Commentary

Is 'Roseanne' Return A Trend? More TV Shows About Nothing?

Few TV programming stories are eye-openers these days in terms of big ratings. But the return of “Roseanne”  -- which got top results from critics -- raises eyebrows. Will it raise network programming expectations?

The return of the former top-level ABC show posted a massive Nielsen 18.2 million viewers for one hour -- two episodes that ran back to back -- on Tuesday. It took in a big 5.1 rating among 18-49 viewers.

For sure, just one night. But for many -- including not just big network programming executives but big brand TV advertisers -- one looks up and asks: Is this a trend? Is there anything really going on here -- apart from just some obvious curiosity?

Let's look at some comparisons -- just for fun. Through 26 weeks of the season, ABC is averaging 5.9 million viewers in prime time and a 1.5 rating/6 share among 18-49. That means “Roseanne” pulled in more than three times the current average of the network's other prime-time shows.

We know from a great deal of longtime TV research that these broadcast numbers are destined to drop. But if it remains even 1.5 times above -- or possibly at ABC’s average prime-time stuff -- many would still call it a big win.

This comes after NBC offered a return of “Will & Grace” at the start of the season in September -- which began with a heathy 3.0 rating in 18-49 and 10.2 million viewers. Right now, the show is at a 5.8 million and 1.5 rating among 18-49 viewers -- the second-highest-rated NBC scripted show after “This is Us.” That's still fairly decent.

For the season so far, NBC is averaging a 9.7 million viewers and 2.4 rating/10 share among 18-49 viewers. Much of this is due to having a massive programming tag team this past February -- Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics.

Still, just one night of “Roseanne” is nice. But hardly a long-term trend.

If this doesn't pique your interest, there is this: The only scripted network show this season to outperform “Roseanne” was the post-Super Bowl episode of “This Is Us,” which drew a 9.3 among 18-49 viewers and 26.97 million viewers.

OK, then. Show me more -- like perhaps “Seinfeld”? You know -- the show about nothing.

6 comments about "Is 'Roseanne' Return A Trend? More TV Shows About Nothing?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 30, 2018 at 12:14 p.m.

    It's hard to start a trend based on one-of-a-kind instant hits like Roseanne. Not many shows are groundbreaking successes from the first episode.  All in the Family, Home Improvement, a few others became instant hits, but not very many. Even Seinfeld and Dick Van Dyke took a while to grow an audience. Finding enough of the original cast is another stumbling block.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 30, 2018 at 1:34 p.m.

    Interesting comment, Douglas. Having written a number of books on the evolution of TV programming as well as having been there for much of it, I'sd say that you are correct that some sitcoms as well as dramas---take a while before they "take off" in the ratings. "Seinfeld", "Cheers" and in older times,"77 Sunset Strip", "The Untouchables",  "Father Knows Best" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show" are examples of this. However, many shows were virtually instant hits---"I Love Lucy:, "Dragnet", "Gunsmoke", "Wagon Train", Happy Days", THree's Company", "The Cosby Show",  "The Beverly Hillbillies", "Maude", etc. etc. As for the prospects for the reincarnation of "Roseanne", such fare is always heavily sampled at the outset. Will this hold or will the ratings decline to more modest levels? We shall soon see.

  3. Steve Beverly from Union Broadcasting System, March 30, 2018 at 2:10 p.m.

    Adam, I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and wait on what the ratings will be like next week, two, four, or eight weeks away for 'Roseanne.'

    Will 'Roseanne''s premiere be the equivalent of 'The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric' or 'Life with Lucy' or will it have genuine staying power?  We can only judge that in a couple of months.

    Also, per Doug Ferguson's comments:  'All in the Family' was not really an instant hit.  The premiere was in 56th place.  However, a big difference was that CBS let 'All in the Family' slip on the air without much hype.  The promotion for 'Roseanne' has been going on since Christmas.

    Let's wait until May to see if "Roseanne' is really a trend.

  4. Rocky Kurland from The Magazine Guys replied, March 30, 2018 at 3 p.m.

    Ed you are so right, I too have been around this industry for a long time, to see one weeks ratings be considered a win for the network is a mistake. Millions have been spent to promote this show. The audience nemubers in 6 weeks will tell the story. I am just sorry that the "young guns" in programming cannot think of new shows or create new people. Retreds are fun for a couple weeks and I am sure the cast likes the work but it sure makes me feel old when I see them.

  5. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development replied, March 30, 2018 at 3:15 p.m.

    As usual you're on it, Ed, however at the risk of being overly technical (picky?), I would point out that "Maude" was actually a spin-off from "All in the Family" (then at the top of the ratings charts) and so not exactly starting from scratch.

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 30, 2018 at 3:27 p.m.

    David, obvoiusly "All In The Family's" popularity helped "Maude" to some extent, however the connection betwen the two was, at best, tenuous. Also, there are countless examples of spinout attempts  like "Flo", Fish", "The Ropers", etc. where there was a far stronger every episode participation by the spin-off star ( s ) in the "parent" show that flopped badly. 

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