It was the cackle heard ’round the TV business Wednesday morning: The triumphant return of “Roseanne” stunned executives, including top brass at ABC. Insiders at rival networks predicted a rating as high as 3.0 among adults 18-49, which would have been deemed a huge success. The hour-long return blew up those projections, coming in at a stunning 5.2 rating.
Approximately 18.4 million viewers tuned in to watch the Conner family reconnect, 21 years after the show’s finale. A lot has changed since then — including in the TV biz, where a 5.2 rating for a series episode is a rare commodity (well, outside a few outliers like “The Walking Dead”). The show was the highest adult 18-49 rating for any comedy telecast since the 2014 season opener of CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory.”
“If you deliver a show that connects with audiences, people will come,” ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey told IndieWire. “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.”
ABC secured nine episodes of the “Roseanne” return, and insiders confirm that the series’ cast has now been locked in for an additional season of at least 13 episodes. Star Roseanne Barr has said in interviews that she’s game for additional seasons in success. Dungey said she was “optimistic” that a second season would happen, but that “I’m not quite ready to pull that trigger at this moment.”
“Roseanne” beat CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW combined at 8 p.m., including huge hits “The Voice” and “NCIS.” The show is also now the top-rated premiere of the season with both viewers and young adults.
Surprisingly, “Roseanne” even performed better with viewers than its May 1997 finale, which averaged 16.6 million viewers on May 20, 1997, and did better than the show’s final 12 telecasts in that last season.
The premiere helped boost “Black-ish” to season highs at 9 p.m., drawing its second largest audience ever (8.7 million viewers), and gave a boost to the 9:30 p.m. premiere of new comedy “Splitting Up Together.”
“Roseanne” is the latest in a series of remakes and reboots that have posted strong numbers — perpetuating the cycle. Fox’s “The X-Files,” NBC’s “Will & Grace” and Netflix’s “Fuller House” are among the series that have returned to huge audiences, leading to multiple-season orders. More, of course, are on the docket for next season, including CBS’ “Murphy Brown” revisit.
“Part of it is, yes certainly if there is a show that was beloved like ‘Roseanne’ was, there is a certain appetite from the audience to come back and reconnect with that family and check in with them how many years later,” Dungey said. “That’s a lot of fun. But I think certainly it helps us from a marketing perspective because you’re letting people know, hey that show that you loved is back. So that’s always a leg up.
“But in order for a reboot to be done successfully, I think there needs to be a reason for it to exist. The time is really right, especially what’s going on in our country right now, to bring ‘Roseanne’ back. I think that’s part of why it resonated so much with audiences.”
Because of the Winter Olympics schedule, ABC found itself launching a stockpile of series in March and April — including another reboot, “American Idol.” “Idol” has performed respectably for the network, and “Roseanne” just gave ABC a big boost. But Dungey admitted that “in a perfect world I wouldn’t want to do this many launches so close together.”
ABC will rebroadcast the one-hour premiere on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. The series stars Roseanne Barr as Roseanne Conner, John Goodman as Dan Conner, Laurie Metcalf as Jackie Harris, Lecy Goranson as Becky Conner-Healy, Sara Gilbert as Darlene Conner, Michael Fishman as D.J. Conner, Emma Kenney as Harris Conner-Healy, Ames McNamara as Mark Conner-Healy, and Jayden Rey as Mary Conner.
Roseanne Barr is an executive producer, along with Sara Gilbert, Tom Werner, Bruce Helford, Whitney Cummings, and Tony Hernandez.