Roseanne, the beloved 90s ABC sitcom returned to schedules this week and made a huge ratings splash. The first two episodes attracted a colossal audience of 18 million live viewers and a 5.2 rating which made the show the highest rated Tuesday entertainment telecast in 6 years among the coveted 18-49 demographic and was television's highest rated comedy telecast on any night in 3.5 years, since the The Big Bang Theory in September 2014. Despite live ratings falling over the years, Roseanne's return attracted 10% more viewers than its series finale in 1997. Furthermore, the debut dwarfed the ratings of Will & Grace's return in September 2017 which scored a still big 3.0 rating for NBC.
The huge ratings should not come as a surprise to anyone. Despite Roseanne Barr being one of the most outspoken Donald Trump supporters, her political views paired with 90s nostalgia made her return to television one of the biggest and the most memorable. Hollywood generally lives in a bubble, and their continual quips towards President Trump may be fun for certain audiences, but surely alienate others. Particularly those in white, blue-collar families much like Roseanne's. Roseanne managed to tap into a forgotten segment of America's TV viewers who were probably tired with the incessant critique of their President on television programmes including regular sitcoms and Award shows. Interestingly, Roseanne, a sitcom which stars a Trump supporter delivered ratings above expectations whilst award shows like The Oscars and The Grammys continue to experience declining ratings despite their anti-Trump humour and rhetoric. The 2018 Oscars drew 26.5 million views whereas Roseanne's ratings (including delayed DVR viewing) reached 23 million viewers. The difference between the biggest night in cinema and a sitcom about a working class, 60+ Trump supporter is not as big as we would expect it to be in today's television landscape.
According to Deadline.com, "the top TV markets where Roseanne delivered its highest ratings were in states handily carried by Trump in the election. No. 1 was Tulsa in Oklahoma, which Trump won with 65.3% of the vote. It was followed by Cincinnati, Ohio and Kansas City, Missouri. The only marquee city from a blue state in the Top 10 was Chicago at No. 5 — the area where the series is set." This research suggests the political humour and satire present in most Award shows does not appeal to as wide of an audience as Hollywood likely thinks it does. It alienates viewers in various states, and as a result, many shows lose out on key demographics by not having a more nuanced or balanced approach to political satire. Prior to Roseanne's return, I believed that America was tired of political humour based on the ratings of this year's award shows however, this data suggests, Hollywood's political humour simply is not connected with millions of Americans.
Perhaps the success of Roseanne will change the way broadcasters manage the 18-49 demographic. A 5.2 live rating is astounding in today's climate and shows that millions of younger viewers, who were likely not born, or aware of Roseanne during its peak in the 90s tuned in for the premiere. Furthermore, the two series stars; Roseanne Barr and John Goodman are both 65 and are well outside the key ratings demographic. Most of Roseanne's original viewers and fans from the 90s are also outside the 18-49 ratings demographic. By tapping into interests of the forgotten viewers of Middle America, Roseanne managed to attract younger viewers, new viewers in addition to the viewers who were around during its initial run. Hopefully, the ratings success and the apparent willingness for younger viewers to watch older lead actors as well as the power of nostalgia will persuade networks to develop more shows featuring older actors and to yield the interests of older viewers outside of the ad-friendly 18-49 demographic.
If you thought there were too many old school sitcom and drama reboots and revivals on television right now, brace yourself for the flood that is about to come. Hollywood is a very reactionary business, and following the success of Roseanne and the initial success of Will & Grace, network's will greenlight more revivals. ABC and NBC currently have classic sitcom revivals, Roseanne and Will & Grace, on the air with their original casts whilst CBS currently has a Murphy Brown revival on deck for next season. The networks may also try and target blue-collar audiences by reviving their classic sitcoms featuring working class families. Fox will likely attempt to revive their first ever show Married... With Children at some point in the near future. Modern Family, which co-stars Ed O'Neil will be coming to an end soon whilst Katey Segal currently stars on the CBS sitcom Superior Donuts which is on the bubble for a renewal. With Bryan Cranston's growing success it may be hard to pull off a Malcolm in the Middle revival.
It will be interesting to see ABC's reaction to Roseanne's success. They have just renewed the revival for a second season (the show's 11th overall) however, the network cancelled Tim Allen, another Trump supporter's, show Last Man Standing last May. The reason behind the surprise cancellation was never made clear by Channing Dungey however, insiders suggested the network may have cancelled the Friday night sitcom despite its strong ratings in part due to Allen's political views. When the Roseanne revival was first announced, I initially predicted that ABC would pair the show with Last Man Standing. Perhaps the success of Roseanne will make ABC reconsider their decision, either by attempting to bring the cancelled sitcom back to life or by reviving Allen's classic ABC sitcom Home Improvement.