Let’s go crazy. Again. Seven years after his sizzling halftime show in Miami, Prince returns to the Super Bowl spotlight, this time as a comedic actor. His Purple Highness plays himself in an episode of “New Girl,” which airs in Sunday’s highly coveted post-game slot on Fox.
He’s not just doing a rendition of “When Doves Cry” and exiting stage left. Although he will perform at least one song, he also dives into sitcom shenanigans, which includes giving Jess (Zooey Deschanel) a makeover.
“We do some strange stuff on the show, and he was up for all it,” said Hannah Simone, who plays Jess’ gal pal, Cece. “I heard he had a really good sense of humor and he really does. He was wonderful, incredibly open, sweet and charming.”
Turns out he’s also a big fan of the show. Prince contacted Deschanel by e-mail last season, declaring that he only watched two things on TV: “New Girl” and the news. Still, cast members had their fair share of jitters during his three days on the set.
“It’s safe to say that anyone who only goes by one name is going to be intimidating,” said Deschanel, who also plays in the indie-pop duo She & Him. “He’s a cultural icon.”
Deschanel’s team is hoping that the royal visit and the high-profile time slot combine to get the show more attention. The sitcom, now in its third season, averages a disappointing 5 million to 8 million viewers a week.
The last sitcom to run immediately after the Super Bowl was “The Office,” which in 2009 drew an audience of nearly 23 million, by far the largest in its nine-year history. “Friends” shattered all records in 1996 when it drew nearly 53 million viewers with the help of guest stars Julia Roberts, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chris Isaak.
“It’s always exciting when you love something and you get the opportunity to share it with more people,” Simone said.
“New Girl” isn’t the only sitcom hoping to attract new fans. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a workplace comedy set in a police station, may have won Golden Globes for best comedy and star Andy Samberg, but it has struggled to get a foothold in its rookie season, averaging less than 4 million viewers a week. Its Sunday episode, airing right after “New Girl,” will feature cameos by former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann and “SNL” alumnus Fred Armisen.
“Maybe there’s added pressure because you know so many more eyeballs are going to be on it,” Samberg said the day after he pulled off the Globes upset. “But in the end, you have to go with the story that’s been chosen and hope that people are happy with it.”
From 1983 to 1995, networks used the Super Bowl to launch shows, a strategy that greatly benefitted “The A Team,” “The Wonder Years” and “Homicide: Life on the Street.” But that approach failed more often than it succeeded. (Anyone remember the 1985 cop comedy “The Last Precinct,” starring Adam West? Didn’t think so).
Now executives use that precious time to give a lift to current shows they believe could do better in the ratings.
“We have a high degree of faith in ‘Brooklyn’ as we do with ‘New Girl,’ ” said Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly. “We wanted to grow the comedies. They needed the boost.”
Prince will also get a boost — although one wonders if he really needs one. He didn’t put out a proper album in 2013, yet he’s managed to keep a high profile by performing with his youthful new band, 3rdEyeGirl, taking to Twitter for the first time and, most recently, filing a lawsuit against Internet bootleggers.
His continued relevance was proven on a recent episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in which guest Christina Ricci talked about her dreams of making friends with Prince, whom she compared to a My Little Pony. She was followed by “New Girl” star Jake Johnson, who told anecdotes about trying to break the ice with the legend by talking about the Minnesota Vikings.
All was going well until Johnson brought up backup quarterback Josh Freeman. Prince freely admitted he had never heard of the man.
Fortunately, Prince has plenty of time to bone up on his football knowledge before he plans his next Super Bowl splash.