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‘Roseanne’ Upends the TV Industry, Proving Middle America Can Help Broadcast Triumph

Amazing "Roseanne" ratings mean network executives will look hard at what lessons might be learned — and the rare advantage this confers in 2018.

ROSEANNE - "Roseanne," the timeless sitcom that broke new ground and dominated ratings in its original run, will return to ABC with all-new episodes, in a special hour-long premiere, TUESDAY, MARCH 27 (8:00-9:00 p.m. EDT). "Roseanne" will air in its regular time slot, 8:00-8:30 p.m., beginning TUESDAY, APRIL 3. (ABC/Adam Rose)SARA GILBERT, LAURIE METCAF, ROSEANNE BARR, JOHN GOODMAN, MICHAEL FISHMAN, SARAH CHALKE, ALICIA GORANSON



Network executive call sheets were probably filled Wednesday with producers, agents, and stars ringing to pitch their own reboot ideas. TV is already on nostalgia overdrive — IndieWire counts more than 60 remakes and reboots currently underway or in development, and the tremendous return of “Roseanne” will only press the accelerator.

Perhaps that’s not a bad thing, giving the audience what it wants. And what it wants right now, in an age of choice (and a world of uncertainty), is a bit of familiarity.

But even ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey is cautious. While “Roseanne” gives ABC wind in its sails for the May upfronts, and again solidifies the network’s family comedy brand, reboots for the sake of a reboot aren’t the answer. “Roseanne” worked, she said, because the issues that the Conner family faces now are just as timely as they were in 1988.

“With the conversations right now we’re having about our country, there’s an opportunity to explore that on ‘Roseanne,'” she said. “That’s part of the reason it resonated with audiences.”

The reboot/remake trend isn’t the only conversation to come out of the success of “Roseanne.” Here are a few more factors to ponder as Roseanne Barr reclaims her title as TV’s domestic goddess.

ROSEANNE - Iconic comedy series ÒRoseanneÓ returns to The ABC Television Network on Tuesday, March 27, at 8 p.m. EDT, with nine new episodes featuring the complete original cast - Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, Sara Gilbert, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Fishman and Lecy Goranson. Sarah Chalke, who played the character Becky in later seasons, will also appear in another role. New cast joining the one-of-a-kind Conner family includes Emma Kenney as Harris Conner-Healy, Ames McNamara as Mark Conner-Healy and Jayden Rey as Mary Conner. With fresh stories that tackle todayÕs issues and even more laughs from a brilliant cast and crew that havenÕt missed a beat, audiences old and new will celebrate the homecoming of AmericaÕs favorite working-class family. (ABC/Adam Rose)SARA GILBERT, ROSEANE BARR, JOHN GOODMAN



The rise of the middle-American TV show

“Roseanne” could spur a movement to create and develop shows for middle America, and might impact which shows receive series orders in May.

Since taking the reins at ABC, Dungey has touted her desire to make sure the American Broadcasting Company looked like America — and that includes shows that reflect so-called midwestern values. It’s always been a part of ABC’s DNA, including the soon-to-depart sitcom “The Middle,” and, of course, the original “Roseanne.”

Like its star Roseanne Barr, “Roseanne” made headlines for being a Donald Trump supporter, and did well in red-state markets like Tulsa, Okla., Cincinnati, Ohio, Kansas City, Mo., and Oklahoma City.

“We talk a lot at our network about diversity and inclusion,” Dungey said. “I think what happened with ‘Roseanne’ is we were able to give voice to a segment of the country that has felt that they have not had as much of an opportunity to have their voice heard. That’s exciting, too.”

CBS has long spoken to that audience, which is why “NCIS” remains one of the most-watched shows on TV. Even at Netflix, one of the streaming service’s biggest hits is “The Ranch.”

It’s also a reminder that although the right wing likes to paint Hollywood as an industry of coastal elitists, writers and producers who make TV hail from all over the country and, more often than not, grew up in middle America.

And in that vein…

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by 20th Century Fox Television/REX/Shutterstock (5885854v)Tim AllenLast Man Standing - 2011Director: Jack Burditt20th Century Fox TelevisionUSATelevision

Tim Allen, “Last Man Standing”

Fox Television/REX/Shutterstock

Tim Allen was wrong about “Last Man Standing.”

When ABC decided to end “Last Man Standing” after six seasons, Allen quickly griped that his conservative political views led to being silenced. In truth, it was business: ABC didn’t own the show (20th Century Fox TV produced it), and it was headed into an expensive seventh season.

Allen, of course, was a legacy ABC star, and his new show was on the air long enough for him to make more syndication dollars. Now, another ABC has embraced another alum back for a second round, and Barr has been more outspoken about her support of Donald Trump than Allen ever was with his own beliefs.

Here’s what ABC believes in: Ratings, which equal profits. Networks have shown a willingness to put up with outspoken stars when their shows deliver. With 18.4 million viewers Tuesday night, “Roseanne” delivered.

Read More: ‘Roseanne’ Review

THIS IS US -- Episode 214 -- Pictured: (l-r) Eris Baker as Tess, Sterling K. Brown as Randall -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

“This is Us”

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Your occasional reminder that broadcast TV isn’t dead.

“Roseanne” is very much like “This Is Us,” “The Good Doctor,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Empire” (in its prime). All are scripted series that resonate on the broadcast networks, and can lead the pop-culture conversation.

“If you deliver a show that connects with audiences, people will come,” Dungey said. “Every time people say broadcast is dead, something like this happens and shows everyone that there’s a real power in that reach of broadcast, in connecting with a wide audience.”

Star and producer Sara Gilbert echoed a similar sentiment to Variety: “It helps to have a show with a built-in audience. People’s long relationship with us certainly gave us a leg up, but we’ve seen from other shows too that broadcast television is not dead. It’s just a harder landscape to survive in.”

And to that end…

Networks could keep franchises away from Netflix.

Series revivals initially served to boost Netflix’s originals, including “Arrested Development,” “Fuller House” and “Gilmore Girls.” Streaming services are still willing to pay big bucks to reunite old shows, as they’re still the quickest way to get nostalgia-loving audiences to sign up and pay $10 a month.

Of course, no one really knows how those shows perform. However, we do know how big “Roseanne” is — and that drives the narrative for the show, and for ABC. Producers and stars of future legacy shows may look at the media blitz for “Roseanne” (as well as “The X-Files” and “Will & Grace”) and decide they prefer a good old-fashioned network ego stroke.

One warning: The novelty wears off.

This winter’s second season of “The X-Files” return didn’t come close to the ratings of the initial revival in 2016. And while “Will & Grace” opened to a strong 3.0 rating (bumping up to 4.6 in Live+3 numbers), it now averages around 1.2 (2.0 with L+3) in recent airings.

We don’t yet know if Roseanne will fall into a similar pattern, but with that opening it could lost half the audience and still be among the top broadcast shows. And we haven’t even seen what those Live+3 numbers might look like for “Roseanne” — but rest assured, they will be much bigger.

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