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Beyond ‘Roseanne’: ‘The Walking Dead’ Is the TV Show That Unifies Liberals and Conservatives

A region-by-region look at the Nielsen ratings offers a hopeful sign that at least, as a nation, we're still mostly watching the same shows.

Danai Gurira as Michonne, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes  - The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

“The Walking Dead”

Gene Page/AMC

Roseanne” is back, and so are the hot takes over TV’s perceived ignorance of Middle America. Several pundits suggested that huge opening numbers for “Roseanne” reflected Red State viewers finally having a show, once again, to call their own.

Of course, the depiction of a working-class family was one of several reasons “Roseanne” returned so strong — and most industry execs believe nostalgia for the ABC sitcom was ultimately the driving force behind its huge return. But the idea that TV has seriously ignored Middle America is hogwash, not to mention insulting to the many producers, stars, and networks that have long programmed shows for the entire country. (It’s also an insult to the minority groups whose stories truly have been ignored by major media.) Broadcast and cable offer plenty of programming with a Heartland bent, from ABC’s “The Middle” and CBS’ “NCIS” to cable series like Paramount Network’s “Waco” and Hallmark’s “When Calls the Heart.”

Add “Roseanne” to the list, even as the show has quickly become politicized on both sides of the aisle. It’s unclear whether “Roseanne” will suffer from being too political or lopsided, but for now it’s attracting a large audience across the country without regard to socio-economic or political status.

Even if “Roseanne” collapses from the weight of controversy, there are other shows that bring the nation together without that kind of baggage. And they are, perhaps no surprise, the biggest series on TV: “The Walking Dead,” “This Is Us,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Voice.”

Using figures from Nielsen, a recent report of the top series by region — posted below — reveals that, once again, “The Walking Dead” dominates everywhere. Blue state or red state, it doesn’t matter: The show resonates with everyone. (The report covers 2018 through March, which means “Roseanne” was not yet included.)

“‘The Walking Dead’ is about people from all walks of life coming together to survive the zombie apocalypse,” said executive producer Gale Anne Hurd. “They unite regardless of their previous socio-economic status or belief system, and form friendships through mutual trust that is earned by having each other’s back.

“I think people are united in what they take away from the show: we are strongest when we come together and put our prejudices aside and work toward a common goal,” she added. “I’d like to think that what unites us is our shared belief in personal freedom and democracy.”

Of course, there are some slight regional variations on the lists, depending on demographics: A Spanish-language Telemundo show makes the top 10 in the Pacific states, where there’s a larger Latino population. And Fox’s “Empire” does better in the South, which is no surprise given the region’s heavier concentration of African-American audiences.

But another kind of show that unites the country is unscripted, as “The Voice” and “American Idol” continue to perform well across the nation. Cable reality shows in particular have found success by targeting a wide range of audience.

“People want to laugh, they want to escape, they want to be voyeurs, but most importantly they want to see themselves and their realities reflected on TV,” said Thinkfactory Media president Adam Reed. “We did that with ‘Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels’ for seven seasons and 170 episodes — a real family going through real things, just supersized in a way that was extremely entertaining. Same thing with our hit series ‘Mama June From Not To Hot,’ which was the #1 new unscripted series of last year. Why?  Because it is a real family dealing with real things but in a larger-than-life way.”

Despite the stereotype of the out-of-touch Hollywood elite, “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon noted that many, if not most, of the talent working in the entertainment industry actually hail from all over the country.

“I’m from Missouri, my dad spent 30 years in Navy, my grandfather was a coal miner, my mom never went to college and started working when she was 17,” Willimon told IndieWire last year on a panel about TV programming in the age of Trump. “I’ve worked in factories, I’ve detailed cars, I’ve been a barista. The people that we’re privileged enough to employ are unionized labor that work 12 hours a day or more, working their butts off in order to make an actual product, a thing that we actually sell to other people that they choose to buy. There’s a misperception when you look at red carpets or the glossy tabloid rags of what Hollywood is.”

Reed said he does tell his development team to every once in a while “check themselves and their realities living in Los Angeles,” and make sure they’re thinking beyond just their own personal experiences.

“I for one am thrilled to see Roseanne do what it did, and it doesn’t surprise me a bit as to why it worked,” he said. “It didn’t speak to left, it didn’t speak to right, it spoke to the heart of our shared collective human experience living in this country, and in a very brilliant way, was an equal-opportunity offender to both sides of the aisle. I believe that recipe will continue to work for a very long time to come, in both scripted and unscripted.”

Here’s a roundup of the top shows, region-by-region, so far this TV season, among adults 18-49:

Overall United States

 1  The Walking Dead (AMC)  4,501,000
 2  This Is Us (NBC)  3,984,000
 3  The Big Bang Theory (CBS)  3,703,000
 4  Young Sheldon (CBS)  2,984,000
 5  The Voice-Monday (NBC)  2,821,000
 6  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC)  2,684,000
 7  Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)  2,630,000
 8  Ellen’s Game of Games (NBC)  2,504,000
 9  Empire (Fox)  2,483,000
 10  American Idol-Sunday (ABC)  2,469,000


 1  The Walking Dead (AMC)  1,314,000
 2  The Big Bang Theory (CBS)  1,229,000
 3  This Is Us (NBC)  1,114,000
 4  Young Sheldon (CBS)  1,042,000
 5  The Voice-Monday (NBC)  897,000
 6  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC)  871,000
 7  Ellen’s Game of Games (NBC)  835,000
 8  American Idol-Sunday (ABC)  793,000
 9  Survivor (CBS)  780,000
 10  The Bachelor (ABC)  736,000


 1  The Walking Dead (AMC)  1,029,000
 2  This Is Us (NBC)  952,000
 3  The Big Bang Theory (CBS)  684,000
 4  Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)  538,000
 5  The Bachelor (ABC)  536,000
 6  Young Sheldon (CBS)  516,000
 7  Ellen’s Game of Games (NBC)  513,000
 8  Modern Family (ABC)  511,000
 9  American Idol-Sunday (ABC)  487,000
 10  Survivor (CBS)  483,000


 1  The Walking Dead (AMC)  662,000
 2  This Is Us (NBC)  616,000
 3  The Big Bang Theory (CBS)  594,000
 4  Young Sheldon (CBS)  473,000
 5  The Voice-Monday (NBC)  444,000
 6  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC)  410,000
 7  The Bachelor (ABC)  400,000
 t  Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)  400,000
 9  Senor De Los Cielos V (Telemundo)  392,000
 10  Ellen’s Game of Games (NBC)  374,000


 1  The Walking Dead (AMC)  974,000
 2  This Is Us (NBC)  799,000
 3  The Big Bang Theory (CBS)  749,000
 4  Empire (Fox)  732,000
 5  Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)  622,000
 6  Young Sheldon (CBS)  612,000
 7  The Voice-Monday (NBC)  608,000
 8  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC)  583,000
 9  American Idol-Sunday (ABC)  528,000
 10  9-1-1 (Fox)  512,000


 1  The Walking Dead (AMC)  525,000
 2  This Is Us (NBC)  514,000
 3  The Big Bang Theory (CBS)  453,000
 4  The Voice-Monday (NBC)  396,000
 5  Empire (Fox)  372,000
 6  The Voice-Tuesday (NBC)  366,000
 7  American Idol-Sunday (ABC)  349,000
 t  Young Sheldon (CBS)  349,000
 9  Ellen’s Game of Games (NBC)  345,000
 10  The Good Doctor (ABC)  344,000

Source: Nielsen L+SD, 17/18 Broadcast Season to-date (09/25/2017 – 03/25/2018), Prime 8P-11P, Excluding repeats, specials gapped programs, sustainers, breakouts, sports, 1 t/c telecasts, dur < 5 min

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