I started my walkabout the day before the premiere of “Roseanne,” and although a few TV writers tracked me down for comments, I pretty much sat this one out. Before the premiere, I told a few writers that I thought it would open somewhere in the 3-3.5 range in the 18-49 demo. I don’t think anyone expected the show to go over a 5.0 in live + same-day delivery. The fall-off in week 2 was modest, and I think all the controversy helped in maintaining the rating. We’ll see where it settles.
I just wanted to share a few of my observations and initial reactions to “Roseanne’s” performance given my 35 years in the network TV biz.
NETWORK BRANDS HANG ON OVER TIME. Although they often don’t apply to the current product, each of the broadcast networks (including The WB and UPN back in the day) is perceived differently by the viewer. For NBC it has been “quality Must-See TV.” NBC even tried to revive the brand last May. CBS will always be the “Tiffany Network,” in spite of its programming. FOX are the upstarts, but now with an AARP card. ABC has always been the network for middle America.
Networks often fight against their brand rather than embracing it. “Roseanne” is exactly what people expect and want from ABC, i.e., a family comedy that reflects the values of middle America. I did not find the first two episodes (I won’t be watching more) offensive or too political, but rather a depiction of living a life trying to make ends meet and the importance of love and family in our lives.
Like the other networks, ABC often fights against what it is, but in the case of “Roseanne” (as was true with “The Middle”), they hit their sweet spot.
ROSEANNE IS A MODERN-DAY HOWARD COSELL. I have a feeling if we could place the “Roseanne” viewers on a political spectrum, we would find that the distribution is not that different from most successful shows. I think many people who will continue to watch the show will be watching because of their dislike for the actress and the character. They want to see what she will say next. That was the case with Howard Cosell and it’s why in pro wrestling, the heels make the most interesting characters.
“AMERICAN IDOL” HELPED. I have no idea of the overlap between “Idol” and “Roseanne.” But the two shows suggest that ABC is in the game and that they know who their target viewers are.
THERE IS SOMETHING CALLED SUPPORT VIEWING. Way back I attended a focus group of Hispanic viewers. I can’t remember why, but the one thing that stuck with me from the session was their discussion of “George Lopez,” which was having a successful run on ABC. When the participants talked about the show, they never said that they watched it. They said that they “supported” it. I thought that was sort of odd at first but have come to appreciate this notion that watching a show is akin to voting for a show. Making a statement. Some of that could be going on with “Roseanne.”
MULTI-CAMS ARE ALIVE AND WELL. Once again, we see that there is an appetite for multi-camera comedies. They are especially effective when the content is a bit political or controversial, where the audience can react to the perspectives. We saw it with “The Carmichael Show,” which did surprisingly well for what was initially a burn-off, and we see it with the Netflix revivals. If the reboot craze means more multi-cams and that starts to again become an option for original product, that might not be a bad unintended consequence of all this.
Those were some of my initial incoherent thoughts on the success of the return of “Roseanne.” It’s always good to remind everyone, especially those who have been writing this obituary for a decade or so, that network TV is alive and kicking. Those in the business need to know the history of the business and their platform and embrace what it is.