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Cable Nets Offer Super Alternatives

Cable networks will offer football widows and non-sports fans a cornucopia of movies, specials and events programmed against CBS's Feb. 1 Super Bowl telecast.

While most cable networks will serve up repeats and movies versus what is traditionally the most-watched program of the year, others will take shots at the big game with fresh entries or programming marathons.

As expected, women's-targeted networks Lifetime Television and WE: Women's Entertainment are scheduling all-day movie marathons to counter the New England Patriots-Carolina Panthers Super Bowl matchup.


WE will offer Sophie's Choice, On Golden Pond, Mask and Ordinary People, while Lifetime plans a 12-hour block of movies and miniseries, highlighted by Family Album, a four-hour adaptation of the Daniele Steele book.

Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks said that over the years, cable's counter-programming efforts have sacked some Super Bowl viewership. Court TV, for example, averaged a 1.0 household rating last year with a two-hour's worth of Forensics Files episodes in primetime. This year, the network will offer a similar marathon featuring its top rated series.

Despite pulling its high-rated original series Strong Medicine and The Division, Lifetime averaged a 2.4 rating from 4-8 p.m. last Jan. 26 against the Super Bowl with a miniseries, Degree Of Guilt, and a 1.7 for a second miniseries, Blind Faith, from 8 to midnight.

"There's absolutely nothing sacred on broadcast anymore, including the Super Bowl," Brooks said. "Part of the reason [viewership] has come down from the 1970s and 1980s is because there are some many alternatives — not everyone wants to watch the Super Bowl."

While many networks will offer distaff-aimed fare against the Super Bowl, Trio will proffer Parking Lot as "parallel" counter programming. Trio president Lauren Zalaznick believes the series could pick off both male and female viewers who may grow tired of the game. The show, which highlights the actions of fans who mill around arenas before a major concert or event, has some gridiron similarities, she added.

"Halftime comes [during the Super Bowl] and you've seen the best of the game. If it's a blowout, people may start flipping channels," Zalaznick said. "Parking Lot is about tailgating, which is a direct parallel to going to a football game."

Another cable program that should appeal to guys at halftime is the "Lingerie Bowl" pay-per-view event. In Demand LLC, DirecTV Inc., EchoStar Communications Corp. and TVN Entertainment are distributing the live event, with a suggested retail of $19.95, that will feature scantily clad women playing full-contact football.

"This is probably the most ingenious of the counter programming [stunts]," said In Demand senior vice president of programming and development Dan York. "The Super Bowl represents the peak HUT [houses using television] level of the year, so why not try to reach some of those eyeballs."

York would not estimate how many buys the event would generate, but added, "if we're successful in capturing a very small fraction of the homes that are looking for something to watch during halftime, it will be a very successful event."

Spike TV will also turn out a plethora of bikini-clad women during the afternoon leading up to the game via four Sports Illustrated Swimsuit specials and a two-hour entry from male-targeted FHM magazine.


Other counterprogramming options include:

  • Sci Fi Channel's 14-hour "Blood Bowl" lineup of classic horror films, including several Wishmaster and Prophesy sequels;
  • The History Channel's replay of its two-hour special Presidents On Super Bowl Sunday, which looks at what various presidents were doing and thinking during the contests;
  • Food Network has a six-hour marathon of Southern-cuisine show Paula's Home Cooking from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., followed by a pair of Emeril Live episodes saluting women;
  • Hallmark Channel's Little House on the Prairie marathon;
  • USA Network will showcase its Traffic miniseries, leading into the 8:30 p.m. basic-cable window premiere of theatrical Dead Man Walking;
  • Turner Network Television will air a Charmed marathon, while sister network TBS Superstation airs female-targeted movies all day such as The Bodyguard, Sister Act, My Girl and Jumpin' Jack Flash.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.