Roseanne’s success has TV looking back to the future
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
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.