as we know it: The networks' reality era began. The finale of Season 1, during which villain Richard Hatch won the $1 million prize, had brought in more than 50 million viewers on an August night. So CBS decided to premiere its second season after television's biggest platform. The Ravens slaughtered the Giants, but the crappy game didn't affect Survivor's ratings. It ended up being the most popular show of the season. (This Survivor season has the distinction, dubious or wonderful, depending on your bent, of introducing the world to Elisabeth Hasselbeck, née Filarski, the right-wing ex-View co-host, now on Fox & Friends. She came in fourth.)