The Story of the 1992 Super Bowl Halftime Show
Prior to the early 1990s, the Super Bowl halftime show was typically based around a theme (many produced by Disney), and featured university marching bands, drill teams and other performance ensembles such as Up with People. The 1992 Super Bowl halftime (considered the low point in the history of this mid-game entertainment) was called “Winter Magic – A Salute to the Winter Olympics.” Performers included Olympic figure skaters Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill, members of the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team, and the University of Minnesota Marching Band. Gloria Estefan sang “Get on Your Feet,” (seems somewhat apropos with skating, doesn’t it?).
It started with off-center drill teams hastily forming into “winter” and “magic,” then a big band breaks into a rendition of “Winter Wonderland.” Women were dressed as snowflakes, some carried snowflake umbrellas. Some ballroom dancing took place. It gets better (worse): There were a few moments from The Nutcracker featuring the Russian dancing segment (remember, Christmas was already over). Then some kids rapped about snowmen in “Do the Frosty.” Roller skaters stormed the field in gaudy parachute pants.
Dorothy and Brian come back and skated to One Moment in Time. Then players from the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic hockey team held sparklers as Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” played for some reason. Finally Gloria Estefan took the stage and did the big finish (dressed in a black leather tutu accessorized with pearls, no less). A literal kitchen sink of entertainment (oh, I forgot to mention the snowmobiles and the ski poles!).
While all of this was taking place, rival network Fox aired a special live episode of In Living Color, one of the first deliberate attempts of counter-programming. Sensing a stinker that young people would absolutely not want to watch, Fox slotted the special opposite the halftime show, even providing viewers a clock denoting when to click back over, and ended up contributing to the game’s drop in ratings between halves. The show drew over 22 million viewers away from the CBS Super Bowl telecast.
In mid-1992, citing the In Living Color counter-programming (and the cringe-worthy “Winter Magic” embarrassment), the concept of exclusively featuring live concert-type performances from top contemporary musical artists was pitched to the NFL. This prompted the pivotal change of the 1993 halftime to showcase Michael Jackson. This halftime performance increased the TV ratings by a significant amount, and thereafter, the NFL made a deliberate effort to attract top performers for the halftime shows.
Super Bowls rank among all top ten of the most watched TV programs, except for #9 which was the finale of M*A*S*H. The halftime shows contribute significant viewing audiences to the show, as did Katy Perry in 2015. That Super Bowl year ranks as the #1 most watched TV program of all time, with the halftime show getting higher ratings than the football game.
Despite Maroon 5 headlining this year’s halftime, the show has been marked by challenges and controversy with top entertainers taking a pass on performing in light of the league’s opposition to the Take A Knee movement, an effort led by onetime player Colin Kaepernick. As a result, this year’s halftime might prove to be another turning point for totally different reasons.