Roseanne’s suc­cess has TV look­ing back to the fu­ture

Sunday News - - WORLD -

LOS AN­GE­LES The in­stant-hit sta­tus of the new Roseanne is trig­ger­ing the en­dur­ing Hol­ly­wood im­pulse to copy suc­cess.

Even with se­ries pi­lots near­ing com­ple­tion for the 2018-19 TV sea­son, pro­duc­ers are ea­gerly pitch­ing re­vivals of sit­coms that, like Roseanne, had their day 20 or 30 years ago, ac­cord­ing to an in­dus­try in­sider.

Net­works and stream­ing ser­vices are also try­ing to fig­ure out how to cre­ate projects that sim­i­larly res­onate with view­ers, says vet­eran movie and TV screen­writer Lionel Chetwynd.

The ABC sit­com is part of a still-ex­pand­ing re­boot trend that has brought TV back to the fu­ture and in­cludes re­vamped ver­sions of Will & Grace, One Day at a Time and The X-Files, and the up­com­ing Mur­phy Brown.

That doesn’t mean view­ers should pre­pare for a wave of new­com­ers ap­ing Roseanne, about a work­ing-class fam­ily whose ma­tri­arch is a sup­porter of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump – as is star and pro­ducer Roseanne Barr. Tim­ing aside, there’s the chal­lenge of de­ci­pher­ing and recre­at­ing a show’s ap­peal, es­pe­cially one led by a brassy per­son­al­ity like Barr and the strong view­point she brings to her work.

Chetwynd, an Os­car and Emmy nom­i­nee who counts him­self among Hol­ly­wood’s rare po­lit­i­cal con­ser­va­tives, said he re­ceived queries from cable chan­nels and stream­ing net­works about de­vel­op­ing blue-col­lar se­ries af­ter Trump’s elec­tion, and again when the Roseanne re­boot de­buted on March 27 with ex­cep­tional rat­ings. Ini­tial skep­ti­cism about whether view­ers would wel­come such fare ‘‘is now di­min­ished sig­nif­i­cantly’’, he said.

The back-and-forth be­tween Barr’s char­ac­ter and her an­tiTrump sis­ter has cer­tainly made the show stand out among care­fully apo­lit­i­cal se­ries and other pro­grammes that thrive on skew­er­ing the pres­i­dent and his poli­cies, in­clud­ing late-night talk shows.

The Trump fac­tor also has earned the show a wealth of me­dia and other at­ten­tion, in­clud­ing from the pres­i­dent him­self. He called to con­grat­u­late Barr on its 18 mil­lion-plus de­but au­di­ence. In a speech, he said the show ‘‘was about us’’.

ABC En­ter­tain­ment Pres­i­dent Channing Dungey said the top­i­cal­ity of Roseanne was part of its suc­cess.

‘‘I think the rea­son it’s con­nect­ing with audiences is that it’s bring­ing a con­ver­sa­tion to the fore­front that I feel a lot of peo­ple are hav­ing in their own lives. But it’s not re­ally tak­ing place on [se­ries] tele­vi­sion at this mo­ment,’’ Dungey said.

Roseanne may only be skim­ming the sur­face of what is to come, pre­dicts Robert Thomp­son, direc­tor of Syra­cuse Univer­sity’s Bleier Cen­tre for Tele­vi­sion and Pop­u­lar Cul­ture.

‘‘I think we are go­ing to see, within the next year or two, a real at­tempt to show a no-holds-barred Trump fam­ily, and I don’t know ex­actly what that means,’’ he said. ‘‘How are we go­ing to top Roseanne? I think that’s prob­a­bly what they’re look­ing to do. How that’s go­ing to be ex­e­cuted could be very dicey.’’

Some pun­dits point to the builtin brand recog­ni­tion that Roseanne has among view­ers who watched it the first time around or in re­runs. But nos­tal­gia alone isn’t sell­ing the show to the 18.4 mil­lion view­ers who tuned in for its premiere, and the stil­limpres­sive 15.4 mil­lion who came back for week two – num­bers that don’t re­flect the mil­lions more watch­ing on a de­layed-view­ing ba­sis.

In con­trast, NBC’s Will & Grace re­turned with a 10.1 mil­lion de­but au­di­ence and has set­tled into an av­er­age of un­der 6 mil­lion weekly view­ers, enough in to­day’s over­loaded TV land­scape to make it wor­thy of a quick re­newal for mul­ti­ple sea­sons.

Pol­i­tics helped to res­ur­rect Will & Grace, about a cir­cle of gay and straight friends, when its stars taped a 2016 cam­paign spot for Hil­lary Clin­ton that went vi­ral. On the flip side, one of its four stars – Me­gan Mul­lally, who plays Karen Walker – is a Trump sup­porter in the re­boot.

In the early go­ing, Roseanne has shown its great­est strength in mar­kets that in­clude Kansas City, Mis­souri; Mil­wau­kee; Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina; and Day­ton, Ohio. But the US is not so neatly di­vided in its TV view­ing as it may be in its po­lit­i­cal party reg­is­tra­tion.

If that sug­gests there’s no easy an­swer to what view­ers may find ap­peal­ing or re­lat­able, Chetwynd is not sur­prised. Net­works or stu­dios that think slap­ping ‘‘con­ser­va­tive’’ on a char­ac­ter or sto­ry­line to draw in view­ers feel­ing ig­nored by TV are miss­ing the point, he says.

‘‘It’s not about pol­i­tics. It’s about recog­nis­ing your­self in what you see on tele­vi­sion, and peo­ple cre­at­ing a world that is so alien to peo­ple who watch tele­vi­sion that they stop watch­ing broad­cast TV.’’ AP

PHOTO: ABC

Roseanne Barr, left, and Lau­rie Met­calf star in the new Roseanne, part of a trend of re­vived TV shows that in­cludes WIll & Grace and The X-Files.

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