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ROSEANNE STUNS HOLLYWOOD PROMPTS SOULSEARCHING

Issued: 2018-03-28

Roseanne made a triumphant return last night, blowing past projections to draw a 5.2 adults 18-49 rating in 18.2 million (Live+same day).

While nostalgia was expected to bring in eyeballs, no one predicted such a huge turnout on premiere night for the blue-collar family sitcom with a Donald Trump-supporting protagonist, especially among the younger demographic. But then, few also expected Trump to become the Republican nominee and to win the Presidential election when he first announced his candidacy.

Both Trump and Roseanne were able to tap into the often overlooked and underserved working-class audience. Not surprisingly, the top TV markets where Roseanne delivered its highest ratings were in states handily won by Trump. 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 big city from a blue state in the Top 10 was Chicago at No. 5 — that is the area where the series is set. ABC focused some of its marketing efforts in the region with a preview of the revival at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival.

The top market of the country, New York, was not in the Top 20; No.2 Los Angeles was not in the Top 30. And yet, Roseanne delivered the highest demo rating for a comedy telecast in 3.5 years, since the fall 2014 season premiere of The Big Bang Theory.

There no doubt was an element of nostalgia and curiosity about how the characters have changed and about the new generation of the Conners. But Roseanne went beyond that. Its youngest 18-49 viewers when the series originally aired on ABC from 1988-1997 are now at the very top or outside of the ad-friendly demographic, in which last night’s premiere posted a staggering 5.2 Live+same day rating with no lead-in. It came largely from new viewers who were children or not even born during Roseanne‘s initial run.

Somehow Roseanne transcended age, recruiting droves of young viewers for a show whose two leads, Roseanne Barr and John Goodman, are both 65, well outside of the 18-49 demo. It tapped into the zeitgeist of Middle America, tackling its economic problems — and political leanings — head-on. There was curiosity how Roseanne will address Trump, which the show did in the very first episode. In an encouraging sign, the novelty did not wear off, with the second episode rating even higher than the opener.

ABC did a major marketing campaign for Roseanne, including a three-day stunt during SXSW in Austin, Texas that drew huge crowds, and a tie-in with NASCAR, which is hugely popular in the flyover states.

And then there was Barr. Always a firebrand, she did not shy away from controversy, flipping off Jimmy Kimmel and talking candidly about her political views while promoting the show, generating a slew of provocative headlines in the process.

That could’ve gone either way, possibly alienating viewers. But it worked, leaving many TV insiders shellshocked by the magnitude of the revival’s ratings success that revealed the untapped potential of comedies that provide realistic portrayal of blue-collar America. What’s more, Roseanne did that while also providing a social commentary, something rarely seen since All In the Family, Norman Lear’s classic which has long been rumored to get a reboot.

TV business always has been reactionary, so when something works, others immediately look for ways to replicate it. ABC, NBC and CBS all have classic sitcom revivals featuring the original casts on deck with Roseanne, Will & Grace and CBS’ upcoming Murphy Brown.

Fox, which was on the revival forefront with dramas 24: Live Another Day, Prison Break and The X-Files, is the only major network without a sitcom re-do, so its executives will likely take a look at the library. Like Roseanne, Fox has a popular blue-collar sitcom in Married… with Children, but its two stars, Ed O’Neill and Katey Sagal are both on other comedy series. Also hard to pull off would be That ’70s Show or Malcolm In the Middle revivals with the original stars.

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