Around this time 21 years ago, “Roseanne,” the groundbreaking sitcom about the blue-collar Conner family, came to an end after a successful 10-year run. The notion that it’d be pulled out of retirement more than two decades later and become the success story of the 2017-18 television season would have likely elicited a Roseanne-like cackle from the cast back then.
Yet here we are. It’s a recent weekday and original “Roseanne” cast member Sara Gilbert, the mastermind behind the show’s return, is reflecting on the weeks that have passed since the sitcom’s blockbuster second coming. And all she can muster is a wide-eyed look as she shakes her head in disbelief.
“It’s one of those kind of fantasies you could never imagine,” said Gilbert, who has juggled her reprisal of the wisecracking and moody daughter Darlene Conner with her duties as executive producer and co-host of CBS’ daytime gabfest “The Talk.”
When Gilbert had the idea just over a year ago to revive the comedy, she was certain it’d be an futile endeavor.
“I didn’t think the cast would be game, I didn’t know if I could only get some people and not others,” Gilbert, 43, insisted.
But when her former co-star John Goodman appeared on “The Talk” and they revived their “Roseanne” characters for a comedy bit, the idea came up again — so she put in the asks.
It turns out the cast was game. And so were viewers.
The revival of “Roseanne” has established itself as a bright spot of mammoth proportions for ABC — and network television overall.
Boosted by interest in the reunion of the original cast, the premiere totaled more than 25 million viewers, prompting ABC to quickly renew the revival for a second season. The revival gears up for its May 22 season finale after pulling in a weekly average of around 19 million viewers, placing it neck-to-neck with CBS stalwart “The Big Bang Theory.”
In the midst of “Roseanne”s victory lap is Gilbert.
“This all really started with her,” says ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey by phone. “We were hoping for big things, but the launch really caught us all by surprise. It blew doors off of any projections we put together.”
The show’s triumph allowed star Roseanne Barr to return to the spotlight as a lightning rod of controversy. A flood of think pieces examined her support of President Trump and the show’s point of view in the divisive cultural climate.
Seated at her publicist’s offices, Gilbert carefully considers some of the blowback the show has received largely fueled by Barr’s Twitter feed and outspokenness.
“It’s such a political climate now that I always am nervous that people will hear one thing, see one thing and pre-judge the show, or decide not to watch the show,” she said. “You can never control the way people interpret something or take something. . I think the show itself has a great message… I think we’re at a time in our culture where when somebody doesn’t like what one person has to say, they’ll stop listening or not want to see an entire product that is related to a lot of points of view, and a lot of people.”
She continues: “Of course, I don’t love it if people aren’t going to watch the show for those reasons, but I think for the most part, people seem to be watching. The ones that are can see that it’s a show for everybody. It’s not a show about one political party or it’s not a show that’s a platform for one set of ideas. It’s really about a family that is divided over politics.”
As the driving force behind the show’s return, Gilbert is protective of its legacy. She was just entering her teen years when the show originally launched in 1988 and she remembers how it resonated as one of the few shows depicting a working-class family.
Gilbert won’t go so far as saying the recent election sparked the idea to bring back “Roseanne,” but she notes the timing of its return at “such a perfect time culturally.”
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