When ABC launched Roseanne with two episodes last Tuesday night, the show had an average of 17.7 million viewers in the first half-hour and 18.6 million in the second. The show is so popular that it has already been renewed for a second season.
The story of a working-class family of five not on TV since 1997 clearly struck a chord with the American people. The question is why?
Some will say nostalgia is at play. But I discount that. The show did a 5.1 share among adults 18-49. And twenty-something’s who partially comprised Tuesday night’s audience weren’t part of the original viewership.
Others say it is the political subject matter. Roseanne Barr, the series’ star, herself voted for President Trump, and her character in the re-boot is revealed to be a Trump backer. The president himself seems think it’s that simple. He called the real-life Roseanne on Wednesday to congratulate her, and on Thursday in Ohio, told his audience, “Look at Roseanne — look at her ratings. They were unbelievable. Over 18 million people. And it was about us.”
Here’s the thing about that “us”: The New York Times reported, “The top markets for the debut read like a political pollster’s red-state checklist: Cincinnati, Tulsa, and Kansas City, Missouri. Liberal enclaves like New York and Los Angeles did not crack the top 20.”
That fits with what Ben Sherwood, president of ABC, told the Times—that this was a “heartland strategy.” He says that the day after the president’s election, ABC executives looked at one another and said, “There’s a lot about this country we need to learn a lot more about.” He said that Roseanne’s revival was a direct effort to reach an audience they were underserving.
I get all that. But on this, two days after Easter, and a few days after many enjoyed family at Seder, I think there is a related aspect.
‘Roseanne’ tells the story of family dynamics. And while Roseanne supported candidate Trump, her sister, Jackie, played by Laurie Metcalf, is revealed to be a Hillary supporter – who nevertheless voted for Jill Stein.
That’s the real snapshot into the real America this show provides. A world where the even red state/blue state divide portrayed of cable television news is not reflected. For many of us, who enjoyed the company of friends and relatives this weekend, our worlds were much more like Roseanne’s than the narrative our leaders and their media mouthpieces tell.