As important as the actual football game is for the Super Bowl, the halftime show and commercials are the things the more casual viewers tend to enjoy most. Performing at halftime in front of a sold out stadium crowd and millions of people watching at home on their TVs has become a badge of honor for those musicians lucky enough to be chosen.
Musical legends like Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, ZZ Top, Stevie Wonder, Phil Collins, Aerosmith, U2, The Rolling Stones, Beyoncé, and Prince have all had their moments on the Super Bowl halftime stage over the years. The tradition of big-time musical acts will continue at the upcoming Super Bowl 51, as the uber-successful Lady Gaga has been selected as the halftime performer.
But it was not always this way. During the first few Super Bowls back in the 1960s and 70s, halftime entertainment usually consisted of nothing more than a college marching band.
It was by no means must-see TV. But it did not begin to really change until Super Bowl XXVI in 1992, when more than 20 million viewers switched over to another channel rather than watch the game’s halftime performance.
For this particular halftime show that aired on CBS, the producers chose to have a theme that centered around the upcoming Winter Olympics. It was full of cheesy Christmas songs (despite the holiday happening more than a month before the game), random figure skaters, and even a performance from Miami superstar Gloria Estefan (because why not?).
But also happening at the same time was a live episode of Fox’s comedy-sketch show In Living Color. Since the halftime entertainment on CBS was lacking any real excitement, many viewers decided to switch over to Fox at least until the actual game started back up again.
Over 22 million viewers to be exact.
It also helped that Fox came up with the brilliant idea to include a countdown clock in their episode so that viewers would know when the second half of the game was ready to begin.
What happened during halftime in 1992 is the reason why such major musical acts perform today. The NFL saw that their entertainment could not even draw viewers away from a comedy show and decided to start taking each year’s halftime performance much more seriously.
It began immediately with the very next Super Bowl halftime show featuring arguably the world’s most popular musician at the time in Michael Jackson. The pop icon put on a masterful performance and the NFL has not looked back since.
Of course, they had that minor speed bump in 2004 when Janet Jackson perhaps showed a bit more skin than the league would have liked.
But even though the NFL leaned toward performers that were a bit less risqué over the next few years after Jackson’s controversy, the league still relied on some of the biggest musical acts in the world to put on a show for millions of viewers each year.
Lady Gaga will likely put on another memorable performance in the upcoming Super Bowl, but it should also be noted that the last time the game was held in Houston was when Janet Jackson took the stage. The NFL should have absolutely zero worries about people switching channels during halftime this year.