As we previously covered back in June of last year, the sitcom “Roseanne” is getting a reboot after a 20 year hiatus. Back in the lates 1980s and into the 90s, “Roseanne” covered topics near and dear to flyover country and the difficulties encountered by most working-class Americans. The new season premiered on Tuesday night with a blowout 18 million viewers which was far higher than expected for your average network sitcom nowadays, especially considering the endless mountain of entertainment options offered by cable and streaming. Of course, the twist in this season is that the character played by Roseanne Barr in the show is a proud Trump voter, and the first episode dealt directly with the 2016 election.
In real life, Roseanne has also been a vocal Trump supporter on twitter, which is probably why the President placed a phone call of congratulations after the ratings boom hit the news on Wednesday. The New York Times reports:
President Trump made a personal phone call on Wednesday to a political supporter with a huge megaphone — Roseanne Barr.
Mr. Trump called Ms. Barr to congratulate her on the revival of her comedy, “Roseanne,” and to thank her for her support.
The call was confirmed by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.
The president, an obsessive about how TV shows perform, was enthralled by the “huge” ratings “Roseanne” had received, said a person familiar with the call. The show’s first episode, broadcast Tuesday evening on ABC, averaged 18.2 million viewers.
Much ado was made about Roseanne’s character defending and displaying her Trump support on the show, but she was one among several characters who offered differing views and the episode made light of opposing views within families which is common for most households:
“Roseanne,” featuring a working-class family of five and assorted relatives, returned to the air this week more than two decades after it ended its run. The lead actress’s character plays a backer of Mr. Trump. (Roseanne’s TV sister, Jackie Harris, by contrast, supports Hillary Clinton, though ultimately voted for Jill Stein.)
In reality, the election results were merely part of the story line demonstrating how politics is as divisive between average Americans as it is within families themselves. The first episode focuses on how Roseanne and her sister have not spoken for a year due to these differences, which unfortunately is what politics can do to even the closest of relationships. The second episode (the first two were aired back-to-back) was not focused on politics the same way the first one was, which let the audience settle in to learning more of the story we missed for 20 years.
So, why did American tune in? The entertainment reporters and political analysts are offering overlapping thoughts on the question, but the answer seems to be mixed somewhere between a love for nostalgia, and a more truly balanced presentation of what many families deal with across the country. Some 62+ million people did vote for Donald Trump, so they must be out there, and Roseanne decided to find them.
Deadline, an entertainment news site, puts the data together with politics and provides some great insight:
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 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. 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 any comedy telecast in 3 1/2 years, since the fall 2014 season premiere of TV’s biggest comedy series of the past five years, The Big Bang Theory.
Hot Air, a conservative blog, also offers deeper analysis, which I think gets to the heart of the matter, comparing “Roseanne” with another recent reboot, “Will & Grace”:
My non-political hunch is that it’s a combination of nostalgia plus the fact that “Roseanne” was a much bigger hit than “Will & Grace” was during its initial run. W&G was a top 20 show for four of its nine seasons and a top 10 show for just one. “Roseanne” was a top five show for its first seven seasons and a top two show in four of its first five. It was number one in 1989-90. There are simply more old “Roseanne” fans out there than “Will & Grace” fans, in all probability.
As for nostalgia, although the two shows were near-contemporaries (“Roseanne” went off the air the year before W&G debuted), the feel from memory is that they aired in different eras. “Will & Grace” is celebrated for mainstreaming gay characters, a trend that continues in entertainment today. “Roseanne” is celebrated for the sympathy and verisimilitude with which it depicted a blue-collar family, a trend that … does not continue as reliably. Because the show was so famously realistic, I think, the characters remain unusually vivid in viewers’ minds many years later.
“Roseanne” was indeed very popular for at least the first six or seven seasons, so there are a lot of fans still kicking around and eating up the reruns on TV Land and other cable outlets.
Perhaps the curiosity of watching how both sides of the debate are played out by familiar characters, coupled with the complete cast from the original series, sprinkled with a large fan base created the perfect ratings storm for this reboot.
The new Roseanne episodes were funny and timely. The cast needs to sharpen up their delivery, but they’ll get there in this 9-episode season. The reboot of Will & Grace is also funny, and takes a more anti-Trump view, but since it is being made with less time in between the prior W&G seasons ending, the characters almost seem like they haven’t changed a bit, which creates more continuity between the time gap.
People tuned in for the premiere, though it has yet to be seen whether they’ll stick around for upcoming episodes when the fascination wears off and politics no longer serves as the show’s focus.