Roseanne returns with monster TV ratings in Trump era

The show's Emmy-winning star, Roseanne Barr, made it clear that she was a supporter of President Donald Trump and let it be known that her programme would grapple with a hot political moment.
The show's Emmy-winning star, Roseanne Barr, made it clear that she was a supporter of President Donald Trump and let it be known that her programme would grapple with a hot political moment. PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NYTimes) - At least for a night, America said it really did want more Roseanne. The revival of the vintage ABC sitcom got off to an enormously strong start on Tuesday night (March 27), drawing 18.2 million viewers and a 5.1 rating among adults under 50, according to Nielsen.

The Roseanne numbers rank as the highest total of any comedy on the broadcast networks since the 2014 season premiere of The Big Bang Theory. For comparison's sake, ABC's revival of American Idol earlier this month reached an audience of 10.3 million viewers and scored a 2.3 rating in the prize demographic.

The Roseanne numbers are in an entirely different category and stand to grow when delayed viewing is factored in.

Many TV industry executives were divided on whether or not a new version of Roseanne would take off. Though the industry has been in a reboot craze for the last two years (series like Full House, Twin Peaks and The X-Files have all been brought back to life), the results have ranged from "meh" to solid.

Unlike those shows, Roseanne has seemingly appealed to viewers for reasons having nothing to do with nostalgia: In interviews leading up to the sitcom's premiere, the show's Emmy-winning star, Roseanne Barr, made it clear that she was a supporter of President Donald Trump and let it be known that her programme would grapple with a hot political moment that has divided some American families.

"I've always had it be a true reflection of the society we live in," she said during a Television Critics Association press event in January. "Half the country voted for him, half of them didn't. It's just realistic."

If Roseanne does not suffer an enormous decline, the series has a good chance at becoming one of the top-rated shows of the 2017-18 television season. The highest-rated series among adults under 50 is currently This Is Us, which has a 5.3 rating among adults under 50, but that includes delayed-viewing data.

ABC ran two episodes of Roseanne on Tuesday night. In the first half-hour, shown at 8pm ET, the show had an average of 17.7 million viewers. That number grew at 8.30 to 18.6 million viewers. The network will air nine episodes altogether.

The network has not made a decision about whether there will be another season, but Barr told The New York Times: "We all want to keep doing it so we just hope people like it and they watch it, and it gets renewed, you know, we all want that."

The Roseanne revival has been part of a broader strategy at ABC to reorient its programming since Trump won the November 2016 election. That has included inspiring and hopeful shows, among them The Good Doctor, a surprise ABC hit, about an autistic doctor that stars Freddie Highmore. And it included the reboot of Roseanne.

The first run of Roseanne lasted nine seasons, from 1988 to 1997. At the time it was one of the few hit programs centred on a working-class family. The show impressed critics, provided grist for op-ed columnists and won its share of Emmys and Golden Globes, and a Peabody.

The sitcom could also help ABC finally escape the basement among the big four networks. It has finished each of the last two seasons in last place.