As many are aware, Roseanne Barr recently rebooted her eponymous sitcom on the ABC network to polarizing reactions. The longtime loud leftist actress/comedienne has tempered her views in recent years and has taken a more Trump-accepting stance. As Sarah Lee and myself discussed on our recent podcast, there could be a measure of calculation to her switch; she may have been appealing to a larger audience since the Presidential election; her TV family does reside more in Trump Country after all.
Regardless the initial reaction, the show was a smashing success. It drew huge numbers in its debut and those figures only increased as the week wore on. What is revealing is what happens when her ratings are juxtaposed against another Hollywood event.
Initially the numbers were great. On the debut evening “Roseanne” drew a wildly impressive 18.5 million viewers. (This is a huge figure by contemporary network ratings standards. At its peak year, the 1992 season, “Roseanne averaged over 30 million.) With networks operating at much lower audience counts this kind of return had network executives salivating. After one episode “Roseanne” was renewed by ABC for a second (or, 11th) season.
In this age of fractured audiences the Nielsen ratings company has a new metric. This was created in order to account for those who watch shows they have recorded on DVR, or streaming from sources such as the ABC Network app or Hulu. Referred to as L+3 (three days of digital viewing after the live broadcast) this number drove “Roseanne” higher, as the show set an all-time record with 6.6 million in the L+3 rating. Then the total was stoked further when ABC ran an encore repeat on Sunday evening, drawing 4.3 million, to bring the total for the debut to 29.4 million viewers.
This viewership exceeds that from the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony from early March, when that telecast earned dismally low ratings. That show hit a twenty year low with 27.4 million viewers (that includes the L+3 numbers). This becomes a glaring difference in audience impressions. The hyper-politicized Oscars drove audiences away from a broadcast that for generations has been an assured ratings winner.
We can debate whether the sitcom storyline is a true representation of Trump voters, just a cynical shift in tone to appease a new voting base, or merely the result of a performer recognizing there is an untapped audience being shunned by the bulk of studios and networks. Whichever the case, “Roseanne” is a proven hit, and that is because Roseanne Barr is more adroit at sensing an eager segment of the viewing audience.