Commentary

Is 'Roseanne' The New 'All In The Family'?

When I worked in the ad agency world, I was quoted extensively in the press, discussing television research and programming.  One of my first such press inquiries had to do with the original “Roseanne’” in 1988.  It had become an instant hit, and a reporter at Adweekcalled to ask me why it was so successful.  After thinking about it for 10 seconds or so, I responded, “It’s a funny show.”

ABC's "Roseanne” reboot just debuted on ABC with something we haven’t seen in a long time for a regular series: real blockbuster ratings.  It drew more than 18 million viewers and a 5.1 rating among adults 18-49 (the highest for an ABC comedy in six years).  Only the post-Super Bowl episode of “This is Us” got more viewers this season for a regular series telecast.  And it actually attracted more viewers than the 1997 “Roseanne” series finale.

Why did it do so well?  Well, it’s a funny show.  

But more than that, it’s the first TV series to actually show political debate in a humorous way that can appeal equally to Trump supporters and opponents.  Roseanne Barr is the new Archie “Nixon is my President” Bunker, while her sister Jackie, portrayed by the always wonderful Laurie Metcalf, is in the liberal “Meathead” role.   

And just as in “All in the Family,” the writing is key.  In the first episode at least, it is written so each side has clever-enough retorts that viewers who support either point of view will be satisfied.  I couldn’t tell the political leaning of the writers.  As my wife put it, in today’s world of political polarity, making us laugh at things we find it hard to even talk about is simply brilliant.

There were, of course, other elements of the show that make it work.  The great cast, including John Goodman and Sara Gilbert, effortlessly slipped back into their former roles (although Becky acknowledging that she was now 43 was momentarily startling).  It’s also the first show (except for ABC’s “The Middle”) to give a voice to white working-class families since the original “Roseanne.”

As the episode opens, we find out that Roseanne and Jackie haven’t spoken for about a year because Roseanne voted for Trump.  Not only that, but she had bashed Hillary Clinton so effectively, that Jackie ended up voting for Jill Stein (which she blames for Hillary losing).

I don’t know if the plan is to continue this type of dialogue, but debating Trump policies and social issues could do for “Roseanne” what it did for “All in the Family”:  keep it at number one for the next five years. This also might get people to lighten up a bit and maybe listen to the other side’s point of view.  

I’m not really counting on that, but at least it will continue to be a funny show.

1 comment about "Is 'Roseanne' The New 'All In The Family'?".
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  1. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, April 2, 2018 at 9:08 p.m.

    As always, Steve’s insight reveals simple truths. Don’t try to be cool. Be real. Be funny. Most importantly, have characters with meaningful relationships. Despite all their differences, the people in this family love and care about each other. If they didn’t. The ahow would fail. 

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