The morning after “Roseanne” made its return to television, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey opened an email containing Nielsen’s metered-market ratings — the day’s first indicator of how the previous night’s primetime broadcast offerings were received. What she saw did not make sense.
“I looked at the numbers and I thought, ‘That can’t be right,’” Dungey told Variety. “I honestly was floored. I thought that it was a typo and how can that be.” She remained in disbelief until shortly after 8 a.m., when the fast-national numbers arrived, bringing what happened into focus. “I was like, this is actually real. This is really real.”
“Roseanne” averaged a 5.2 live-plus-same-day rating in the important 18-49 demo and 18.4 million total viewers — both figures higher than those of any other scripted broadcast program this season on a non-Super Bowl night, and better than the family comedy’s original series finale did 21 years ago.
The numbers have only continued to climb in the days since: The program scored the biggest total DVR lift for any telecast on any network after three days of delayed viewing.
Much of the analysis that followed focused on the show’s politics: Star Roseanne Barr is an eager champion of debunked right-wing conspiracies, and the premiere’s storyline hinged on her character’s support for President Donald Trump. And since the 2016 presidential election, television programmers have been working to find ways to reach working-class whites who voted for Trump. The success of “Roseanne” only reaffirmed those efforts. But looking ahead to 2018-19, “Roseanne” may be a harbinger of a less titillating, more significant programming shift — the revitalization of the broadcast comedy after years of emphasis on drama.
This season, three new comedies — CBS’ “Young Sheldon” (3.8 in the demo, 17.2 million viewers), NBC’s “Will & Grace” (3.0, 10.2 million) and “Roseanne” — paint a far stronger picture for broadcast comedy than in seasons past. They not only outperformed in the demo the highest-rated new comedy premiere of 2016-17, CBS’ “Kevin Can Wait” (2.6, 11.1 million), and of 2015-16, CBS’ “Life in Pieces” (2.6, 11.3 million), but also did better than this season’s top new drama, ABC’s “The Good Doctor” (2.2, 11.2 million).
“I’m encouraged by what’s happened here, and in terms of what it means for broadcast in general,” said Dungey, whose comedy lineup — which includes “Modern Family,” “Black-ish” and “The Goldbergs” — boasts more solid performers than most competitors. “We’re going to continue to develop strong comedies here at ABC.”
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